Apr 22, 2021, 10:56:36 AM CDT Apr 22, 2021, 11:12:20 AM CDT

How to discuss puberty with your child

Start the conversation with your child before puberty begins

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Tackling a sensitive topic like puberty can be a bit nerve-wracking for many parents. But shying away from the conversation out of fear of awkwardness doesn't help you – or your kids.

When it comes to talking about puberty, it's best to give "simple, direct answers – and to use proper terminology," says May Lau, M.D., M.P.H., an adolescent medicine physician at Children's Health℠ and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern.

Dr. Lau recommends starting conversations early to encourage open communication. See tips for talking to boys and girls about puberty and recommendations for additional resources.

When does puberty start?

Most girls begin to experience the physical changes of puberty between 8 and 13 years old, while boys typically hit puberty between 9 and 14 years old. Ideally, you want to begin having conversations with your child about the changes they can expect in their bodies before they begin.

Signs of puberty in girls include:

  • Breast development
  • Hair growth in pubic area and armpits
  • Menstruation (a monthly period)
  • Possibility of acne
  • Growth spurt

Signs of puberty in boys include:

  • Growth of the genital organs
  • Hair growth in pubic area and armpits
  • Development of muscle, facial hair and a deeper voice
  • Possibility of acne
  • Growth spurt

You can help make conversations about puberty feel more natural by teaching even very young children to talk about their body parts, including genitalia, using proper anatomical terms, Dr. Lau advises.

While you're discussing body development, use the opportunity to remind kids that their private areas are just that – private. Make sure they understand that only medical doctors are allowed to examine their genitalia. When talking with older tweens and teens, discuss the dangers of posting or sharing photos of their private areas with others via text or online.

How should I start the conversation about puberty with my child?

Look for natural opportunities to start a conversation in your day-to-day life. Maybe it's when you are driving together in the car, doing chores or taking a walk together – any comfortable and natural time. When the time is right, use open-ended questions as a jumping-off point.

For instance, if you see something on television that relates to puberty – say, an advertisement for a deodorant or acne medicine – use that as your cue to ask kids, "What do you know about this?" or "Do you have any questions about what you just saw?"

Encourage your kids to come to you with their questions about body changes and development as they arise. "When your child asks a question related to puberty or their body, it's best to keep your answer simple and use developmentally-appropriate terms," Dr. Lau says.

Be prepared to discuss whatever your child may be wondering – from physical signs of puberty like erections, wet dreams or starting the menstrual cycle to emotional ones, including mood swings, sullenness and irritability.

How can I set the right tone?

When you talk to your kids about puberty, work to adopt a tone that's calm, supportive and informative – rather than anxious or hurried. By approaching the topic in a straightforward, factual manner, you help kids understand they don't need to feel embarrassed or ashamed about the very normal changes happening to their bodies.

"You want to convey that you're comfortable talking about this," says Dr. Lau. "If you seem awkward or uncomfortable, preteens pick up on that sense and may not feel comfortable coming to you to ask questions again."

In addition, know that it's okay for a parent of a different gender to talk to a child about puberty, as long as they are comfortable with the subject – which in turn can help a child feel comfortable asking questions.

What are good books about puberty for children?

You don't have to tackle this subject alone. There are a wealth of books and online resources to help kids better understand puberty and the changes it brings to their bodies.

Providing kids with access to puberty and development books from a bookstore or local library is another fantastic way to get a puberty conversation started.

Dr. Lau suggests parents read the books first – to make sure they are developmentally and topically appropriate and communicate in a tone that works for your family – and then allow kids to read them independently. Encourage boys to read chapters about their development and changes happening to girls, and vice versa. Then, come back together as a family to ask kids what questions they have about what they've read.

Unsure where to begin? Dr. Lau suggests these resources as great puberty conversation starters:

Puberty books for girls

  • The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Younger Girls
  • The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls
  • Celebrate Your Body (and Its Changes Too!): The Ultimate Puberty Book for Girls
  • Celebrate Your Body 2: The Ultimate Book for Preteen and Teen Girls
  • The Body Image Book for Girls
  • The Period Book: A Girls Guide to Growing Up
  • HelloFlo: The Guide, Period

Puberty books for boys

  • Guy Stuff: The Body Book for Boys
  • Growing Up Great!: The Ultimate Puberty Book for Boys
  • What's Going On Down There?: A Boy's Guide to Growing Up
  • The Boy's Body Book

Recommended websites

You can also ask your child's pediatrician for recommended resources and encourage your child to speak to their doctor confidentially if they are not comfortable asking you questions.

Learn more

As the largest group of board-certified, fellowship-trained adolescent medicine specialists in North Texas, the Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine (AYA) team at Children's Health focuses specifically on the unique needs of adolescents. Learn more about the AYA program and services.

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