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As a parent with a daughter who is on the cusp of puberty, awareness of the stages of puberty in girls is a handy thing to know. Why? Because by knowing what the stages of puberty in girls are, you can at least be prepared for what changes will be happening to your daughter. And prepare your daughter by talking about them before they even happen. Especially when it comes to things like periods!

When we look at breaking puberty up into stages of development, we are often talking about the Tanner Scale. A British paediatric endocrinologist, James Tanner,  developed the Tanner Scale in the mid-1900’s to measure the stages of sexual development during puberty.

The Tanner Scale is still used today. Although puberty starts earlier in girls today, the sequence of changes that happen in girls is unchanged.

And don’t forget that the timing of when these changes will happen to your daughter vary. Some girls can be earlier or later than others.

So what are the stages of puberty in girls?

PS I have tried to keep this post jargon-free but I have used the correct names for the private parts of the body ie the genitals. This article talks about the importance of using the correct terms when talking to kids about their private parts of their body, and it is has a download where they are all labelled for you.

Stage 1

(approximately between the ages of 8 and 11)

So what can you expect with the first of the stages of puberty in girls?

The first changes that will happen to your daughter are hidden as they are happening deep inside her body. The body will start to release hormones that will trigger the changes to start happening. The main hormone for girls is estrogen. It will begin to surge in your daughter’s body, making her ovaries grow much larger, but no changes can yet be seen outside her body.

You may notice a slight growth spurt where her hips and thighs begin to grow wider and slightly more rounded.

Stage 2

(approximately between 8 and 14)

So what can you expect with the second of the stages of puberty in girls?

Every girl is different, but the first visible sign of puberty that you will most likely see in your daughter is the development of breasts and then pubic hair. A small number of girls can be different and will develop pubic hair before breasts. This is completely normal and nothing to worry about.

Breast buds will develop and your daughter may feel a small lump behind her nipple. The nipples will be tender and elevated, and the area around the nipple, the areola, will increase in size.

Pubic hair may appear as a small amount of thin soft hair on the skin around the external genitals, on the mons pubis and the labia majora.

You may notice a growth spurt where she is a lot taller and is beginning to gain weight, with the body getting rounder and curvier. Her hands and feet will usually grow bigger as well.

As her sweat glands start to increase their production of sweat,  she will now begin to produce body odour ie smell.

Stage 3

(approximately between 9 and 15)

So what can you expect with the third of the stages of puberty in girls?

Your daughter’s breasts will continue to grow, increasing in size and being more cone-shaped and pointy. Her nipple and areola will now be more obvious, becoming larger and darker.  Her pubic hair will begin to grow coarser and darker, but there still isn’t a lot of it. She may also start to grow more hair on her lower legs.

Outside her body, her genitals will also begin to change and she may notice vaginal discharge for the first time. Some girls may have their first menstrual period, but it is usually light and not very regular.

Her body will still be growing and gaining weight and height.

Stage 4

(approximately from 10 to 16)

So what can you expect with the fourth of the stages of puberty in girls?

Your daughter’s breasts will continue to grow now with a fuller, more rounded adult shape. Her nipple and areola will become more obvious, becoming larger, darker and pointier. Her pubic hair will grow thick, curly and become coarser, taking on a more adult triangular pattern of growth. Underarm hair may now start to appear (some girls may already have underarm hair).

If they haven’t already started, then the first menstrual period should now start. Her period is likely to be irregular at first. Her vaginal discharge will usually become more frequent and in heavier amounts in the last few months leading up to her first period.

Her skin and hair may become oily.

Your daughter will continue to grow, and her hips will become rounder, but not at the same rate as before.

Stage 5

(approximately between 12 and 19)

So what can you expect with the fifth and last of the stages of puberty in girls?

This is the last stage of changes. Your daughter will now reach her full height and will look like a young adult. She will now be ovulating, which means that her menstrual period will be regular. Her breasts will be fully grown and her pubic hair will have an adult triangular pattern of growth. Her skin will be less oily, which usually means less pimples, except for the occasional one.

References
  • A Blessing Not a Curse: A Mother-Daughter Guide to the Transition from Child to Woman by Jane Bennett. 2002. Sally Milner Publishing Pty Ltd.  Bowral.
  • Adolescence and Puberty. Edited by John Bancroft and June Machover Reinisch. 1990. Oxford University Press. New York.
  • Gender Differences at Puberty. Edited by Chris Haywood. 2003. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.
  • Handbook of Child and Adolescent Sexuality: Developmental and Forensic Psychology. Edited by Daniel S. Bromberg and William T. O’Donohue. 2013. Elsevier. Academic Press. Oxford.
  • Puberty: Physiology and Abnormalities by Philip Kumanov and Ashok Agarwal. 2016. Springer International Publishing. Switzerland.
Puberty resources

It is easy to get overwhelmed at the thought of talking about the stages of puberty in girls. A lot of parents feel the same way.

The book, Girl Puberty: How to talk about puberty and sex with your tween girl, was written to help parents to get started with talking about puberty. It tells parents everything they need to discuss and how to start talking about it. You can get a copy of it at Sex Ed Rescue.

If you are looking for more blogposts on puberty, you can find that here.

There are also many books on puberty that will help you to talk about the stages of puberty in girls.

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Have you ever been asked by your child ‘why does puberty happen‘?  Well, it all has to do with hormones.

So how do you go about explaining hormones to your child, without getting all confused yourself? And when you don’t really understand how it all works yourself?

Well, you can take a big breath and relax, because I’m going to take to you on a nice simple tour of how our hormones make puberty happen.

Why does puberty happen?

Puberty happens because of your hormones.

Hormones are chemicals that all bodies make. Your body, my body, all bodies.

Hormones travel through your body in your bloodstream, from the place that they are made to the place where they will do their work.

Their job is to start something working. During puberty, the job of some hormones is to make your body capable of reproducing. Which means that you will be able to help make a baby.

So you could think of hormones as little chemical messengers that kickstart puberty ie tell your body to start developing into an adult body.

