Wednesday Wisdom

May 26, 2021

Preparing for Puberty

By Dr Kathy Weston

Preparing for Puberty


There were shrieks of celebration in our house last week as the youngest declared he was the first boy in his friendship group to have an underarm hair (don't worry, he insisted that I tell you about it!). That single blonde strand came to symbolise a big step towards the goal of becoming a ‘fully fledged’ adult and passage from mummy’s pet to a deodorant wearing tween.

Puberty is something that causes all manner of ripples and responses across family units. Not all children enjoy puberty’s tell-tale signs, but most are happy to see body progress and growth. Our children’s joy in growing up can simultaneously trigger mixed emotions in parents and carers.

There is something about the arrival of underarm hairs, or hairs in other places, that can deeply unsettle or concern us. These hairy harbingers may be suggestive of what lies ahead for us. Might they threaten a reduction in our ability to have influence over our child, a burgeoning independence, or the concomitant loss of innocence?

Sure, we all know our children have to grow up one day, but perhaps we underestimate just how deeply attached we are to our children’s bodies, as they are and were. How can that beautiful lithe, simple body suddenly morph into a giant, hairy one? How can ‘his smell’, so deeply grounding and comforting to me as a parent, come to be so abruptly masked by a commercial deodorant? Children ‘growing up’ can seem implausibly wrong, even counter-intuitive.


Of course, such changes in our children occur as our own bodies quietly change too. The arrival of the tween and teen years often unhelpfully coincide with hormonal challenges triggered by our own middle age; hair loss, peri or menopausal mayhem, moodiness and mid-life crises.

Everyone is growing up and we all have a lot to contend with! However, we all need to get a grip. Being in any way negative about our children growing up is pretty much a bad idea (at the very least, in front of them). Responding with shock, horror or disgust to any aspect of puberty is not optimal.

A realistic and healthy approach is to prepare your children as much as you can by creating a family culture that is open, transparent and positive about puberty. When your daughter comes to tell you about her first period, hopefully you will have prepared her psychologically for that moment. It can happen much earlier than you think (around 8 to 9 years). You need to be ready not just with the right words, but also with the right, practical accessories! We all need a strong stomach for puberty and there is no room for heads in sand.

In addition to practically preparing our children and knowing how to answer their curious questions, we must also seize the opportunity to teach them about body boundaries and safety. As our children’s bodies change, our advice and counsel must evolve too. Whereas before, we towelled our children down after their bath, suddenly, we need to hold the towel up and turn around. Whereas before, we did all the washing, now we encourage them to do it. We are modelling, teaching and nudging them towards the sense that their bodies are now entirely their own; touch requires consent.


Who and in what circumstance an adult may be allowed to touch our children’s bodies requires not just one big conversation, but many small ones, over a period of time.

This begins with children understanding their own body boundaries. Particular adults, at particular points in time and contexts, may have permission to touch them. Who are these adults? When might the context allow it? The barber might be allowed to touch your hair and neck, but what about other parts of your body? What can a doctor do or not do? What about your piano teacher or swim coach? Don’t be afraid to talk about ‘bad touch’ and ‘good touch’.

Ensure your children understand the exact pathway toward telling you if touch doesn’t feel comfortable or right. Even socially, there may be situations where other children overstep your child’s body boundaries. Can you help your child to practise social scripts that might help them to navigate such situations? Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect by Jayneen Sanders, Brilliant Questions about Growing Up by Amy Forbes-Robertson and Lynda Madaras’ books about growing up can all help to facilitate honest conversations.

Hugging is now back in fashion and legal, so it is a good opportunity for us to articulate what types of touch we welcome or not. By empowering our children with strong social skills to encourage or deter touch and by giving them clear instructions as to when touch is inappropriate or plain wrong, we future-proof them. As for us, let’s not grieve our children’s growing up too much and instead try to enjoy their joy at becoming exactly who they are destined to be.

It’s half term next week, so I will be spending some time with my family. Wednesday Wisdom will return on 9th June.

Are you a Tooled Up member?

I advise Tooled Up parents to watch our video resources about the importance of teaching young children about body boundaries and encouraging your children to ‘open up’ and give our new activity, Body Boundaries: OK or NO WAY? a go. They will be joined in the library by several more resources on body boundaries over the next week. Also, take a look at our evidence-based tips about preparing girls for puberty (we are preparing a resource for boys as I write).

We have several webinars over the next month. These ticketed events are open to everyone, but are free to parents in Tooled Up schools (keep a lookout for your promotion codes – coming your way this week). To celebrate Father’s Day, I will be giving a unique talk on fatherhood on 17th June. On June 21st, I’ll be chatting to Lucy Haseler, founder of Springboard Learning, about how to support year 9 and 10 pupils as they approach their science GCSEs, and on 30th June, we’re focusing on optimal approaches to the 11+, with renowned tutor, Victoria Olubi-Ademosu. I hope to see lots of you there!