Supporting Your Child Through Puberty

Puberty is the term used to describe the time in life when boys and girls become sexually mature and begin the process of transitioning from child to adult. It’s a time when there are lots of changes happening for your child – physical, sexual, social, emotional – which can be overwhelming for them and for you as a parent too. Puberty occurs when chemical changes start happening in your child’s brain which in turn cause sex hormones to be released in either the ovaries (in girls) or testes (in boys). Girls typically enter puberty between 10 – 11 years of age with boys entering puberty a bit later between 11 – 13 years. However, puberty can begin earlier or later depending on the individual child and this is normal too.

Physical changes in girls and boys

In both girls and boys you can expect their skin and hair to get oily – acne may develop. They may sweat more and body odours may increase. Pubic and underarm hair will develop along with facial hair for boys. Their personal hygiene routine will need to be carried out more frequently – showering more often and using deodorant, as well as developing a skin care routine. Both girls and boys will also experience a growth spurt with girls growing approximately 11cm per year and boys growing about 13cm per year.

Physical changes in Girls

In girls you can expect breasts to develop (they may experience tenderness), their figure will change and their hips will widen. Menstruation will also begin. Periods may be irregular to begin with as their body continues to develop. Girls may experience headaches or stomach cramps which can be normal but you may wish to visit your GP if you have any concerns. Girls may experience a clear whitish vaginal discharge before their period.

Physical changes in Boys

In boys you can expect their penis and testes to grow. Testosterone production begins, which stimulates the testes to start producing sperm and erections and ejaculation begin. Boys will also experience their ‘voice breaking’ as their voice box grows and their voice will eventually deepen.

Social and Emotional Changes

As well as physical changes for your child, there are a number of social and emotional changes which also happen during puberty. These highlight that your child is forming their own identity and becoming more independent and responsible in preparation of adulthood. Your child may experience mood swings and be more sensitive than is usual. They may also experience variations in energy levels and they may switch between seeking independence from you one minute to looking to you for support the next. Whilst forming their own identity, your child may experience challenges as they form new friendships and engage in new experiences. They may begin to explore their sexuality and possibly begin to ‘date’ or form romantic relationships. Whilst facing these challenges, your child will learn important decision-making skills as well as learning and understanding the consequences of their actions.

How Parents Can Support Their Child Through Puberty

It is important to offer your child reassurance that puberty is an exciting time with lots of new opportunities and that the changes they are experiencing are normal. If you have any concerns regarding your child’s development you can seek support from your GP – remember that you know your child best. The best time to talk to your child about puberty is before it begins so they can be prepared for the changes which they are about to experience. Some children can be very shy or uncomfortable speaking to their parents about puberty and it can be helpful to have a book about the subject that they can read and subsequently clarify anything they are unsure of. It is a good idea to have purchased and shown your daughter how to use sanitary wear before her first period. Boys may experience ejaculation during their sleep (also known as a ‘wet dream’) or spontaneous erections and it is important to discuss and prepare them should they experience this. Your child may begin exploring their body through masturbation. It is important to be respectful of their need for privacy and personal space during this time – it can be a good idea to knock on the door before entering their bedroom. Your child may become self-conscious regarding their body image and may compare their body to those of their peers. It is important that you are understanding of their concerns and offer reassurance that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. You can act as a role model for your child by showing acceptance for your body and modelling a healthy lifestyle for your child. Try to remain calm when dealing with any angry or emotional outbursts your child may have and wait for them to calm down before talking to them about the problem. Try to see the world through their eyes and their behaviour for what it often is – your child becoming an individual and making sense of the changes they are experiencing. You can read how we presented information about puberty to children and young people through our site here.

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