The pituitary gland

It all starts with the pituitary gland, a small gland that is found at the base of your brain.

One day, when your body says it is ready, your brain will send a message to the pituitary gland, telling it that it’s time to start releasing growth hormones into your bloodstream.

The hypothalamus produces a hormone called gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH). This hormone stimulates the pituitary gland to release two hormones: follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).

In boys, these hormones travel through your bloodstream to the testicles (testes) to make the hormone testosterone and to start getting ready to make sperm.

In girls, these hormones travel through your bloodstream to the ovaries, telling them to start producing the hormones progesterone and estrogen. This causes the egg (ovum) to be released from the ovary.

The pituitary gland is the master gland (the boss) that tells all the other glands what to do. It tells the other glands to start making the hormones that are needed to turn you from being a child to an adult.

Hormones are the chemical messages that allow different parts of the body to communicate with each other. Think of it like a telephone line, where everyone’s telephones are connected by wire cables, and we can send messages (talk) through the telephone lines. The body has its own telephone lines (bloodstream), where the glands are sending hormones (chemical messages) to the different parts of the body.

How the hormones work in puberty (and why you don't need to - YouTube
What do the hormones do in males?

So why does puberty happen for males? The changes for males are a little different because their body needs to do something different.

Follicle-stimulating hormone

Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) has an important job to do. When FSH reaches your testicles, it will start the growth of the seminiferous tubules, which is where your sperm will be made. Over the next couple of years, your testicles will slowly grow bigger, while all this new growth happens inside of them.

This can take a couple of years to happen. Once these tubules are fully grown, your body will then be ready to start maturing the sperm so that they are then ready to help in making a baby. This means that you will be able to ejaculate, and semen, which contains the sperm, will come out of your penis.

Luteinizing hormone

Luteinizing hormone (LH) has a different job to do. It triggers special cells inside your testes, called Leydig cells, to start producing hormones called androgens. The main androgen that the Leydig cells make is called testosterone. Girls have testosterone too, but not as much as boys. Androgens are hormones that tell your body that it’s time to mature or grow up. It helps to make the male changes that boys have, things like a deeper voice, face/armpit/pubic hair, and the start of their sex drive.

Testosterone helps to get certain parts of the body, like the prostate gland and the seminal vesicles, ready to care for and carry the mature sperm. When everything is ready, testosterone will then tell your testicles that it is time to start maturing the sperm to be ready for reproduction via ejaculation. In boys, this means that they will now be able to ejaculate, and semen, which contains the sperm, will come out of their penis.

You can find a more detailed explanation, with diagrams inside my book, Boy Puberty.

What do the hormones do in females?

So why does puberty happen for females? The changes for females are a little different because their body needs to do something different.

Estrogen and Progesterone

These important hormones have different jobs to do. Estrogen is responsible for the growth of your breasts, the changes in your body shape such as hips, legs, and breasts, and the development of your reproductive organs. Together, progesterone and estrogen will prepare your uterus for menstruation (periods) and pregnancy (making a baby).

Ovulation

Your eggs have been inside your ovaries ever since you were a baby growing inside your mother’s uterus.

Estrogen tells your ova (or eggs) to mature. It also tells your ovaries to prepare an egg (ovum) for release into your fallopian tubes. This egg will travel along your fallopian tubes and into the uterus. This whole process of ripening an egg for release from the ovary is called ovulation. Ovulation is when the eggs stored in your ovaries begin to ripen, with one being released every four weeks or so, plus or minus a few days.

Menstruation

While the egg is ripening and getting ready to come out, the lining of your uterus will start to thicken, just in case a sperm joins with your egg, which means it could make a baby. If the egg is joined with a sperm, the body will begin to prepare itself for pregnancy. If the egg is not joined with a sperm, the lining of the uterus will begin to dissolve. This dissolved lining comes out of the vagina, and is known as a period, menstruation or menstrual blood. Two weeks after the period, another egg is released and the whole process of ovulation begins all over again.

You can find a more detailed description, with diagrams, inside my book, Girl Puberty.

References
  • Adolescence and Puberty. Edited by John Bancroft and June Machover Reinisch. 1990. Oxford University Press. New York.
  • Gender Differences at Puberty. Edited by Chris Haywood. 2003. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.
  • Handbook of Child and Adolescent Sexuality: Developmental and Forensic Psychology. Edited by Daniel S. Bromberg and William T. O’Donohue. 2013. Elsevier. Academic Press. Oxford.
  • Puberty: Physiology and Abnormalities by Philip Kumanov and Ashok Agarwal. 2016. Springer International Publishing. Switzerland.
Resources

If you’re looking for a video that helps to explain why puberty happens, then this  Youtube video may help.

And don’t forget about books. There are some fantastic books for tweens on puberty, which means that you don’t need to remember all the intricate details. You can find some books that will help with answering  your tween’s questions about why does puberty happen, in our comprehensive book list.

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Are you making some of the  most common mistakes made by parents, in regards to talking with your kids about love, sex and relationships? Find out what the most common mistakes are, and how to not make them. Because they are really easy to make! And we all make them (me too)!

The most common mistakes made by parents

Here are some of the most common mistakes made by parents in regards to sex education.

Assuming that it’s only about sex

As a parent, sex education isn’t really about sex or sexual intercourse. When your kids hit puberty and become teens, you might talk with them more about love, sex and relationships but you won’t actually be the one teaching them how to do it! Instead you’ll be sharing your thoughts on what sexual behaviours and attitudes are okay (and not okay) in your family.

So sex education is a lot more than just teaching your kids about what sex is. As a parent, we usually want our kids to grow up and to live a happy, content and meaningful life. And maybe to even meet ‘Mr or Mrs Right’, and to start a family of their own. But if we want them to have a healthy relationship and to stay happy with their partner, then we need to make sure that they have enough knowledge and communication skills for that to happen.

And that is where we step in with sex education. As a parent, sex education is about many things, but the end goal is that you give your kids the skills to be able to make strong friendships and to have healthy loving relationships.

