If you have a child between 9 and 14 years old, chances are that puberty has already hit or will hit soon. This is an exciting time for parents and children, but it can be scary and frustrating, too. Your kids aren’t sure what all these changes are or what they mean and will come to you for reassurance and guidance. Make sure you are ready to provide that guidance; educate yourself about what to expect and what questions your child might ask.
In girls, the first sign of puberty is usually breast development. Your daughter’s breasts may swell or feel sore; she can use over-the-counter pain relievers. Sometimes one breast will be larger than the other is. This is normal, but if one breast is significantly different in size, or if the size doesn’t level out, you may want to consult a pediatrician.
After breast development, girls will start growing hair in the pubic area and armpits. If your daughter doesn’t already use deodorant, now is a good time to buy some. The menstrual period usually happens last, around 12 or 14.
The first physical sign of puberty in boys is testicle growth. Like girls, they will grow hair in their armpits and pubic areas. Boys’ muscles will grow, and their voices will deepen. Facial hair usually shows up last. Both boys and girls get acne during puberty, but girls may develop it earlier, around age 13.
Brace yourself for the onslaught of hormones. Kids go through plenty of emotional changes during puberty, in part because the way they see their bodies greatly influences their self-concept. Expect mood swings; your child may be joyous one minute and crying or angry the next. Boys may seem more sullen, while girls may cry or yell more easily, although how your child responds to changes will depend on his or her personality.
For girls, expect emotions to run high before and during menstrual periods. If mood swings are severe, your pediatrician might recommend dietary changes, vitamin supplements, and more sleep. In some cases, counseling and meds may help.
How to Help
Puberty is a rocky time. Here are a few tips to help your child navigate it:
- Reassure him that everything that’s happening is normal. His friends are going through the same changes and probably feel similar feelings, although they may not admit it.
- Celebrate the changes. This signals your child is becoming a man or woman. Respond with praise, encouragement, and an increase in trust and responsibilities.
Emphasize inner and outer beauty. Your child may say things like, “I’m fat” or “I’m ugly.” Reassure her that her body will eventually calm down, and that she is beautiful. Emphasize eating right, sleeping well, exercising, and caring for herself mentally.