When my kids were younger puberty seemed so far away. But then one day it’s like I woke up and started seeing the very first signs. And like many of you know, I cope with change and challenge by finding out all I can about a topic.
Puberty is a vital time in terms of the development of health and well being. The body and brain go through major changes over a four year span. Not only does nutrition, sleep and physical activity matter, but how children learn to cope and develop beliefs about their body and themselves. This sensitive period of development deserves every parent’s time and attention.
I went to write this as a single post but realized there was too much information. So I decided to turn it into a series of several posts. Here are the key points I will be touching on.
1. Puberty Timing Differs for Boys and Girls
Girls typically enter puberty around 11 and boys 12, even though any child can begin puberty early (8) or later (14). If your child is outside of the norm the going can get challenging. For instance, girls early to develop may feel self conscious and boys late to develop may also feel self conscious.
We will go into the key differences in timing from beginning to end so you can help prepare your child, and understand what’s normal.
2. Children Grow, Grow, Grow
This is the second major growth spurt behind infancy so get ready for growth to speed up. For girls this is a watch out because they fill out before they shoot up. This out-of-proportion growth can cause fear in parents and children, but it’s part of normal development. Boys on the other hand lose fat first and then gain muscle. On average, between 11 and 14, children gain 30-40 pounds and grow 9-11 inches!
We will discuss the details and important stages of this growth for both boys and girls, and how to engage with kids to promote a positive body image.
3. Your Child Will be Hungrier
It should be no surprise that with this growth kids experience intense hunger. It’s more important than ever to establish a regular rhythm of meals and snacks in your home. We will talk about foods that quell hunger and how to teach kids about nutrition so they (hopefully) make better choices when on their own. This is also a high-risk time when kids can start dieting or engage in restrictive eating behaviors so we’ll talk about ways to minimize that.
4. The Brain Goes Through a Major Rewire
The brain goes through a “rewiring” process that starts about age 10 and doesn’t end until 25 years of age. So in addition to the physical changes, puberty is a time of cognitive and social-emotional changes. The brain is busy pruning synapses and increasing myelination (makes the brain more efficient). I will discuss the three hormones that play a key role, including dopamine, serotonin, and melatonin. These hormonal changes affect mood, impulse control, your child’s relationship with you, and potential risk taking.
We will focus on the positive environment we can strive to give kids during this sensitive time of brain development, and how not to take what they do personally. Helping children develop healthy coping skills is of the utmost importance!
5. The Sleep Cycle Changes
Thought you’d never be able to sleep in on the weekend because of your kid’s early wake time? Well now you can!
Around 12, changes in melatonin decrease the pressure to sleep until later at night (around 11pm) so children go to sleep later and wake up later. The big problem here is the early middle and high school start times (despite recommendations to start later). Plus, there are the stresses of homework, activities, and phones and friends. We will talk about what you can do to help your child get the sleep they need.
6. Nutrition Needs Skyrocket
With all these changes you better believe nutrition plays a key role. Whether it’s calcium and vitamin D’s role in laying down bone, the importance of healthy fats for brain development, or the increased iron girls need when they start their period, we will cover it all. (This is definitely the stage a multivitamin is more helpful than not).
So that’s it. Anything you want to see included here? Additionally, what would you have liked to know about puberty when you were going through it?
Let’s talk puberty!!
Check out Maryann’s latest book How to Raise a Mindful Eater: 8 Powerful Principles for Transforming Your Child’s Relationship with Food