Which means that we might talk about a wide range of topics, like consent, body safety, where babies come from, recognising their feelings, and much more. You can find more information about what kids could know about here.

So one of the most common mistakes made by parents is assuming that sex education is just about sex.

The 5 most common mistakes that parents make about sex education - YouTube

Thinking it is just ‘one talk’

The majority of parents don’t think about sex education until puberty.  For most of us, it was the first time that our parents talked to us about sex. And usually, it was just the one awkward talk. Puberty also makes us start thinking about sex education, when we start to spot the first signs of puberty in our son or daughter.  We might see those first puberty hairs, or the budding of breasts, or get a whiff of body odour as they come home from school or get asked about what this thing (pimple)  on their face is. And we realise that they are growing up and that we need to talk to them about what changes are coming their way.

So today, we know that ‘one talk’ really isn’t enough. Can you imagine your parents talking to you about how to drive a car when you were ten years old, and then when you were 16, just handing you the keys and letting you drive? Yeah, right! Being a safe driver happens over many conversations that you have over a long period of time. So you can’t possibly expect your child to learn everything they need to know about sex in one conversation, and to then remember it all many years later!

Today, sex education is about lots of small, frequent conversations that are repeated.

So one of the most common mistakes made by parents is assuming that sex education is just ‘one talk’ that happens at puberty.

Assuming that it is someone else’s job!

Some parents think that they can just leave sex education to someone else to do. After all, their parents didn’t talk to them, and they managed to learn about sex.

But at some stage, all kids will learn about sex. If they don’t learn about it from you, they’ll pick up messages and values from their friends, TV, the Internet or magazines. These messages are often inaccurate, misleading and confusing. And the chances are that the values they learn will not be the values that you want your children to learn.

By talking with your child you can help them to make sense of this information, put them right, and make sure they haven’t got some strange, wrong or risky ideas. They’ll also know that they can come to you with their questions.

So one of the most common mistakes made by parents is assuming that sex education is someone elses job!

You keep on putting it off!

Getting started with sex education can be hard. Maybe they are too young, or you’ve left it too late! There are many reasons that can stop us from starting sex education, and there are actually some really good reasons why you should be talking with your child about sex.

That first conversation about sex will be hard, whether you talk about it today or next year. And the sooner you start talking, the easier it will be before you get to the tricky stuff in the teenage years! You can find some ideas on how to start talking with your tween about puberty and sex in my puberty books for parents.

So one of the most common mistakes made by parents is putting it off until another day!

Feeling inadequate

Sometimes parents think they need to know an awful lot to be a great sex educator, but you only need three things to get started.

  1. A basic understanding of the topic
  2. A willingness to initiate conversations with your kids.
  3. Knowing where to go to find the answers and resources.

And trust me, you already know more than your child does. You’ve had first-hand experience of going through puberty, having your first kiss, falling in love and having sexual intercourse!

So one of the most common mistakes made by parents is assuming that you don’t know enough!

Resources that will help with getting started!

Sex Ed Rescue has many resources that will help you with starting sex education.

You can find the most comprehensive online list of sex education books for children, with books on topics like puberty, where babies come from, body parts, pregnancy, sex, pornography, body safety, consent and more.

We also have a sex education resources list which includes some of the most reliable information that can be found on the internet.

And then we have our own parent resources that will make sure that you don’t make the most common mistakes made by parents!

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My 12 year old daughter had a wonderful idea about how we could make our home period positive. It was such a good idea that I casually mentioned it in my weekly newsletter. And I was surprised by how many emails I received back from parents thinking that it was such a good idea, that they too, went off with their daughters (and the odd son too) and made their house more period positive too! So, I thought I'd share it with you too!

My daughter started high school (or middle school) this year, which means that we needed to start getting her school stuff organised. And along with all the school books and stationary, we needed to squeeze in her period kit, which we had built the year before.

Now to date, her period kit spends more time in my box of period supplies for my business, and usually only gets pulled out if I need to take a photo of it for a blogpost! My daughter is only just starting to show some signs of puberty, which means that she hasn't really needed it before now. But she agreed, that maybe she should just keep it in her school bag since  it might come in handy for one of her friends.

So while we were checking that the contents of her period kit were suitable for her, she asked me whether we needed to start putting some pads in our upstairs toilet(which is the one that most guests use). I agreed that it was a great idea but that maybe we could wait until she had actually started her periods.  But what about her friends? What if they were visiting and started their period or needed to change a pad? Shouldn't we keep some period supplies in our toilet? Just in case they were too embarrassed to ask for some?

I thought it was a great idea, and so we got to work and turned our guest bathroom into a period positive space, through the simple act of making period supplies readily available for visiting menstruators!

Do you live in a Period Positive House? - YouTube
What does period positive mean?

Chella Quint is a menstruation education researcher, artist and performer from England. She founded the #periodpositive project to promote accurate and shame-free menstruation talk for schools and individuals. 

#periodpositive is a movement  to educate ourselves and others on shame-free menstruation talk, and break the cycle of secrecy, fear and misinformation about menstruation that leads to negative consequences like period poverty (not being able to attend school  of leave the house because of menstruation). 

  “I think people like the phrase ‘period positive’ because they realise it isn’t about skipping through a meadow, singing about how wonderful periods are. You can still hate your periods, or be indifferent to them; it’s about having a positive attitude to talking openly and challenging taboos about reproductive health.”

Chella Quint from http://www.periodpositive.com/

​​https://www.facebook.com/SxEdRescue/​​​So, period positive it is about having a positive-attitude towards menstruation. And as parents, it is up to us to help our daughters to grow up with positive feelings about menstruation (unlike the negative memories that many of us have of our own journey through puberty and adolescence). 

So something as simple as providing period supplies means that you are making menstruation management accessible in your house. Plus you are talking about menstruation openly and with out shame. Powerful messages from just one small thing!

