Puberty is when a child’s body starts developing and changing as they grow into adulthood. Typically, girls reach puberty at around 11 years old and boys do so 1 to 2 years later. However, increasingly, there has been a trend of this age being lowered by 2 to 3 years.
At the lower primary level, you should normalise talks about sex and the difference between boys and girls. You might even have answered questions like where babies come from. As your child mature, they may start being curious about how Daddy and Mummy’s bodies are different from theirs and that is when you could start the conversation on how puberty prepares them to become a Daddy or a Mummy.
An easy way to introduce the talk on puberty is to do it with biological diagrams and explain how the functions of a male and female body are different. You can also talk about how much they have already grown compared to the time when they were toddlers and introduce puberty as simply the next stage in their growth.
Ensure that your kids cherish their body, not just in the form of modesty, but also in appreciating how they look and accepting the way their bodies are. As parents, try to avoid body shaming of any sorts, for example, calling someone fat or commenting on a part of someone’s body in a negative way. Our positive attitude towards the physical body helps set the stage for our children to welcome subsequent changes in puberty.
The earliest signs of puberty is often breast development for girls and enlargement of the testicles for boys. About one or two years after this, they typically approach a period of growth spurt as their bodies start to change to look more womanly or manly.
By 11 or 12, most girls would have started hearing about their classmates’ personal experience of periods. Some boys’ voices might crack as their voice deepens. Other changes from puberty can include pubic hair and more active sweat glands which could cause acne and body odour. For boys, they may encounter wet dreams and you may want to explain such nocturnal emissions the context of how their bodies are now able to produce sperm for reproduction.
Part of the parental guidance at this stage also includes teaching your budding teen about products like training bras, deodorant, sanitary pads, facial wash and pimple cream.
Since everyone’s body is unique, the changes they are going through may be at a different pace from their peers. Be sure to assure them that they are not abnormal and if they are feeling self-conscious about something, do not brush off their feelings but teach them what to do to manage it.
During this stage, the pre-frontal cortex in their brains are growing rapidly. This growth brings about a surge of emotions as the part of the brain associated with emotions and impulse takes the control seat. This is why you may find them getting moody or emotional suddenly without reason. You may want to help them understand that these strong feelings are also a part of their growth. Help them identify what they can do to avoid being carried along by feelings. This can be as simple as Stop, Ask, Pivot, for example, when they realise they are getting very angry over something not going well, to pause and ask why they are feeling furious and then after logical evaluation, to pivot or make a conscious effort to turn away from impulse responses. Emphasize to them that they can always come to you to talk about their feelings and you will not judge them for what they are experiencing.
This will also be a good time for you to start sharing about sexual abuse as they become more aware and conscious about their bodies.
By now, your teen is well and truly going through puberty. Puberty can take two to five years to finish and by the time it does, they may well be taller than you! They will also sound different. Both boys and girls will have deeper voices due to enlarged voice boxes. Boys may have developed some facial hair and both genders may have developed underarm hair too.
They may also start to experience sexual attractions but not know what they are. Continue to be the parent coach to guide your teens through all these new emotions and sensations and have open conversations on topics like masturbation and how girls get pregnant. Address any questions they may have about dating and relating to the opposite sex, and how those issues fit into your family’s beliefs and values on marriage and family formation.
During these teen years, your teen may still go through insecurities about their appearance so do remain loving and assuring. Your attention to them and input as a parent is still very important. Assure them that their identity is based on a large number of factors and not just on how they look.
You may also want to celebrate this milestone with your kids. Some parents take this opportunity to bring their child on a weekend get-away or have a special meal to commemorate this season of rapid development. It is a good time to bond and to affirm the child’s identity even as they grow into a young adult.
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