How to support your child at the onset of puberty

When her seven-year-old daughter asked her why hair was growing from “her vagina,” Cleo * was shocked.

“I was not at all ready, nor prepared,” says Ballarat’s mother.

“I had to really scramble to respond in a way that supported and calmed me down because I was so surprised that my seven year old had pubic hair.

“Surely she was too young.”

Professor Susan Sawyer, pediatrician and director of adolescent health at Royal Children’s Hospital, said that “over the past 150 years or so, the time of onset of puberty has declined by about four years” for girls and boys.

The ‘normal’ range of physical and psychological changes in puberty is now considered to be 8 to 13 years for girls and 9 to 14 years for boys, but it is possible that it starts even earlier, says Naomi. Hackworth, psychologist and acting director of the Raising Children network. This is medically known as precocious puberty.

So how can we best support our children if they experience puberty early?

Why does precocious puberty occur?

“The onset of puberty varies from child to child, even for children in the same family,” says Dr. Hackworth.

“[But it’s] considered early if it begins before age eight in girls, or before age nine in boys.

Professor Sawyer says that “early on doesn’t mean there’s something wrong”.

This can occur for a variety of reasons, including family genetics, obesity and “rarely, precocious puberty is caused by hormonal imbalances,” says Dr Hackworth.

“But for the majority of children, especially girls [where it is occurs more commonly], no cause is found. “

Although boys experience early puberty less than girls, it does happen and can impact their mental health as well.(

Pexels: Pavel Danilyuk


Signs of precocious puberty

Unfortunately, there is no way to know exactly when your child will start puberty, as the first changes in your child’s brain and hormone levels cannot be seen from the outside.

However, our experts say there are early physical signs before obvious events like period for girls and wet dreams for boys begin.

For girls, it is:

  • Growth spurts.
  • Change in body shape – hips widen.
  • Genital changes – pubic hair and the external genitalia (vulva) will grow.
  • Development of breasts or breast buds (small bumps under the nipple and areola).
  • Adrenarche – the awakening of the adrenal glands which can cause changes with sebum in the skin and hair such as sweating and body odor.

For the boys:

  • External genital changes – the penis, testicles, and scrotum will begin to grow.
  • Pubic hair will grow.
  • Adrénarche.

Patrice’s daughter showed signs at six

Eight-year-old Madi * also entered puberty at a young age. The first sign her mother, Patrice *, noticed was the body odor in her armpits when Madi was six years old.

“I noticed Madi came home from school feeling even on days when it was not too hot,” says Patrice, from the New South Wales region.

Patrice didn’t realize Madi’s body odor was a sign of her onset of puberty until about a year later, when Madi was also growing pubic hair.

“The shape of his body had changed too,” says Patrice.

“She had a growth spurt that saw her jump about two sizes of clothes and shoes in a matter of weeks. Her hips also widened and her thighs in particular were more shapely.

“In many ways, it was like losing part of her, that childhood innocence, because I realized she was growing up.”

How can precocious puberty impact children?

Precocious puberty can impact children’s mental health. The two experts therefore recommend consulting a healthcare professional if you notice any signs in your child.

Dr Hackworth and Professor Sawyer say that children who start puberty early might:

  • Be teased.
  • Feeling different or abnormal.
  • Feel embarrassed.
  • Have a poorer body image.
  • Be more likely to start exploring sexuality earlier.
  • Seem tall for their age at first, but then stop growing ahead of their peers.
  • To be treated by adults and other children as being older than they really are.
  • Be more likely to be exposed to the sexual interest of other people who think they are older.
  • Not wanting to change clothes in front of others or show off their body.

Girls who mature early may have a lower self-image and higher rates of mental illnesses such as depression and eating disorders, while “boys who mature early may have a better self-image. themselves and be more popular with their peers, ”says Dr. Hackworth.

Professor Sawyer adds, however, that, “[boys] mental health can still be negatively affected ”.

A woman and a child look at a computer together for a story about early puberty in children.
Cleo says the books and online resources have helped her explain the puberty process to her daughter Lana. (

Pexels: August de Richelieu


How to support your child

Cleo says she has found helpful books and online resources to support her daughter Lana *.

“We read parts of Kaz Cooke’s ‘Girl Stuff 8-12’ together, which really helped Lana understand the process, but also remind me of it.

“The book now resides next to Lana’s bed like a bible and she uses it as a reference when she needs it,” says Cleo.

“We [also] looked at tampons, underwear and sanitary napkins, the different types and how to use them. We also discovered towels for the younger ones, so the sizes are more appropriate. “

For Madi, it was one of her older friends who had also started puberty that was the biggest help.

“Talking to her friend really helped Madi feel ‘normal’,” Patrice explains.

“They’ll talk to each other a lot about what’s going on and what they think about it, which is great support.”

Tips for supporting your child

Here are some more tips from Professor Sawyer:

  1. 1.Show that puberty happens to all of us by allowing your children to experience different body types, such as parents and older siblings.
  2. 2.Model of inclusiveness of the body by showing acceptance of all bodies. “Don’t comment on other people’s bodies or with phrases like ‘too tall’ or ‘too skinny’.”
  3. 3.Have reading material on the subject available in the house ahead of time.
  4. 4.Let a trusted teacher or school staff know so that if something happens, like a first period, your child will feel comfortable going to see them.
  5. 5.Recognize and discuss all the changes in puberty, changes in our brain, body, social and emotional changes, as well as changes in our sexuality, sexual feelings and experiences. “It’s important to talk about all of this.”
  6. 6.Also discuss the concepts of consent, respect and inclusion.

* Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.

This is only general information. For personalized advice, you should consult a qualified doctor.

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer and former high school teacher from Ballarat, Victoria. She lives with her four fish, three goats, two cats, a chicken, as well as her two human children and her husband. Find her @shonamarion.

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