The impact of early puberty on children’s mental health
What is early puberty?
Early puberty is when a child’s body matures before the age of 8 for girls and 9 for boys. Along with the physical changes that the body goes through during puberty, the child will also experience a range of emotional changes; it is important for parents to understand these to better support children during this time of change, despite whether it is early or within a more normative time frame. For some children / pre-teens the impact of the bodily changes can also lead to anxiety, depression, and body image issues.
What are the physical and mental health changes?
During this time of development, children are often seeking to “fit in” with their peers and they are also beginning to form their identity. Small developmental differences between children can be perceived as being very intense and overwhelming to manage within themselves and even more so if they are comparing themselves with their peers. Questions such as “Why is my body changing and others aren’t ?” can be quite common. This experience can be even more challenging when the young person is going through puberty at a younger age and may not have the tools available to them to manage such large feelings. Understandably, difficulty with these feelings can cause moodiness and emotional outbursts. While the early brain changes and hormone changes cannot be seen, parents can begin to see other changes which are indicative of the beginning of puberty (prior to significant changes of menstruation and wet dreams), such as:
· Growth spurt
· Body shape (hips, breasts, breast buds)
· Genital changes (external)
· Oily skin, sweating, and body odour
Supporting your child with puberty
· First time parents will also be learning, while they may be re-learning about bodily changes they will also be learning how to parent a rapidly growing young person. But, by beginning with a understanding for both of you that puberty happens to all of us at some stage; learn about all different types of bodies – old and young; maybe even marvel at how incredible the human body can be!
· Throughout parenting being an positive role model is always important, but even more so at this time when children may become more self-conscious.
· Reading material which is age appropriate about the topic.
· Recognise and discuss all of the changes which may begin to take place such as the social, emotional, and sexual. It is important to discuss these so that if children have any questions they know that you are a safe place to turn to for answers.
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