The DO’s and DON’T’s of the puberty talk

THE PHYSICAL STUFF

Body hair

DO: Provide tips on how to shave properly if they ask or you notice they’ve started e.g. shaving with the grain, using soap/shaving cream, etc.

DON’T: Laugh at their attempts, especially if boys start shaving their face before growing hair, or shame them if you’ve noticed they’ve started shaving elsewhere (legs, underarms etc). It’s okay to have a conversation letting them know you think they’re too young, but don’t make them feel embarrassed for already having a go.

Growing taller

DO: Explain that everyone grows taller throughout puberty, some more than others, but whatever height they end up with is fine and normal for them.

DON’T: Make comments about them being ‘late bloomers’, or constantly compare their height to others, or say that you hope they’ll grow more or stop growing.

Voice changing

DO: Talk about how voice deepening is a normal part of puberty, and sometimes ‘vocal cracks’ happen and they’re normal.

DON’T: Make fun of your child’s ‘vocal cracks’ (say by imitating them afterwards). A laugh on occasion is okay when they’re happy to have a laugh at themselves too; just resist poking fun.

Periods

DO: Normalise periods by talking about them in the house and using the correct terminology rather than just euphemisms (such as speaking in hushed tones that ‘Aunt Flo has come to town’).

DON’T: Only explain in detail how periods work to girls or people born with a uterus. All children need this information.

Developing breasts

DO: Talk about buying crop tops or a bra. If your child is too embarrassed or shy to talk about it , buy a couple and leave them in their bedroom.

DON’T: Make jokes to or in front of a child about their growing breasts.

Increased sweat

DO: Remind your child that it’s important to shower and change their clothes every day, not just for smells but for general hygiene, and using deodorant at this time can help manage the unpleasant smell.

DON’T: Forget to explain that this is normal for girls as well as boys. It’s not only boys who can sweat a lot.

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL STUFF

Mood changes

DO: Explain that this is a normal part of puberty and help their emotional literacy by naming feelings together, as well as the sensations that can come with them.

DON’T: Shame them by making jokes or flippant comments to friends or relatives. That being said, if their moods are causing problems in the household – it’s okay to talk to your young person about it.

Strong emotions

DO: Come up with de-escalation tactics when they’re feeling calm and happy, as a way of preparing for when their negative emotions start to take over. These could include going for walks, taking a bath or listening to music. Remind them that different things work for different people, for example some people feel better after talking things out, while others seek solitude and quiet time to help themselves recalibrate.

DON’T: Tell them that they’re over-reacting to any situation at hand.

Concern about appearance

DO: Talk about societal pressure to be ‘beautiful’, ‘buffed’ and or ‘lean’, and the importance of non-physical attributes (such as sense of humour, creativity, sport or musical talents etc) when it comes to seeing and valuing themselves and others.

DON’T: Chastise or make fun of any of their attempts to groom or dress themselves in a way that you think is too adult, inappropriate or silly. If you think they’re too young to be shaving, putting on makeup, or whatever it may be, have a calm conversation where you explain your values without shaming them. Tweens especially care about fitting in with their peers and won’t want to be seen in the ‘wrong’ clothing, and it’s important that you talk about this too.

Crushes

DO: Explain what crushes are, that it’s normal to get crushes but also normal not to, and that they don’t have to tell anyone or do anything about a crush – no matter what they see in movies.

DON’T: Laugh at their crushes or fob them off as ‘puppy love’. These feelings can be very intense and serious for your young person.

Increased sensitivity

DO: Be mindful of your words (within reason, none of us are perfect) and talk about how to use reason to put strong emotions and situations into perspective.

DON’T: Tell them that they’re being ‘too sensitive’.

Desire for greater freedom

DO: Negotiate and compromise on the freedoms that they want, and reward good behaviour (say, if they’re home before curfew on time every day for a month, you might want to consider extending their curfew time by half an hour, etc).

DON’T: Make statements that equate their desire to spend time outside of home/with their friends with meaning that they don’t like or love you as much anymore.

Increased argumentativeness

DO: Explain that this is a normal part of puberty and you understand that they still love you. Also, try to keep a level voice when they raise theirs and come up with strategies together when they’re feeling calm to diffuse their anger when they do get into a state.

DON’T: Forget to walk away from an argument if you need to. It’s okay to ask for time outs or simply put an end to the conversation for that day and go calm down yourself.