How to get started

So what do you need to do to make your house more period-positive? Well,  you find a container, stick some period supplies in it, place it in your bathroom and  advertise it (within your bathroom). It's that simple. Plus it is a great mother-daughter activity that you can  do together.

Or if you only have boys, why not use it as an opportunity to talk about periods, and about the fact that some of the girls visiting your house will now be menstruating, therefore it would   be helpful for them if you made your bathroom period positive. 

This is how we made our house (or bathroom/toilet) period positive.

Step 1: Find a container

You'll need to find a container in which to store your period products. For our period positive bathroom, we chose a tea canister that we were no longer using, but you could use almost anything. It could be a basket, or a plastic container with a sealed lid. Or a bag that you hang off a hook on the back of the toilet door.

A friend of mine says she needs to use something secure because she will walk into her bathroom and find pads adhered to the walls and tampons bobbing along in the bathtub (with little figurines riding them like horses).  Some of her kids are still quite young, so she found a container that sits up high on the window ledge (and is difficult to open). So if you have little ones that  are 'into everything' you'll need to think of a kid-proof location.

Another friend  has a toilet that is it's own room, and the hand basin is in the bathroom next door. So she has a sign on the back of the toilet door, telling girls that they will find period supplies in the bottom drawer in the bathroom, and to help themselves.

Be creative and find something that works for you. It doesn't need to hold much as you can just restock it everytime you clean the bathroom! 

Step 2: Add supplies

Now you'll need to add some supplies. There are many different types of period supplies available. 

It is a good idea to include some pads, as pads are what most girls will use when their periods first start. 

You can also add in some tampons as well. What sizes? Mini and regular will suit most girls. 

You can also add in bags for disposing used products.  If you don't keep a bin in that room, you'll need to let them know where the bin is.  We have a note inside our box, telling them where the bin is located. Currently, we don't have a bin in our toilet but it is something that we may  add (once our dog has outgrown her puppy stage). Having a bin in the room means that girls are less likely to flush their used products, as not all girls will have the confidence to walk  out of the room, clutching a used pad, on the search for a bin. So we need to make it easy for them (or run the risk of blocked toilets).

3-4 of each item will be enough to include, in your period-positive bathroom.

Step 3: Invite visitors to use the period supplies

Girls can be shy about their periods, so we need to let them know that the period supplies are there to be used. 

So you will need to think about putting a sign up on the wall. You could put it up above the toilet or even behind the door.

You can download a copy of the poster we use (down below), or ask your daughter to create one for your bathroom. 

So make sure you  put up a period positive poster in your bathroom/toilet. 

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Step 4: Place container in bathroom 

Now all you need to do is place your container in the bathroom and you are ready to go!

You'll just to make sure that you keep it stocked, and monitor what happens with the disposal.

And that's it! You've now made your house period positive just by this one simple step!

You could also add some reading material in the room as well, about puberty and periods! There are lots of fantastic period positive books for girls. 

We can all make a difference!

And that's it! You've now made your house period positive just by this one simple step!

Something as simple as making period supplies easily accessible  does help to remove the shame and secrecy around periods.

So, why not empower  the girls in your life by making your bathroom period positive

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Youtube is one of those places where you often find videos that can surprise you. But occasionally it can be a pleasant surprise! Like when I accidentally discovered these videos from the Spring Fever Sex Education teaching program.  They are a wonderful resource that you can use to start a conversation with your child about sex and how babies are made,  puberty, menstruation and their genitals.

Children from the ages of 8 or 9 will be totally okay with the content in these videos

These videos ar eideal for children from between the ages of 8 or 9 and older.

You will find the  videos down below. with soem tips on how to talk

What is the Spring Fever Sex Education teaching program

The Spring Fever sex education teaching package is a well known Dutch  school-based  program for children between the ages of 4 to 11 years. You might recall the news article that went viral in 2015, that talked about the importance of starting sex education in kindergarten, highlighting the Spring Fever sex education  program.

You can access the digital lessons from Spring Fever here, and information about the United Kingdom program here.

As well as having a teaching curriculum for children, Rutgers (who created Spring fever) have also created some short videos that can be used to talk to kids about sexual intercourse, their private parts (or genitals) and masturbation.

What is sex?

This video from the Spring Fever Sex Education teaching program is called What is sex?

It is a one minute video that talks about sexual intercourse or making love. It explains that 2 adults who like each other may start to make love (they may also do this if they want a baby). When they are in the mood; they will cuddle, kiss and lie naked next to each other. the man’s penis will grow larger and stiff, and the woman’s vagina will become moist. When they are ready to, the man will fit his penis inside the woman’s vagina and this will feel good. It finishes with an explanation that as strange as this all sounds, that this is something that your child may want to do when they are older.

Spring Fever- What is sex? - YouTube
Reproduction: From making love to birth

This video from the Spring Fever Sex Education teaching program is called From making love to birth.

This video is about how babies are made. The first minute is the video from above, What is Sex? It then continues on with the sperm moving up through the vagina, into the womb on the search for an egg. If an egg has been released, it may be fertilised. The egg cell and the sperm cell mergeand becomee one, forming a baby. The baby then develops until it is ready to be born through the vagina.

Spring Fever- Reproduction: from making love to birth - YouTube
Puberty and girls

This video from the Spring Fever Sex Education teaching program is called Puberty and girls.

This 30 second video provides a brief overview of what happens during girl puberty. It does not talk about the fact that puberty means that they can become pregnant. The changes that are discussed include breast development, hair growth in the armpit and around the vagina (the term vulva is not used at all), changes to the genitals/vagina, and growing taller, wider and rounder.

Just keep in mind that the word vulva is not used. The vagina is the inside part, and the vulva is the outside part (the part that grows hair).  So you may not like this video but it is a great opportunity to talk with your child about how words can sometimes be used n the wrong context. You can learn more about naming the genitals here.

Spring Fever- Puberty and girls - YouTube
Menstruation

This video from the Spring Fever Sex Education teaching program is called Menstruation.

