“Puberty can start as young as age 8, so I recommend parents talk to children about what they will experience early on to develop an open, ongoing discourse,” says Marilyn Janke M.D., pediatrician on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Denton.
“Reassuring children that what they are going to experience is a normal part of growing up can help alleviate some of the stress puberty puts on them.”
Janke suggests creating a safe environment for children to talk about their feelings, concerns and worries. Opening those lines of communication later on can be difficult, so start young. Your child needs to know that he or she can trust you, that you’ll listen and that you are there to help no matter what the problem is.
“Also, remember that your children watch you for examples,” Janke says. “If you feel you made poor decisions, be honest with them and discuss how you would do things differently and why.” She also recommends making trusted physicians part of that process. During annual checkups, offer children some alone time with the doctor. This is a great way to build independence and give them a chance to open up to their doctor if they need to talk about something.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, setting clear, balanced boundaries can help children discern and avoid risky behaviors such as substance abuse and sexual activity, while gradually gaining responsibility.
“Don’t ever think your kids aren’t listening,” Janke says. “They may go through rough times, but it’s important that you create a good, strong foundation they can depend on as they grow. As parents, it’s your job to encourage your children to keep their emotions under control and make good decisions.”