I’m a single parent, and it’s time to talk to my child of the opposite sex about puberty. I feel awkward talking about body parts and processes I can’t relate to. How do I provide my child with information without freaking us both out?
Katie Godfrey—licensed marriage and family therapist, child and family team coordinator at The Catalyst Center—shares the following tips for parents:
Before you do anything else, settle your fears around the topic. If you are stressed, your child will think that puberty is something to be scared or ashamed of. Remember, we all have bodies, go through puberty, and are sexual creatures. As parents, we often talk about things we have not personally experienced, such as an unfamiliar sport, musical interest, or school research project. This is no different! Consider these points so that conversations about puberty can go more smoothly.
- Educate yourself. A book to start with is Talk to Me First by Deborah Roffman. One of my favorites to read with children is the three-book series by Robi Harris, starting with It’s NOT the Stork.
- Look for legitimate online resources, including those about menstrual products and how to properly use them, and make sure to share this information with all children regardless of gender. Limiting the subject of menstruation only to those who have periods inadvertently makes the topic scary and shameful.
- Utilize the resources of your friends, family, and community. Is there a class you could take together or separately? Maybe your child has a favorite adult of the same gender who could speak with them. Ultimately, find resources you feel comfortable with and that fit your values.
- As a culture, we are moving away from “the talk,” replacing it with age-appropriate discussion woven into everyday conversation, ideally starting with babies. For example, when changing diapers, use correct terms for their genitals. Knowing about “penises” and “vulvas” instead of “peepees” and “hoohahs” can help protect children from sexual predators who are less likely to target children educated about their bodies and sexuality. That’s because these children are more likely to tell their parents about the inappropriate encounter—and predators don’t want to be discovered.
- Normalize these topics by discussing them in small doses, thus building up your courage while letting children know this subject is not taboo. Let them know their changing body is normal and not something to be embarrassed about.
- Leave resources so that your child can look at them privately. Make sure they understand they can always come to you with questions. After all, wouldn’t you rather they learn the correct information from you than incorrect information online or from their peers?