This one minute video talks about menstruation. A girl’s womb is as big as a strawberry. The fallopian tubes sit on top of her womb, and the ovaries 9with the egg cells) are attached to these. When she is around 12, the egg cell will ripen (ovulation), and will travel through the fallopian tube to the womb.

If the egg cell meets a sperm cell, it may become fertilised. The womb creates a special place for the fertilised egg cell, so that it can grow into a baby. If the egg cell doesn’t meet a sperm cell, it will die, meaning that it no longer needs the special place that the womb made. This special place then leaves the vagina as a period.

A peer of mine, Jane Bennet from Celebration Day for Girls, is a guru on this topic (and is the person I go to if I have a question myself). She has noticed  an inaccuracy in this video.  General agreement is that the egg lasts only 12-24 hours after ovulation, and even if fertilised takes about 5 days to travel the fallopian tube to the uterus. However this clip says fertilisation happens in the womb, which according to most sources  is simply not the case.

Spring Fever- Menstruation - YouTube
Female genitals

This video from the Spring Fever Sex Education teaching program is called Female genitals.

This 45 second video provides a guided tour of the vulva and all it’s parts. The description is very simplistic but thorough. It tells a girl that if she looks at her genitals with a mirror, that she will only see a small slit. But if she opens this up, she will see what is hidden behind ie the labia (inner and outer), the ‘peehole’  (or urethra), the vagina and a small bump which is the clitoris. If you touch the clitoris it can feel nice.

Spring Fever - Female genitals - YouTube
Puberty and boys

This video from the Spring Fever Sex Education teaching program is called Puberty and boys.

This 50 second video provides a brief overview of what happens during boy puberty. It does not talk about the fact that puberty means he is fertile. The changes that are discussed include feet, arms and legs start to grow; penis and balls grow too; hair will grow under his arms and around his penis, a few years later hair will grow on his upper lip and on his cheeks; and his voice will change, going from deep to high until it settles to a deeper tone.

Spring Fever- Puberty and boys - YouTube
Male genitals and first ejaculation

This video from the Spring Fever Sex Education teaching program is called Male genitals and first ejaculation.

This 80 second video  talks about the fact that sperm cells that are needed to make a baby, start developing in a boys body from between the ages of 12 and 14. During puberty, millions of sperm cells are made each day and are stored in the testicles or balls.  If you look at a boys penis, you can see the glans at the top of his penis. It is usually hidden behind a little bit of skin called the foreskin, which some boys don’t have this as it may have been removed by a doctor when they were young (circumcision).  The glans is the most sensitive part of a boy’s genitals, and if rubbed by the boy, it gives a nice feeling. The boy may then get a stiff penis (erection). Some boys may have their first ejaculation during night, sperm and semen are discharged and this is called a wet dream.

Spring Fever- Male genitals and first ejaculation - YouTube
Tips for watching these videos
  • Don’t watch these videos directly on Youtube with your child (unless you want them to be exposed to some sexually explicit content in the suggested videos and pop ups). It is much safer to watch these videos on this page!
  • Watch the videos by yourself first. This way there will be no unexpected surprises. Plus you can get used to the language and information that is discussed first.
  • Try telling your child that you found a video that you would like to show them. You could ask them first if they know anything about puberty (or sex).
  • Watch the video with your child. Afterwards, try asking them if they had any questions or ask them a direct question about something in the video, like ‘Have any of your friends started their period yet?’
  • Try to have a few books handy that will provide your child with extra information about puberty and sex. You can find some good books on puberty and sex here. And the best puberty books for 8-year-olds, 9-year-olds, 10-year-olds, 11-year-olds and 12-year-olds here.

You can find more of these videos (in Dutch only though) from the Spring Fever sex education program on their Youtube channel.

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Here are 10 puberty facts that all kids need to know about.

Puberty can be a scary time for kids, especially when they don’t know what to expect. So it helps kids when parents can talk about puberty in a natural, everyday way. This helps to normalise puberty for them and prepares them for the changes that will be coming their way!

There are a lot of puberty facts for your child to learn, but here you will find 10 that are more about the principles than about facts.

Read on, and you’ll see what I mean!

10 facts about puberty - YouTube

1. You will experience both physical and emotional changes

Our first puberty facts reminds us to NOT just focus on the physical changes.

It isn’t just your body that changes as you go through puberty. Your brain and your feelings change as well. So your child needs to know that they will start to think and feel differently as well. This blog post from Hey Sigmund explains what teens need to know about the adolescent brain.

So make sure your child knows what changes will be happening to their body (read about the stages of puberty for boys and girls), as well as the fact that their feelings will change as well.

2. Puberty is normal and happens to all kids

Our second of the puberty facts is all about making puberty a normal stage of life.

When going through puberty, your child may feel as if they are the only one going through it. So it helps if you can remind them that they aren’t alone. Remind them that their friends will be going through puberty as well. And that you too, went through puberty and survived.

3. Puberty means your body can make a baby

 Our third puberty facts is about the true purpose of puberty.

Puberty is all about making us capable of reproducing and starting the next generation. Which means that your child’s body will eventually be capable of creating a new life ie they are fertile. So they need to know this, that if they had sexual intercourse with someone of the opposite sex, that they could make a baby.  Reassure them though, that even though their body may be ready that they still need to do a lot more ‘growing up’ before this will happen.

4. The changes won’t happen overnight

Our fourth of the puberty facts is about reassuring kids that the changes are very gradual!

Reassure your child that the changes that will be happening to them, don’t happen overnight. They happen over months. Which means that they will have plenty of time to get used to them! So start talking to them about how to care for their body as it changes. When you start to notice an underarm smell, buy them deodorant and start chatting about why they sweat and how they should manage it.

5. Puberty happens to both boys and girls

Our fifth puberty facts is about making sure they know that puberty is a ‘similar yet different’ experience for both boys and girls.

Remind your child that puberty happens to both boys and girls. Some of the changes will be similar (pubic hair, body odour, pimples) but some won’t be (ejaculation, periods). So make sure your child knows that all of their friends will be going through changes, but that some of the changes will be different for them.

