How can I help my child during puberty?

Puberty is a time of growth and change for children, and it’s also a time of stress. They have worries and questions about their bodies. They become increasingly private. They’re concerned about their social lives and they’re starting to distance themselves from their families. Parents are often unsure of how to deal with all the issues raised during this period.

One cause of concern for many kids is the difference in rates of development. The desire to be like their peers is so strong that pre- and early adolescents who are maturing slowly may become upset and jealous: “When am I ever going to grow?” “Everybody treats me like I’m so young.” A child who matures quickly may feel awkward and embarrassed: “People act like I’m already a teenager.”

Girls are often self-conscious about their developing breasts: “I’m wearing a T-shirt over my bathing suit.” Because this aspect of puberty is so obvious, friends or classmates may tease her about her breast size. Some younger girls who develop early don’t want to wear bras. The process of shopping in a lingerie department may be too intimidating for a child who feels modest.

Another issue of puberty is when to shave body hair. Girls – usually by age twelve – are shaving their legs and underarms, and many boys are shaving off a mustache by thirteen. But some girls want to shave at an earlier age, and some twelve- and thirteen-year-old boys don’t seem ready to shave, even if they have dark facial hair: “Why do I have to shave and my friends don’t?” Parents and kids may end up arguing about this aspect of personal hygiene.

Just as many families are uncomfortable discussing sex, they’re also reluctant to talk about puberty. A child may mention worries about height, but a girl may be embarrassed to share her fear of being flat-chested, and a boy may not talk about changes in his voice.

Parents may sense this self-consciousness; they also may feel reluctant to open a discussion about their child’s body. They are often startled by the “sudden” changes they see, and they’re curious about the changes they don’t see. Yet, it rarely feels appropriate to ask a child personal questions about her body.

Even if conversations about puberty seem awkward, let your child know she can ask you anything. Offer her a book or articles on puberty and treat her concerns and questions with respect.

If you think she’s focusing on her body too much, try to involve her in more activities and talk about her interests and accomplishments: “I love to hear you practice guitar.” “Why don’t you try the cartooning class at the youth center?” Give your child frequent compliments: “you’re a great kid!” “You look great all dressed up.” “It was really nice of you to help Grandpa.”

Give her practical help. If she’s embarrassed about buying bras, bring some home from the store for her or let her go into the dressing room alone. When she develops pimples, find appropriate soaps or creams and, if necessary, take her to a dermatologist.

Talk to your daughter about menstruation to be sure she knows what to expect. (She’ll certainly feel more comfortable talking with her mother than her father.) As long as she understands the basic facts, you can wait until she gets her period to discuss details such as pads, tampons, cramps, and irregular cycles. When she does begin menstruating, talk about her feelings and such practical issues as changing pads or tampons at school and handling accidents. You might choose to discreetly let her siblings know, depending on their ages, that their sister has started menstruating. Be careful when you do this. You don’t want your other children to become alarmed if they see a used pad, but you also don’t want to violate your daughter’s sense of privacy.

If she’s maturing more quickly or slowly than average, keep treating her in a way that’s appropriate for her chronological age. An eleven-year-old who looks quite mature is still eleven. Some parents make the mistake of letting their older-looking pre-teen wear makeup, dress more maturely, and go places without supervision. Similarly, parents of a more slowly developing child may tease her or treat her like a much younger person.

Throughout puberty, she will be especially vulnerable. Try to be patient and understanding. In the face of changes, she needs to know you love and accept her. The more support and encouragement you give, the better she’ll feel about herself and her body.

Picture Credit : Google