Jan 12 parenting - puberty

January 11, 2001

How to prepare your child for puberty

Teaching your child | By Lisa Tedrick Prejean

The hardest part of talking to your child about puberty - the changes that will occur as he or she matures into an adult - is knowing what, when and how.

"It is a problem because parents don't know where to start," says Vicki Lansky, a parenting author and the publisher of "Period. A Girl's Guide."

Look for something that relates - someone having a baby, something in the news, etc., Lansky suggests.

"Even though they might not respond, they still hear you," Lansky says.

If your child asks a question, don't ignore it or change the subject. Show how important this topic is. Stop what you're doing.

"I would tell parents not to shy away from any opportunity," says Carol Costello, family life resource teacher for Washington County Board of Education.


Stick to the question, and don't give your child more information than you think he or she can handle.

"This is an ongoing process. Hopefully it's not one conversation," Costello says. "It should begin when the child is very young," about 9, 10 or 11 years old.

Even though children are bombarded with messages about puberty and sexuality, studies show they want parents to be the primary educators on these subjects, Costello says.

"It's usually a wonderful bonding time for the child and parent," Costello says.

Here are some recommendations for parents from Costello and Lansky:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> If possible, the parent of the same sex should have these conversations with the child because there will be less tension and reservation. The parent also can relate personal experiences.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Use correct terms for body parts and the maturation process.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Leave brochures or a book about puberty in your child's bedroom. To avoid embarrassment, don't hand it to him or her in front of other family members.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> If your child seems reluctant to talk, wait a few weeks, but don't let the issue go. This is information your child needs, and he or she needs to hear it from you.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Tell your daughter that she will notice:

  • a growth spurt
  • hair growing in places where she didn't have it before
  • changes in her body shape - her waist will become narrower and her hips will become wider
  • her breasts will begin to develop. They may not grow at the same rate, and this is normal.
HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Tell your son that he will notice:

  • his shoulders getting broader
  • development of a more muscular build
  • hair appearing where it wasn't or becoming thicker in other areas
HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Many girls have an idea about what a period is but they don't know why it happens, Costello says. Boys should also be told how a woman's body works.

Explain to your child that during puberty, new chemicals are produced. These chemicals trigger functions in the body. Girls have an organ called a uterus, which is where a baby grows inside a woman who is pregnant. A girl's reproductive cells are called eggs. A boy's reproductive cells are called sperm. Sperm fertilize eggs. Fertilized eggs can become babies.

Each month the lining of the uterus builds, preparing for a fertilized egg. If a fertilized egg does not attach to the lining, the lining is shed. This is called menstruation, or having a period.

It helps to use a diagram of the female reproductive system while you explain this, Costello says.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Once puberty starts, be sensitive to your child. Ask her if she feels embarrassed to put feminine hygiene items in the shopping cart. Offer to do that for her.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Explain that even though the body is able to reproduce, that doesn't mean the person is ready to. Don't be afraid to tell your child what you think is right and wrong.

Children want direction from parents, Costello says. "Kids are crying for that."

The parents' guide in "Period. A Girl's Guide" is on the Web at The book is available through

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