6. Puberty starts at a different time for everyone

Our sixth puberty facts is about reminding kids that we all start puberty at a different time.

Let your child know that we don’t all start puberty at the same time. Some kids start much earlier or later than others. Which means that some boys will be much taller than others, and some girls will be flat-chested whilst others are needing a bra. Everyone is different so their body will start changing when it is ready to. You can’t make puberty start any earlier or stop it from happening. Your body knows what to do and will start when it is ready for it.

7. Changes can happen quickly or slowly

Our seventh of the puberty facts are that their body may change more quickly or slowly than their friends does. 

Some people’s bodies can change more quickly or slowly than others. So their friend may have lots of pubic hair within a few months whilst it may take months for them to just grow a few! Everyone is different but by the time puberty is over, everyone has had the same changes, and end up with similar adult bodies.

8. Everyone is different

Our eighth puberty facts is that everyone is different and that’s okay.

Your child needs to know that although the changes we go through are all the same, that they can still be different. So that may mean they have no pimples or lots of pimples. And there is nothing that they can do to change that. It is a bit like a lucky dip – you get what you get!

9. You can’t stop or alter the changes that will be happening to you

Our ninth of the puberty facts is that you can’t stop or change anything.

Some kids worry about the changes that will happen to them and want to know if they can stop them, or even change them. They can’t. Their body is already pre-programmed to change in a certain way. Which means that they will end up with the body they are meant to have.

10. You will start to think about sex differently

Our tenth puberty facts is that they will start to experience sexual feelings and to possibly even see their friends in a different light.

As well as making your child’s body fertile, puberty will slowly start to change the way they think and feel about sex.  This happens for a very good reason. For a baby to be made, you usually need to have sexual intercourse. So puberty will rewire your child’s brain so that they will want to have sex, which means that they might fall pregnant and make a baby. Even though we live in the 21st century, our caveman instincts are still there. 

Resources

There are many resources that can help you with talking to your child about puberty.  You can find books for kids to read about puberty here.  If you are looking for more than just puberty facts, then my parent books will help you with talking to your son or daughter.

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If you’re a parent, you might be wondering about how to explain transgender to a child. Transgender is a very topical contentious topic today. You will hear about it in the news, see it on the front cover of magazines, read about it on social media, hear about it on the radio and there may possibly even be a transgender child in your local school. So it is inevitable that your child will eventually hear the term being used or know a child who is now identifying as a different gender. And hopefully, they will come to you with their questions.

This article is written for parents who want their child to be tolerant of differences in others (regardless of what your personal beleifs are). The emphasis is on growing up children who do not bully or discriminate against people who are different, including transgender people. Regardless of your personal beliefs, it is against the law to discriminate against people because of their sex, gender or sexual identity, and children need to know this. So the emphasis in this article is on talking to kids about transgenderism as diversity ie it is just another way that people can be different. Oh and I am keeping it super simple because sometimes we overcomplicate things!

How to explain gender and sex to kids - YouTube
The meanings of these words

So what exactly are we talking about, when we are are looking at how to explain transgender to a child? It helps to understand the topic before even thinking about trying to explain it to kids! We will start off by looking at gender and sex before we talk about transgender.

Gender and sex

So what is the difference between gender and sex? Are they the same thing or entirely different?

Sex and gender are two different things.

Sex is biological and is assigned when a child is born. So your sex is either male, female or indeterminate/intersex (neither male or female). The characteristics that help us to determine our sex are hormonal, chromosomal or anatomical (which can be internal as well as external) variations (or differences). Intersex is when a person’s sex characteristics are not what we usually expect for a typical male or a typical female.  Sometimes we discover this when they  are born, but sometimes it might not be until later on.

Biological sex has to do with private parts ie penis, vulva or ‘not sure’

Gender is what we identify as, male/boy/man or female/girl/woman, and is not assigned at birth. Gender is more about how we feel in our head and heart ie on the inside.

Gender identity is how someone feels inside, in their head (like a boy or a girl or both or even none)

Gender expression is how people express their gender ( through their actions, dress and demeanor)

It is easy to get confused over the meaning of these terms. Sex and gender are words that are often used interchangeably in our everyday language, but they are actually different and they don’t always match.

Sex is assigned at birth, not gender.

Transgender

Now that we understand what gender and sex are, we can now look at how to explain transgender to a child.

Today, though, we now know that gender does not always match up with our genitals.

You may have the genitals of a male, and be called a boy, but not feel like a boy on the inside. You may have the genitals of a female, and be called a girl, but not feel like a girl on the inside.  We call this transgender.

A transgirl is when you may biologically born a male but identify as a girl (transitioning to a girl). A transboy is when you may biologically born a female but identify as a boy (transitioning to a boy). There are lots of reasons as to why this can happen and we still don’t really understand why.

In order to express their chosen gender, transgender people may transition, or change, from the gender they were given at birth. They may change their names, pronouns or style of dress. Some transgender people also choose a medical transition, with the help of medical specialists, who will prescribe hormones and/or surgery.

Some people don’t feel like a boy or a girl on the inside. We call this agender. This is where they just don’t connect to either gender.

Some people have a ‘fluid’ gender that can change some or many times over a person’s life. We could call them gender variant or gender non-conforming, as they don’t conform to any gender and may have gender behaviours and interests that don’t typically align with a specific gender. They may enjoy being a boy one day and a girl the next.

NB. Terms keep on changing in this field and what was acceptable terminology may now be deemed ‘politically incorrect’. So you may hear different terms being used elsewhere.

The genderbread person by Sam Killermann below, is a useful diagram that helps to explain gender.

When is the best time to explain transgender to a child

The best time to look at how to explain transgender to a child is when they are young.  The reason for this is because young children are still developing their own gender. Which means they are are not rigid in regards to how they define gender roles. You can read more about gender identity development in children here.

So why do kids need to know about this?

