Puberty is the time in a person’s life when their body starts to transition into adulthood. Puberty can come with a lot of feelings, emotions, and changes, making it a confusing and challenging time for the person going through it, and their loved ones. It can be strange to experience these changes and not know why it is happening.
Nine Tips to Help You Discuss Puberty With Your Child
1. IDENTIFY WHO SHOULD LEAD THESE CONVERSATIONS
It can be uncomfortable to talk about these things with a parent (or anyone!). If a parent isn’t comfortable with these conversations, identify someone your child may be comfortable with to discuss these sensitive topics. Engaging a professional with expertise in this area may help guide the discussion. This person should be comfortable answering questions and speaking openly.
Sometimes speaking with someone who has experienced the same things during puberty is most helpful. For example, a young girl may prefer to talk to someone who has already had their period.
2. FIND RESOURCES THAT WORK FOR YOUR CHILD
Does your child prefer to read books, look at pictures, watch a video, or listen to someone speaking? Find a resource on puberty that helps them learn in a way they prefer.
Many of the following resources are from the articles “How to Help Teens With Special Needs Navigate Puberty” and “Puberty and Your Child with Autism.” We are not endorsing any one resource specifically:
3. ENCOURAGE QUESTIONS
Questions are natural. Let your child communicate their questions to you without judgment and answer honestly. Reiterate that they can always come to you and ask questions, and they will not get in trouble.
4. USE THE CORRECT NAME FOR BODY PARTS
Teach your child the correct name for their body parts and encourage them to use those names. This is important for general healthcare purposes and safety. This will also help you accurately explain the changes your child can expect to see.
5. EXPLAIN CHANGES BEFORE THEY OCCUR
Explain bodily functions like a menstrual cycle (period) or an erection before they occur. This helps your child know these things are “normal” and they can identify them when they occur.
6. PRACTICE GOOD HYGIENE
Share the importance of staying clean. Show them how to wash their entire body and use things like deodorant, razors (if comfortable), sanitary pads, tampons, or menstrual cups. Using visuals like a list with pictures or visual schedules may help.
7. DISCUSS APPROPRIATE BEHAVIORS AND SET UP RULES
Discussing things like privacy, sexual urges, and other feelings openly is important. Consider setting up rules like going to their room or bathroom when they need private time.
8. TALK TO OTHER PARENTS & CAREGIVERS
Learn from other parents and caregivers about how they navigated puberty with their child. It may be helpful to talk with other parents who have children with Fragile X syndrome or another intellectual or developmental disability.
9. BRAINSTORM WITH A PROFESSIONAL
Speak to your child’s doctor about resources and tools they would recommend. All of our Fragile X Clinical and Research Consortium (FXCRC) clinicians are comfortable discussing puberty and encourage you to establish a relationship with a clinic near you!
Puberty can be challenging to navigate. Go easy on yourself and let us know how we can help!
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Females with FXS: Strategies for Developing Executive Functioning and Social Skills — A Webinar with Barbara Haas-Givler
Topics covered include considerations to take into account when looking into post-secondary education options, resources to help prepare for puberty, strategies (with examples) on how to support task initiation and completion, and backward and forward chaining and transitions.
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Supporting Youth with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Through Puberty and Early Adolescence
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Puberty and Your Child with Autism
AbilityPath (formerly Gatepath and Abilities United)
Puberty and Sexuality
Texas Health and Human Services Commission
Social and Sexual Education: The Importance of Social and Sexual Education for Individuals with Down Syndrome
National Down Syndrome Society
The SAFE Alliance