You remember bringing your baby girl home from the hospital. The time has passed way too quickly and you realize that she's now on the verge of puberty. The thought of her growing up is terrifying. Even more scary? Sitting down and talking to her about her changing body.
"A lot of parents are nervous about having "the talk" with their children and that's understandable," said Philip Brown, MD, a pediatrician with
St. Mary High Desert Medical Group in Victorville. "Puberty is a time of extreme change for children – and for parents. But it's important that your children understand what's happening with their bodies and why. Be open, factual and create an environment that allows them to ask you questions without feeling embarrassed."
Dr. Brown says parents should be proactive about talking to their children. Don't wait for your children to ask questions; that may never happen.
"Beginning from about age 8 or 9, children should have at least a basic understanding of the physical and emotional changes of puberty," Dr. Brown said. "I know that sounds young but consider that some girls can start puberty by second or third grade. You want to prepare your child for these changes before they begin."
Dr. Brown suggests looking for natural opportunities to discuss puberty. That can happen when you and your child are watching a TV show or commercial, when your child is learning about health in school or when your child notices or comments on someone else's body. Your child may ask you why their bodies are changing. Explain that it's a natural part of growing up and that it's nothing to be afraid of, Dr. Brown says. You may also want to explain that these changes will allow your child to one day be a parent.
But what should your child know? Dr. Brown says children should know about these changes:
- Girls' breasts begin to swell and grow, sometimes one faster than the other.
- Girls' bodies become more rounded, especially in the hips and legs.
- Leg hair becomes thicker and darker and boys and girls get underarm and pubic hair.
- Boys and girls start to sweat more and some may get acne.
- Boys grow facial hair, their voices get deeper and their muscles get bigger.
- The penis and testicles get larger.
- Boys may ejaculate in their sleep.
- Girls begin menstruating once a month and her period may last three days to a week. Girls can use pads or tampons to absorb the blood.
- Menstruation happens because a girl's uterine lining fills with blood in preparation for a fertilized egg. If the egg isn't fertilized, she will have a period. If it is fertilized, she will become pregnant.
Some parents worry about things they don't recognize as signs of puberty, such as small lumps in the breasts; that stems from changes in hormone levels and can happen in boys as well as girls.
"For girls, breast growth is usually the first indication of puberty. Girls may notice swelling or soreness around the nipples or small lumps beneath their nipples as their breasts begin to develop. These "buds" are normal and usually appear between the ages of eight and 13," Dr. Brown said.
If you have questions about your child's development, feel free to make an appointment with your child's pediatrician.
"Every child goes through puberty at a different time," Dr. Brown says. "Your child may feel self-conscious if she develops faster or slower than her friends. Reassure her that everyone goes through this and make sure she knows she can tell you or ask you anything."
For more information on St. Mary High Desert Medical Group, please click here.
For more information about Dr. Brown, please click here.