Your child may notice that some children don’t conform to their assigned gender or sex. For example, they may notice that Fred likes to play with dolls or that Mary likes to kick a ball with the boys. Or they may tell you that Fred is now called Frances and wears a dress.

Or they may be curious because they have heard about transgenderism.

  • The chances of your child coming across gender diversity at school or within the community is very possible.
  • Children need to be inclusive and not discriminate against people who are different.
  • Children who easily accept differences in others, will be more accepting of their own differences. Which means they will have higher self esteem and better body image.
What to say to children

So what are some things that can help with how to explain transgender to a child? The trick is to keep it simple.

If they ask you a question, try something different before responding with an answer. Try asking them what they think, which allows you to find out what they already know and what exactly it is, that they are asking you about.

You could also ask them why they are asking, or where they heard the word.

Remember to talk about transgender in an everyday way ie in the exact same way you might answer all their other questions. You will be having many conversations during ther childhood, so don’t feel as if you have to tell them everything at once.

Avoid gender-biased statements, like – ‘Only girls play with dolls’ or ‘Only boys can have short hair’.

Buy gender neutral toys and toys that aren’t too pink or blue. And if you have boys, make sure that you have toys that are stereotypical for girls, like a doll, a tea set, a pram. And that girls have trucks, cars, and other stereotyped boy toys.

Buy gender-neutral clothing and allow your child to dress how they want. So if your little boy wants to wear a bright pink tutu for the day, let him. Or if your daughter wants to cut her hair short, let her!

Read books that show adults working in non-stereotypical and diverse gender roles. You can also point out different professions and discuss the gender roles with your child. For example, when you see the postie on your street, point out to your child that the person delivering the mail today is a woman, and that when you were a child, that it was only ever men that did that job. Talk about why this has changed and what it means.

Try to use gender-neutral language (as your children are listening). If you need to buy a gift for a new baby, buy a gender -neutral gift. When you see a mum at school with the new baby, don’t ask if it’s a boy or a girl, try asking what the baby’s name is instead. Try to use fewer pronouns by using ‘they, them or their’ instead of ‘her and him’. If pronouns confuse you, check out the Pronoun app by Minus 18.

There are many small things that we can do to ensure that our children do not grow up with rigid views about gender. Pick one small change and focus on that. And when that new behaviour has become automatic, then start focusing on making another change. This way you won’t become overwhelmed!

Resources for your children

There are some fantastic videos and books that will help with explaining transgender to your child.

My Friend Is Transgender - YouTube
Expressing Myself. My Way. - YouTube
Gender Identity: Being Female, Male, Transgender or Genderfluid - YouTube

There are also quite a few books that have been written about transgender and diversity.  This list from an aussie librarian is the most  extensive list that I have found. These are some of my favourite books on how to explain transgender to a child.

References
  • Children’s Sexual Development and Behaviour – Pants Aren’t Rude by Pam Linke 2015.
  • From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children by Debra Hafner 2000.
  • Handbook of Child and Adolescent Sexuality; Developmental and Forensic Psychology edited by Bromberg & O’Donohue 2013.
  • Understanding Your Child’s Sexual behaviour: What’s Natural and Healthy by Toni Cavanagh Johnson 1999.
  • Where Do I Start? Supporting Healthy Sexual Development in Early Childhood by Family Planning QLD 2009.
  • Gender identity development in children by healthychildren.org Accessed 08/02/2018.
  • My Ted talk: Understanding the complexities of gender by Sam Killerman. Accessed 08/02/2018.
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There are a number of things that our kids do when they are young that are totally normal and age-appropriate but they push our buttons. Child masturbation is one of those things ie a behaviour that often makes parents squirm!

So what should you be doing about it? Without giving your child negative messages about their genitals?

Everything a parent needs to know about child masturbation - YouTube
So what are kids actually doing down there?

Well, it depends on your definition of masturbation.

There is adult masturbation which is when you might be touching yourself for sexual pleasure and it peaks until you climax or reach orgasm. The type that you do because you might be feeling sexually aroused or desiring sexual touch. Or to use some slang, something that you might do if you were feeling ‘horny’.

Well, kids don’t do this type of masturbating.

Firstly, orgasm doesn’t usually happen until adolescence which is when the sexual hormones of puberty will alter the body to be capable of reproducing ie to create the next generation. Which means that during puberty your child’s brain is rewired so that they start to see sex as something that they will want to someday do. Which means they will start to have sexual thoughts and feelings so that they will want to have sexual intercourse, conceive and create the next generation. Pretty smart, huh?

Now, you may disagree with this and believe that orgasm does occur much earlier in children. I have looked at a lot of research articles and textbooks and the general consensus is that orgasm doesn't happen until puberty. Some government agencies talk about it happening from the age of 7 but they provide no referencing as to the source of this information. The research that many refer back to is a book written over 30 years ago in which their main source of information is in asking university students to recall their childhood memories of  masturbation, of which some recalled orgasm. There are some small cases studies that do show orgasm from a younger age.  Every person is uniques and individual and we don't know enough about child sexuality to be able to definitely say that children do or don't. And the research ethics of questioning paedophiles about the sexual response of children is ethically questionable. (And I'm sorry but I'm not going to find their forums, join and ask them what they think). The general consensus is that most children don't have an adult-like orgasm until their early teens but if a child does orgasm earlier than this, it is still considered to be quite normal.

So for kids, child masturbation is more about discovering that their genitals can feel nice when they touch them in a certain way. They are exploring their body and then discover a part that feels nicer when they touch it. It is usually just a vague fiddling that may become more purposeful later on when they discover that it can feel quite nice (a different ‘nice’ to what an adult feels remember, as kids don’t climax or reach orgasm until during puberty). Or they might discover that if they sit on top of their favourite teddy and rock backwards and forwards, that it can feel really nice. They don’t know that it is a feeling that adults associate with sexual pleasure, they just know that it feels nice.

So child masturbation is just about children touching their genitals because it feels nice. They don’t do it because they are having sexual thoughts, or are feeling aroused.

Why do kids masturbate?

