How To Help Your Child Navigate Puberty

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If you have a child between 9 and 14 years old, you probably are already experiencing the high and lows of puberty. If not, buckle your seat belt, they’re coming!

Puberty can be tough on all involved, parents as well as kids

Lauren Adler_02R WEB72

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

Puberty is an exciting time for kids and parents, but it can also be scary, emotional and frustrating. Usually, puberty starts between ages 8-13 in girls and ages 9-15 in boys. It’s brought on by hormones (testosterone in boys and estrogen in girls).

Remember, your child may not be comfortable with all these changes or what they mean.

They may be concerned or embarrassed about their skin, their body image, their voice, sexual feeling, romantic attraction and/or any number of other changes. Are you ready to provide guidance and assurance during this crazy time of change?

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we understand all the changes your teen or pre-teen is going through (believe it or not, we’ve actually been through puberty ourselves) and we’re here to help, with advice, information and a listening ear. We’ve put together this blog on things to think about and ways to help your child navigate this developmental minefield, hopefully making what can be a rough ride a little smoother.

Physical development

Girls:

  1. In girls, the first sign of puberty is usually breast development. Your daughter’s breasts may swell or feel sore, and one breast might be larger than the other. This is normal, but if one breast is significantly different in size, or if the size doesn’t level out in time, you may want to consult your pediatrician.
  2. 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 start. Most girls want to start shaving their legs and armpits at this stage, and become very interested (obsessed?) with makeup, body shape, clothes and overall appearance.
  3. They will start to develop hips.
  4. Girl will also start their menstrual period, usually between 12 and 14.

Boys:

  1. The first physical sign of puberty in boys is testicle and penis growth.
  2. Like girls, they will grow hair in their armpits and pubic areas.
  3. Their muscles will grow and their voices will deepen.
  4. Facial hair usually shows up last.
  5. They develop an Adam’s apple in their throats.

Both girls and boys:

  • Have growth spurts
  • Can develop acne or skin problems; girls may develop these earlier, around age 13
  • Produce body odor
  • Can experience “growing pains” in joints
  • Can become overly sensitive or get upset easily
  • Have an increased sense of body image
  • Experience sexual feelings

Emotional development

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-image. 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. Of course, how your child specifically 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.

4 tips to help your child safely make it to the other side of puberty

  1. Reassure your child that everything that’s happening is normal. Their friends are also going through the same changes and probably have similar feelings, although they may not admit it.
  2. Celebrate the changes. Puberty signals that your child is becoming an adult – a young man or woman. Respond with praise, encouragement and support. Also, it’s important at this stage of your child’s development to increase their responsibilities and in a parallel way, your trust of them.
  3. Emphasize inner and outer beauty. If you have a daughter, she may say things like, “I’m fat” or “I’m ugly.” Reassure her that she is beautiful, inside and out, and that her body will eventually reach a balanced state.
  4. Encourage your son or daughter to eat healthy, get enough sleep (a tough one at this age), exercise regularly and find healthy ways to de-stress.

Questions or concerns? Please come see us.

During puberty, everyone changes at his or her own pace. Some kids, however, start developing very early or haven’t developed by an age when they should have. If you feel this might be the case with your child and you’re concerned about it, come in and talk with us. Together, we’ll determine what’s going on and if we need to take any action.

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By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics.

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About the Author: ML Ball