Early puberty: Causes, signs & how to best support your child
If they tell you that the first couple of years of parenting are extremely tough to deal with, let me tell you that you don’t know what tough is until your child hits puberty. Those crazy years when your child is going through a bucket full of changes and as parents, we watch it all through helpless eyes as we can do nothing more than just keep calm and go with the flow.
However, the times that we are living in have, in a way, preponed a lot of things for our kids including the age boys and girls are hitting puberty right now. A recent study published in The NewYorker says that across the world, girls as young as 8-9 are hitting early puberty, also known as precocious puberty, which could be attributed to a number of reasons– from early growth and physical development to stress, exposure to the digital world, and the recent one being living and surviving the Covid19 pandemic.
While boys are also undergoing the same, girls still outnumber them, says the report. It also highlights that early puberty does not mean that there is something wrong with your child, health-wise, and parents need not worry about it a lot. However, what parents can do is be better informed and offer the best kind of support to nurture their little ones during this difficult phase of their lives.
What is Precocious Puberty- Causes, signs & symptoms?
Let us first understand what exactly is early puberty and what are the signs, symptoms and causes that parents must watch out for.
Precocious Puberty or early puberty is when girls and boys hit puberty earlier than usually expected. This means that the age at which kids normally hit puberty, which is 12-14 years and gets preponed by a couple of years. The New Yorker reports that the age is 8-9 years for girls and boys across the world according to the latest research data.
This means that your child would be experiencing these signs and symptoms earlier than expected:
Physical changes in adolescence mentioned above also trigger a lot of hormonal changes, which in turn leads to mood swings, irritability and a general uneasiness as kids do not know how to cope with all the changes their body is undergoing.
Unfortunately, experts have not been able to actually identify the causes of precocious puberty in most cases. However, reports say that early puberty in girls and boys could sometimes be triggered by medical problems in some kids such as:
- Certain kinds of tumours and other growths,
- Severe brain injury or a blow to the head that causes hormonal imbalances in the body
- Brain inflammation caused by an injury or infection
But this is only in a few rare cases, where the changes during puberty in boys and girls happen rapidly and before the actual age.
Changes during puberty in girls and boys- How to support your child
The physical changes in adolescence are as it is extremely difficult to deal with during the time of puberty in boys and girls; and in the case of early puberty, it becomes even more challenging because your small child might not be prepared to deal with them.
However, here’s how you can prepare your child better and support them to deal with all the physical changes in adolescence caused by early puberty.
1. Keep them informed: Always remember the better informed they are, the better prepared they will be to deal with the changes that are triggered by early puberty in girls and boys.
Keeping your child informed about the changes to expect and how to deal with them through videos, books and other sources that provide information on puberty in boys and girls can be extremely helpful for kids and help them be better prepared to deal with early puberty.
One of the books that I gave to my 11-year-old daughter, and highly recommend to other parents too, is the Menstrupedia comic, which is a guide to educate people around the world, particularly in India, on menstruation and the physical, emotional and other changes that it brings along.
2. Dealing with bodily changes: Appearance of breasts in girls, acne and pubic hair in both genders are one of the most common symptoms of early puberty in kids. This could not only be physically challenging but also embarrassing for those undergoing early puberty as the other kids in their class would be the same old kids as before while they go through it. This is when parents should find ways to tell their kids that it’s completely normal and it is just a part of growing up. This is where informative books also help a lot in giving your child the right information.
Using the right supportive undergarments- preteen bras for girls and boxer briefs for boys– is crucial as it would make them more confident and less embarrassed. This is also the right age to educate your child about maintaining hygiene especially while using sanitary pads and dealing with body odour and acne to avoid any infection and teasing by their peers. Another great idea would be to talk to experts and other parents around you to pick up a few tips on how they dealt with the changes during puberty in boys and girls.
3. Talk to them about bullying in school and around: The sudden appearance of acne, body hair and rapid growth can become a cause of bullying in schools and around the neighbourhood, which is why parents should also educate their kids on how to deal with bullies around them and how to feel confident about their changing bodies by embracing the changes positively.
Since kids spend half their day in school, speaking to teachers in the institution to understand the practices they are following to keep children aware and informed on the subject of early puberty in boys and girls is also recommended.
4. Seek support outside: While the scenario has changed tremendously, many families still do not like to talk about puberty and menstruation openly with their kids, let alone discuss it in front of family and friends.
This could make your child extremely conscious and hesitant to uninhibitedly discuss their state of mind with you. In such a scenario, it is best to seek support outside and take your kids to a counsellor or a child sex education expert who could help bridge the gap and explain them better. If you’re not okay going to a counsellor, let them talk to someone from your family who they’re close to– a close friend or guardian who you feel they will confide in.
Keeping yourself calm and nurturing your kids through this tough phase would be the best way to offer support to your child going through early puberty. Also, never forget that kids are the fastest when it comes to adapting to changes around them and with the right guidance and care they would overcome this too. All the best!!!
The views expressed are that of the expert alone.
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