Having “the talk” about puberty with your child can be one of the most uncomfortable, scary, memorable, and rewarding conversations you ever have. When tackling puberty with your child it is important to create a framework for your talk, open pathways of communication, and to have creative conversation starters.
The first and most important thing to do before having the talk is assessing your child’s readiness. As a parent/guardian, you know best when it comes to understanding your child’s comfort level. Assessing how much and exactly what information they’re ready to hear will help build the foundation for your talk. Next, decide on and prioritize the topics you want to tackle. Do they want information about their changing body, support or strategies to help them deal with peers? Whether it’s pimples, growth spurts, or hair growth, having a just few key topics in mind will help start the conversation and also leave room for future talks.
We often feel we need to know all the answers to our children’s questions, but in reality what you know is a lot less important than how you respond. Convey the fact that there is no such thing as a bad question to ask. Let kids know that if you don’t know the answer, you won’t make something up, but you’ll go out and find the information. This will leave children with the impression that you are an “askable parent/guardian.”
Some questions might leave you feeling a little uncomfortable. That’s totally fine. Even if you are not able to overcome your discomfort, don’t worry about admitting it to your kids. It is OK to say things like “You know, I’m uncomfortable talking about puberty because my parents never talked with me about it. But I want us to be able to talk about anything, so please come to me if you have any questions”. This lets your child know that you are being honest and that you are there to help with anything they need.
One of the last and most often overlooked ways to open communication is remembering kids are sometimes scared and not sure how to directly ask questions, which may lead to “questions behind questions.” Pay attention to body language and think about all the events that are taking place in your child’s life that might be prompting certain questions.
Once the pathways for communication have been opened, get creative about how to start “the talk.” Teachable moments provide opportunities to ease into conversations, especially ones dealing with puberty. Saying things like “have you noticed how tall some of the kids in your class are this year?” or “I’m running to the store to get myself some deodorant, want to come and get some for yourself?” are subtle ways to start talking to your child about puberty.
For more information visit www.robertcrown.org and click the ‘Parent Education PEP’ link.
Lance Williams is a health educator at the Robert Crown Center for Health Education in Hinsdale.