How to Talk to Your Kids About Puberty

Laurel and I have had brief conversations in the past about puberty and how babies are made, but this week, she came to me in earnest with questions and concerns. As a late bloomer, it’s hard for me to imagine that some of Laurel's 9-10 year old peers are already developing but it is, in fact, happening. Which of course is totally normal. We had a great conversation and I subsequently wanted to share 8 tips for talking to kids about puberty because I know these types of talks freak a lot of parents out.

1. Be calm and matter of fact. Even if you are freaking out inside, the best thing you can do to encourage your kid to converse is to be calm and matter of fact, and act like it’s no big deal.

2. Use proper terms. I've always felt that it’s important to use proper anatomical terms right from the beginning. And not just because it used to be cute to hear 2-year-old Violet say “pagina” and “peanuts.” I recommend regular terminology because I feel that using cutesy terms contributes to the sense that it's taboo to talk about puberty and sex and the human body.

3. Stay focused on the question (and gender) at hand. There's a lot of potential subject matter to dive into, and in the interest of being comprehensive (and maybe due to nerves!) you might want to run through it all. But I found that it was really helpful to stay focused on the question hand (be it puberty or how babies are made) and I also found it simpler to just stay focused on female development with Laurel. I wanted her to absorb what we were talking about and it took us quite a bit of time to go through explanations, scenarios, and her questions.

4. Emphasize variability. One of the first things I pointed out (and kept coming back to) was that the age range for puberty is so variable. This is a really important thing to stress because it’s all about comparisons for kids. 

5. Share your own experiences. I recommend sharing whether you hit puberty early or late (or somewhere in the middle) as that may be relevant to your child’s experience. I also talked Laurel through some of my own experiences (mostly missteps!) in response to her questions, which really seemed to help her grasp what was coming down the pike. For example, I shared that I didn’t know how to shave my legs when I first did it (I dry shaved. BAD, PAINFUL IDEA!) and that one time my pad leaked and made a stain on my pants (Laurel astutely suggested that I should have tied a sweatshirt around my waist). We had some good laughs over my missteps, which helped keep the mood light.

6. Run through possible scenarios. We discussed different scenarios -- for example, what to do if you get your period at home, school, or a friend’s house -- and it clearly helped Laurel to have some plans in place.

7. Use literature. Laurel and I had a really great talk but she did ask if I had a book on the subject because a friend has a book. I was thrilled to pull It’s Perfectly Normal off my shelf and we read the puberty chapter together. I love this book so much! Not only is it written in a matter of fact, approachable matter, but I think the realistic line drawings are great (the illustration of what a pad and tampon look like in position to the body was really helpful for Laurel). A friend also recommended The Body Book for Boys, as a lighthearted, positive reference that focuses on changing bodies, moods, and environment (though it doesn't cover much in terms of sex). Jon also made the good suggestion to leave the book sitting around, so that Laurel could pick it up and flip through it on her own if she wanted.

8. Position yourself as the first line of communication. When we finished, I told Laurel that I’d be happy to answer questions any time; that I actually liked talking about this stuff (which is true...I think my next career will be as a sex ed teacher!) and that I’d rather she come to me or Jon with any questions since her friends would probably not have all the answers. We had a good laugh over that one.

I hope these tips are helpful; feel free to share others in the comments! Laurel and I spent so long talking about periods, breast development, and hair growth that we didn't even get to sex, so I suspect I will have further thoughts to share when we get there!