A time for changes
Children experience many physical, emotional, and social changes during their preteen years. Your preteen will try new things and want even more independence. She will have her own opinion and won't be afraid to share it with you! Some of these changes, especially the physical ones, can be confusing if you or your preteen does not know what to expect.
Supporting your child through puberty
Know what to expect – physical changes
• Girls. Girls begin puberty between the ages of 10 and 14. During this time, their bodies undergo important changes as they grow and mature sexually. The greatest changes for girls are the growth of breasts, body hair, widening of the hips, fat build up around the breasts, thighs and hips, and the beginning of menstruation. They will also have a final growth spurt.
• Boys. Puberty begins anywhere from age 12 to 16 in boys. Like girls, they also grow and change in many ways. They will also have a growth spurt, develop body hair, deepen their voices, see growth in the testicles and penis, and begin to produce sperm.
Know what to expect – changes in behavior
• Girls. An increase and change in hormones may lead to your daughter being moodier, sleeping more, and being preoccupied with sexuality. She may experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) around the time of her period, even before her actual menstruation starts. This can include headaches, stomachaches, bloating, irritability, and feeling sad or emotional.
• Boys. The testosterone hormone that begins to be produced may lead to changes in your son's behavior. These changes include increased aggression, awkwardness such as bumping into things as he grows into his body, sleeping a lot, being preoccupied with sexuality, and having wet dreams (when some ejaculate comes out of his penis while he is asleep).
Prepare your child for these changes. Try to start talking about puberty before your child experiences it. Sometimes, it can come early and be a surprise when a boy's voice cracks for the first time or a girl gets her period in school, which may be upsetting for your child. Many schools educate children on the physical changes associated with puberty between 5 th and 7 th grades. Find out if and when your child's school does this, then make sure you also talk to your child at home. Prepare him beforehand for what he will hear. Ask afterwards if he has any questions or how he feels about what he heard. Some children also get information through religious education at church. If your child will not get any information in school or elsewhere, you can start a conversation by getting a book from the library, asking your doctor's office for information, or printing out information from some of the websites listed at the end of this article. Your child may feel uncomfortable reading these materials with you, but you can suggest that each of you read them and then talk about it.
Pay attention to your child's body image. As your child experiences these physical changes, he may become more self-conscious about how his looks. Media images and peer pressure also come into play at this age and can contribute to confusion regarding your child's own body image. You can help your child develop a positive body image by reassuring him that weight gain is a normal part of development, and everyone has a different body type. Try to avoid negative statements about food, weight, and body size and shape. Instead, focus on your child's accomplishments, good decisions, and positive attitude. Teach your child to make his own healthy decisions about food; discuss the health problems that can associated with extreme over- or underweight. Be aware of and discuss what your child sees in the media. Remind your child that youth experience puberty at different times, so there's no need to worry if his voice hasn't changed yet but his friends' voices have, or the other way around.
Keep the communication going. Your child may not be comfortable coming to you with questions about puberty, so start the conversation yourself. Look for opportunities from television shows, movies, newspaper or the internet to bring the subject up. Talk about your own experience and reassure your child that these changes are a normal and special part of growing up, although they may cause some anxiety. While it can be hard for many parents to discuss puberty and physical changes at home, it's important to put your discomfort aside and talk through any embarrassment. Your child has access to information from peers and the media about these things, though some of it may be misleading or outright wrong. You can be your child's best source of accurate information, so find out accurate information to educate yourself and your child. Your child may also feel awkward discussing this with you and may act like she is not listening or that she is bored, but be assured, she is hearing what you say.
Use the doctor. At this age, doctors usually ask that children start coming into the exam room without their parents (at least for part of the office visit). Educate your child about the importance of asking his doctor questions and telling his doctor about new body changes. This can help your child ask his doctor any questions about his physical changes that he does not feel comfortable asking you. It's better that he get the information from a trusted source rather than secondhand through a peer. This is also a good time to explore whether your child should switch doctors from a pediatrician to an adult or family doctor. If his doctor is of the opposite sex, he may start to feel uncomfortable and want to see someone of the same sex. Or, if he sees a family doctor, your child may wish to switch to someone who no one else in the family goes to. The doctor can be a resource for you, too, and you can ask your child's, or even your own, doctor what to expect from your child when it comes to puberty, when to expect it, and how to talk to your child about it.
Other helpful websites: