How Do You Talk to Your Child About Puberty

March 07, 2023

girl talking to dad in bed

Sometimes you wish you could freeze time and keep your precious children little forever! But, of course, you can’t. They’re growing up. And at some point, you need to prepare them for puberty and the changes their bodies will experience in the years ahead.

So, what should you say? And when should you say it? Read on for important information to help prepare your child for puberty.

Learn What Puberty Is – and When It Starts

The word puberty comes from the Latin word puberatum, which means “age of maturity.”

“During puberty, your child’s hormone levels increase and signal the body to mature physically and sexually,” explains Mauricio Flores, MD. “Your child is growing into a young adult whose body is capable of reproduction.”

Dr. Flores, a pediatric endocrinologist with Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, specializes in treating very early puberty and other issues related to hormones and glands.

“Most girls usually start puberty between age 8 and 13, with the average at age 10,” says Dr. Flores. “Boys typically start a bit later, between age 9 and 14, with the average at age 12.”

If you notice signs of puberty very early – before your child reaches 8 or 9, consult your pediatrician to make sure everything’s OK.

Talk With Your Child About Puberty Early and Often

Start talking with children about puberty before it actually starts – or very early in the process. For example, if your daughter starts to develop breast buds – one of the first signs of puberty – take this opportunity to explain how her body will grow and change in the months and years to come. If your child doesn’t seem interested at first, that’s OK. Share small bits of information in shorter, ongoing conversations.

Prepare Your Daughter for the Changes She Will Experience

Talk to your daughter about the signs of puberty, including:

Breast Development

It’s not uncommon for one breast to grow sooner than the other. And sometimes, breasts feel sore. Reassure your daughter this is temporary. If she feels self-conscious, suggest loose-fitting clothing or a special “training” bra designed for young girls. (Consult your pediatrician if breast pain does not subside.)

Growth of Body Hair

Hair will grow on her arms, legs and genital area. While there is no medical reason to shave, your daughter may want to. It’s her personal choice. To keep her safe, show her how to use a razor safely to shave her legs and underarms.

Vaginal Discharge

Six to 12 months before their first period, some girls have clear or white vaginal discharge. Tell your daughter this is normal as her hormone levels increase. During puberty, girls also experience:

  • Acne
  • Body odor and sweating under the arms (many girls start using deodorant and bathe more often during puberty)
  • An increase in height
  • A widening of hips

Her First Period

No need to be caught off guard by this normal part of a girl’s development. Most girls start their periods at age 12 or 13, about two or three years after their breasts begin to grow. But, of course, some girls start sooner, and others start later.

Use simple terms to explain what the menstrual cycle is. Tell your daughter she might feel cramps before or during her periods; sometimes exercise and medicine can help. Show her how to use sanitary pads and give her a supply she can carry with her or keep in her locker at school.

Assure her that her period is natural and healthy, and point out she does not need to miss her activities when it happens.

Prepare Your Son for the Changes He Will Experience

Talk to your son about the signs of puberty and upcoming changes in his body, including:

  • Growth of the penis and testicles
  • Growth of hair on the body, face and genitals (If your son would like to shave, show him how to use a razor safely.)
  • Body odor and sweating under the arms (Many boys start using deodorant and bathe more often during puberty.)
  • Acne
  • Muscle growth

Also, tell your son about:

Voice Changes

Your son’s voice may “crack” or sound high-pitched as his voice box and vocal cords start to grow. Reassure him that voice changes are normal and his voice will smooth out in time.

Involuntary Erections and Ejaculations

Tell your son that unexpected erections may happen periodically as his body matures. Also, he may discover damp areas on his pajamas and bed sheets when he wakes up – which some people call “wet dreams.” Assure your son that he did not urinate, and that nighttime ejaculations are a normal part of growing up.

Breast Enlargement

Many boys’ breasts swell during early puberty, causing soreness, especially if they bump into something. Tell your son not to worry – the swelling will go down.

Uneven Testicles

It’s common for one testicle to hang lower or look smaller than the other during puberty. Assure your son this is temporary.

Be Open and Honest About Puberty

At first, talking with your child about puberty may seem awkward. But try to talk openly and honestly. Kids pick up a lot of information from TV and social media, but they need the right information from you. Here are some tips:

  • Emphasize that puberty is a natural part of growing up — no need to feel embarrassed.
  • Use correct terms for the male and female anatomy.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions.
  • If you need more information, talk with your child’s pediatrician.

Be Prepared for a Wide Range of Emotions

Many children experience mood swings during puberty – including happiness, sadness, anxiety and irritability. To help:

  • Be patient. Encourage kids to talk about their emotions.
  • Respect your child’s need for privacy while bathing and dressing. Knock before entering rooms.
  • Be aware that many children are sensitive about their appearance during puberty. Watch for signs that a child is developing a negative body image.
  • Offer nutritious meals and snacks to encourage healthy weight gain. Incorporate physical activities into your family’s routine.

If you have concerns, consult your pediatrician.

Keep the Door Open for Future Conversations

Make sure your child knows you’re always available to talk. A comfortable, open-door policy helps later when it’s time to talk about other important topics, such as healthy relationships, sex, pregnancy and substance use.

At Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, our expert pediatric endocrinologists can guide you through any issues you have as your child experiences puberty. Learn about our pediatric endocrinology services.