How to talk to your child about puberty

Get expert pointers on how to broach the touchy subject of body odour, moods and BGR with your sullen tween!

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Puberty is not fun, nor is it easy. Physical changes aside, hormones and out-of-control emotions may make it extremely difficult for you to communicate with your preteen.

This is also usually the period when junior discovers his unique sense of self. Explains Madelin Hiew-Tay, a Family Central counsellor (a service by Fei Yue Community Services), “They realise that their parents may not know everything, [that their parents] are not the only truth [that’s out there] and they begin to be curious about the larger world.”

Asian parents, in particular, tend to avoid talking to their teens about puberty. Iris Lin, Fei Yue’s assistant director of youth services, points out that topics on bodily changes, hormonal changes and sex tend to be more difficult for parents to discuss.

“I find that teens [with] parents who would discuss and share with them about these changes are more open [and likely] to share their experiences with their parents.” For teens that don’t have that kind of support, they will likely turn to their peers for information or search online for answers.

However, your tween should not trust all that he reads online or from his peers. Which is why you need to broach the subject, so that he gets the correct info. Hiew-Tay and Lin have tips on how you should talk about puberty, without compromising your relationship…

Q: When should parents start broaching the subject of puberty?

Hiew-Tay: Puberty starts at different ages for different children. If parents can start this puberty conversation before they experience the changes, it will be good. The depth of the content covered may be different depending on the child’s age. We can begin with a celebratory tone when we introduce this new phase of life with pride and affirm how they have grown up. Then guide them through the anticipated physical, emotional and social changes. Do not instil fear, just highlight some challenges. Explain that it is an exciting period and you are here to support them. It will be ideal if both parents can have a date with each child individually to talk about the possible changes that will be coming.

Are there common communication issues parents can expect?

Hiew-Tay: You should be avoid being judgmental, thinking that your child is immature, and not being open to child's ideas or opinions.

How can parents avoid these problems?

Hiew-Tay: Try to understand who they are and what they need ― do they need your support or your shouting down at them? Are they under any form of pressure in school like schoolwork, project work or peers?

Keep an open mind when trying to find out more about their situation instead of assuming the “I-know-it-all” stance because your child already knows that you don’t. Don’t be judgmental as they also want to be respected, so spend more time listening than talking. Give them the attention and try not to multitask when they are talking to you.

“You should be avoid being judgmental, thinking that your child is immature, and not being open to child's ideas or opinions.”

It is also about timing ― so find a good time to talk, not when they are finishing homework or in the middle of his show or game.

In general, your children want your approval, so work on building a good relationship as it is the best defence against all pressures. Accept your child for who they are along with their weaknesses. Get to know ― and not criticise ― their friends because it’s as if you’re criticising your own child. When you do so, you’re highlighting your child's inability to choose good friends, which will make them feel alienated if they stop hanging out with them.

How to broach awkward and touchy subjects… Next!