When approaching the time of body changes and the onset of puberty, the number one question on children’s minds is, “Am I normal?” For 8 -12 year olds, the changes in their own bodies and those they see around them provide a full menu of questions, concerns, fears and confusion. For this reason, talking about bodies and how they change should begin, at the latest, by the time children are 8 years old or in 3rd grade.
The goal is to offer children honest and accurate information BEFORE they experience the changes of puberty, so they know what to expect and have a chance to think through strategies for managing those changes, both physical and emotional. By doing so, we can help make the experience a positive one, an exciting metamorphosis from child to young adult, and one that encourages confidence and provides opportunities for learning how to keep their bodies healthy and themselves happy.
It’s best when the conversations about bodies include settings with their peers. Having these discussions in the classroom or among a group of friends or teammates, for example, the adult facilitating can set the tone for acceptance of differences that can prevent hurtful teasing about this sensitive topic.
What message do we want to communicate?
Everyone grows at their own pace, at exactly the right time for them. Each person has their own body clock that will start the changes when it’s right for that person and move through puberty at just the right pace for that individual.
There are many books that can help get the conversation started and provide the vocabulary that’s right for the age group. Here’s a short list of a few I rely on:
Amazing You! by Gail Saltz
What’s the Big Secret? by Laurie Krasny Brown
It’s so Amazing! by Robbie H. Harris
What’s Happening to My Body for Girls, by Lynda Madaras
What’s Happening to My Body for Boys, by Lynda Madaras
It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robbie Harris