How to Talk to Your Child About Puberty

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Talking with your child about puberty can sometimes feel awkward or unsettling. You may not fully know what to say, or you might feel unsure about when to start having these discussions. But pediatric experts stress that it's important to talk openly and often with your child about this crucial developmental stage.

Waiting until kids are close to entering puberty can be tempting, as you may wonder what a toddler or preschooler would even need to know about how their bodies will eventually change. However, it's better not to wait, according to experts. "Conversations about puberty can start a lot earlier than we think," says Hina J. Talib, MD, a New York City-based pediatrician, adolescent medicine specialist, and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Ahead, learn more about how to approach talking about puberty with your child, including advice from pediatric experts about having these conversations at every age.

Why Talking About Puberty Matters

Talking to your kids about puberty is important not only because they need to know about their bodies, but also because they will be hearing about it from many sources, including their friends, social media, the internet, and the larger culture around them. Kids are naturally curious, and if they don’t get the information from their parents, they are going to get it somewhere, says Emily Ruedinger, MD, MED, a pediatrician and adolescent health expert at UW Health Kids in Madison, Wisconsin.

"Having them learn from their parents sets up caregivers as a trusted source of information," says Dr. Ruedinger. That way, your child knows that they can go to you with their questions and that they will be welcomed and answered, no matter what.

Puberty is marked by significant internal and external changes, says Paul Hokemeyer, LMFT, PhD, a marriage and family therapist licensed in New York. "Internally, our children's bodies start acting in ways that can be overwhelming to them. Externally, puberty marks a period in which our kids become hyper-aware of their appearance and how others, particularly those in their peer groups, perceive them."

Having conversations about these changes helps your kids know what to expect, such as experiencing periods of rapid growth or the onset of menstruation, and allows them process this period of transition in a positive way, says Dr. Talib.

When to Start the Conversation

You can begin laying the groundwork for these necessary discussions when your child is a baby or toddler. "Use correct, anatomical terms to describe parts of the body," advises Dr. Ruedinger. "Avoid making their curiosity about the body shameful, but rather just a natural part of being human."

It's important to keep in mind that there is a range of ages in which children enter puberty, and some go through puberty early. Typically, puberty begins by the age of 11 or 12, but it can start as early as age 8 or be delayed until 14 or even later.

The key is to normalize talking about bodies, growth spurts, and sexuality, emphasizing that everyone evolves over time and at their own pace. "Whether children indicate it or not, they already know that their body is changing," says Dr. Talib, who encourages you to have simple, judgment-free, straightforward conversations about puberty starting at a young age.

Also, remember, it’s never too late to have these conversations. "Even if your child has already marched through the tempo of puberty, they may still have questions," says Dr. Talib. So, continue to provide an open and welcoming environment where these topics can be discussed.

Tips for Talking About Puberty

As a general rule, you should aim to answer questions truthfully. At the same time, you don't need to go into greater detail than your children might be asking for. "Sometimes as adults, we interpret questions to be bigger than the child intends it to be," says Dr. Ruedinger. For example, if they ask where a baby comes from, they usually aren’t asking about the mechanics of sex; they might just need to know that they grow in their parent's belly.

"With younger children, you can explain that someday their body will change from a little kid body to an adult body," says Dr. Ruedinger. You can bring this up naturally when they see you putting on deodorant or if they ask about shaving their legs. "Use those situations as opportunities to convey these ideas, so they know what to expect physically and cognitively when puberty happens for them."

To avoid the stress of having one "big talk" looming in the distance, make it a goal to normalize talking about puberty on a regular basis. "Multiple, little conversations over the course of a child’s life are more productive than one huge talk about puberty and sex," agrees Dr. Ruedinger. Saving it all for one discussion that takes place before or during puberty adds a lot of pressure for both the parents and the child, and can inadvertently convey the false message that talking about their body is awkward and to be avoided.

Questions Your Child May Have About Puberty

Many kids will want to know when they will go through puberty—and it's okay to say you don't know. "It’s very important for kids to understand that all bodies change at different times—and this is completely normal," says Dr. Talib. Also, be aware that as just kids' bodies are maturing at different rates, they also develop at different rates from a social, cognitive, and romantic interest perspective.

Kids who are actively going through puberty may wonder if they are "normal," and if other people are noticing the changes they're experiencing. "They are developmentally self-critical and hyper-aware, so it's important for them to know that you love them and they are beautiful no matter what," says Dr. Talib.

Address physical changes like menstruation, body hair, voice changes, development of genitals and breasts, acne, and growth spurts using positive, inclusive language. Whenever these topics come up, be sure to ask your child if they have any questions or concerns.

Tailor the information you share to the topics relevant to your children, their developmental age, and whatever they're curious about. "Little kids are more concrete, so straightforward answers are all they need," says Dr. Ruedinger. Some topics, like consent, privacy, and safe touch are appropriate and important to discuss with kids of all ages. With tweens and teens, you'll likely want to go deeper into the physical, social, and cognitive changes that occur with puberty.

It's possible some of your child's questions may catch you off guard, Dr. Talib notes. If your children ask about personal things that you aren't comfortable sharing, it's fine to express that something is private, and offer general answers instead. "Practice a pause before you answer and know that if they are asking you these questions, it is a gift."

How to Address Puberty With LGBTQ+ Youth

Research shows that there are things that parents can do to reduce the risk of potential negative mental health outcomes for their LGBTQ+, trans, gender-fluid, or nonbinary children, says Dr. Ruedinger. Most importantly, it's crucial for parents to know that using their child's correct pronouns and being accepting, welcoming, and inclusive is essential for their well-being.

"Parents have the power to counter biases against trans and nonbinary youth by being affirming and rallying around the concept of wanting our children to lead happy lives—and the path to that is acceptance at home," says Dr. Ruedinger.

With all children, it's key to talk about puberty in an open and positive way. "In an ideal world, all kids would be learning about how puberty develops for a wide range of people in a way that uses anatomy terms rather than focusing on gender," suggests Dr. Ruedinger. Aim to move away from gender-segregated lessons, and instead educate your child about the changes that happen to all kids, while also affirming their unique gender identity.

Children and teens across the transgender spectrum might have specific questions about hormones and ways their body might change. It's profoundly important to listen and address their concerns, either at home, or with their pediatrician or healthcare provider. "The more open and accepting of gender fluidity, gender identity, and sexuality you are in your own lives, you can intentionally create a space for your child if they have questions about gender, sexuality, or LGTBQ+ issues," says Dr. Talib.

A Word From Verywell

Talking to your child about puberty is an important part of parenting. Aim to give your child all the key information in a shame-free way that honors this monumental transition from childhood to adulthood.

If you have any questions about puberty—or how to best broach the topic with your child—reach out to their pediatrician or healthcare provider for guidance and support. In fact, encourage your child to talk to their doctor if they ever want more information than you can provide. The bottom line is to crate a safe, inclusive space for your child to ask questions and view you as a trusted source of information,

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Physical changes during puberty.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Delayed puberty in girls.

  3. National Institute of Health. Early or Delayed Puberty.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Gender-diverse and transgender children.

By Sarah Vanbuskirk
Sarah Vanbuskirk is a writer and editor with 20 years of experience covering parenting, health, wellness, lifestyle, and family-related topics. Her work has been published in numerous magazines, newspapers, and websites, including Activity Connection, Glamour, PDX Parent, Self, TripSavvy, Marie Claire, and TimeOut NY.