Believe it or not, your little one is changing and growing bigger every day. Eventually, their bodies will change and grow into adolescence. We have some hot tips on how to broach the subject and some resources to help you along the way.
Build a foundation of trust on the topic of growth by discussing development with your children. At an early age, chat with your kids about their body parts and consent. Talking to your child about their body early will help them understand themselves and build confidence: for them and for you. Pay attention to your family values and make sure that you are on the same page as your partner, co-parent, or additional caregiver so that there are fewer surprises in the future.
As your child becomes independent with dressing, toileting and bathing habits, it is a great time to talk about hygiene and the importance of keeping themselves clean. If you build foundational knowledge of hygiene and self-care into their daily routines, it will be easier for them to keep the routine going once they start to mature.
Kids are naturally curious about bodies, and you want them comfortable enough to talk to you before they look to a friend for answers. Begin by modeling anatomically correct names for their genitals. Use the appropriate words like “vulva”, “vagina” or “penis”, and not nicknames or cute terms like “pee-pee” or “hoo-hah.” Using appropriate terminology sends the message that this is a part of their body and there is nothing wrong, different or strange about it.
You do not have to go this route alone! There are many fabulous books at the library you can enlist to help you explain things to your kids: scroll down for a list of suggested references. Do not give your child a book without chatting with them about it first, and make sure you read it so you can anticipate questions (and there will be questions!).
Start Chatting Before Puberty Actually Begins
It may feel uncomfortable, but begin talking about puberty with your little ones around age 8. It is much easier to talk about this topic gradually with an 8-year-old, rather than all at once with a teenager. You can build on something that you see in a book, movie or TV show, or even tap the expertise of a relative or friend. Foster a positive self-image for your child: if they have questions about why they are different from another person, explain that everyone and every body is unique and fabulous.
Compliment them on their look or unique style, but do not let it be the only thing you celebrate. Focus on your child’s abilities, health and strengths as a person, and not just on their appearance. Do not compare their looks to others, even if you are trying to compliment them. Let your child be uniquely wonderful. Try not to make comments that put yourself or others down around your child (or really, at all). If your child gets stuck on an ideal of perfection, explain that everyone grows into their look and that social media and television are heavily edited. Finding childhood photos of famous people can be a very useful tool for this.
Celebrate your child’s ethnicity, race, gender, and all the amazing things that make them who they are! Connect your child to their community and expose them to different kinds of people and cultures through events or literature featuring a variety of folks. Hang out at the library where you will meet a lot of wonderful kids and grown-ups. Attend a program, volunteer in the community, and experience life together during these very formative years.
Puberty: In the Thick of It
Once you notice your child going through changes, celebrate with them. Have a period party to celebrate first menses, explore shaving kits together, or take a growing kid to dinner and let them order off the adult menu to celebrate the start of development. Puberty is awkward and weird and uncomfortable, but it can be a little easier knowing you have a grown-up there for support.
It’s great if you can build on conversations you’ve already been having with your child, but if you missed that opportunity, it’s not too late. As much as possible, be direct and open. While conversations about their body might be private, they should never be shameful. Tap into the expertise of a family doctor or pediatrician, encouraging your child to ask their own questions.
Focus on the changes that are happening, reassuring your child that everyone goes through these changes a little bit differently, and help them prepare as much as possible. Make sure you have menstrual products on hand, whatever shaving items are needed, deodorant, and other practical items that are necessary. But don’t forget that this might be a good time to balance serious changes with fun as well. It’s a time of increasing responsibility and a time to build trust.
Ongoing: Taking the Conversation into the Future
Take time regularly to check in with your child and ask about their life. If they tell you a story that you relate to, try not to interrupt or give them the dreaded “Back in My Day…” stories that you might remember from your own adolescence. Let them invite your stories and experiences instead of diving into unsolicited memories of your younger years. Ask them about their friends and classmates, and encourage them to share stories about their day and experiences. Keeping the line of communication open during the teen years will be crucial to your relationship in years to come.
These conversations can be a basis for talking about things like peer pressure, drugs and sexual activity, so nurture this relationship and let it grow. All teens seem to think that they are alone and that grown-ups cannot possibly understand the complexities of their lives. Even though this is untrue, try to lend an empathetic ear and let them vent their struggles and celebrate their victories. Regularly talk to your kids about their lives and relish any small bit they are willing to share.
As they grow, they will be easier to understand and chat with, and will be better able to support their end of a healthy relationship. Enjoy them through this awkward portion of their lives and know that one day, you might be able to help guide them with their own families.
Below are some books suggested by our librarians on the topics of bodies, growing up, self-care and puberty. These times can be trying, and we're here for you!