Not all kids will masturbate. Some do and some don’t, and both is normal age-appropriate sexual behaviour! So your child isn’t abnormal if they are (or aren’t)  masturbating.

Child masturbation it is something that kids usually discover as they are exploring their body or playing.

It might be something that they do occasionally. Or it might be something that they do regularly. Some kids might rub their genitals at nap time, when watching the tv or when they are bored, stressed or tired.

So as well as feeling nice, it is a behaviour that can soothe and relax them, just like thumb sucking and hair twirling does. You could look at it as another way that kids manage their feelings.

Should you ever worry?

Usually, there isn’t anything to worry about. Child masturbation is usually just a normal age-appropriate behaviour.

The only time that you should be worried, is when:

  • it becomes compulsive ie they do it ALL the time
  • it begins to interfere with normal life eg every time they sit on their bike they spend more time rubbing themselves on the seat than actually riding it
  • or it stops your child from doing other things eg  they choose to masturbate rather than play with a toy or friend

If you’re unsure, the Traffic Lights App by True Relationships & Reproductive Health is a fantastic tool that you can use to work out whether you should worry or not. Masturbation is rarely a sign of sexual abuse but I am a firm believer in trusting your ‘gut instinct’. If your ‘gut instinct’ tells you that there is something going in, then have a look at that app or seek advice from a health professional.

So what should you be doing about it?

Child masturbation might be normal age-appropriate sexual behaviour in children, but does that means that you should stand by and just let them go for it? Whenever and wherever they want to?

Well, the thing is… it might be normal but we need to teach our kids that there is a time and a place for touching their genitals. And sitting at the dinner table with the in-laws is not the time or place!

So how do you teach masturbation etiquette to your child? Slowly and gently is how you do it so that your child doesn’t get a ‘hang up’ about their body or feel ashamed. And also so that it doesn’t become an attention-seeking behaviour or something that they keep doing more of (just to get your attention).

And don’t expect them to understand your new child masturbation rules immediately. It can take some time for ‘the message’ to sink in!

The main thing to remember is for you to stay calm and to not make a big deal about it or to discipline your child about it.

Babies and toddlers

So what do we do when it comes to babies and toddlers. At this age, it is usually just exploration of their genitals. They are very tactile at this age and learn by sticking things in their mouth or by touching with their hands. So it is quite natural for them to grab their genitals during a nappy change or in the bathtub. It is just a different part of the body to explore and they take advantage of easy access when their nappy is off or they are naked.

When changing their nappy, you can let your child grab their genitals and explore this part of their body. Your child touching genitals at this age isn’t going to awaken any sexual feelings or start any future problems as they get older. They are just touching their genitals because they are curious about their body and they learn best by touch.

Sometimes they can be quite rough when handling their genitals and you may cringe and wonder if they are actually causing any damage. They usually do stop when it becomes painful but sometimes you may need to redirect their attention away from what they are doing, especially if they develop chafing or redness. Distract them with a toy or new activity and limit their naked time.

This is a great age for starting to name the different parts of their body to them, and you can learn how to start naming the private parts in young children here.

Children

So what do we do when it comes to children?

First of all, take a deep breath.  Don’t panic and get angry when you find your child touching their genitals. This can give your child negative messages that can impact on their self-esteem, body image and later on, their comfort with sex as an adult.

Second, set limits by informing your child about your family rules on touching genitals. Remind them that it is a private activity that should happen in a private place.It can take a lot of reminders until kids fully understand the concept of private.

You will need to start teaching your child the difference between public and private.  We have public and private places where public means that there are people around and private means just you. Parts of our body can be private too, and they are the parts that are usually covered up by our private clothes. They include your penis, bottom and mouth or vulva/vagina, mouth, bottom and breasts.  A great book that will help you with teaching your child about the difference between public and private is Hayden-Reece learns a valuable lesson that private means ‘Just for you’ by Holly-ann Martin from Safe 4 Kids.

You could say try saying something like, “It’s okay to touch your penis/vulva but because it is a private part of your body, you should only touch it in a private place, like your bedroom. So if you want to do that then you need to go to your bedroom.”

You can then send them to their room. They will usually need a lot of reminders before they start to remember this automatically.  You could try saying something like, “I know that that it can feel nice to touch your penis/vulva but where do we do private activities? Do you want to go to a private place now?”

Sometimes you might need to distract your child from touching their genitals. Especially if you have visitors or are out of the house. For example, you might suggest that they start playing with their blocks, or see if they can click their fingers together, or some other age-appropriate task that is readily available. You could try saying something like, “Look how nice it is outside, let’s go and play outside”.

Don’t make a big deal out of it, when you find your child masturbating. Kids enjoy any attention, good or bad, so you could end up encouraging the behaviour. Approach it as you would approach any other annoying habit that they have.

Try to use your everyday voice when reminding your child as you don’t want them to think that they are in trouble or to feel ashamed.  So remind your child in the same voice that you might use when asking them if they can go and have a shower.

Oh, and you may want to add in that they will need to wash their hands after touching their genitals.

As they get older, kids usually do realise that masturbating is a private activity and will just touch their genitals in private. You won’t even know if they are doing it or not.

Tweens and teens

Masturbation takes on a different meaning during puberty as orgasm and sexual feelings begin to happen. Boys will begin to create sperm and will ejaculate semen, either through wet dreams or masturbation. Girls will be able to climax or reach orgasm. My parent books on how to talk to your son or daughter about puberty and sex can provide you with a starting point to talk about these sometimes awkward topics.

The easiest way to start is with a book and there are some fantastic books that will help you to introduce this concept. You can find a list of suitable book in this parent resource – Sex Education Books for Children: The Parent Guide.

In summary

If you have got this far, I am hoping that you will have some ideas on how best to manage child masturbation.

The trick is to be patient, and eventually (with lots of gentle reminders), they will understand that it is a private activity that should happen in a private place.

There are also some fantastic books that will help with talking about child masturbation.

References
  • Children’s Sexual Development and Behaviour – Pants Aren’t Rude by Pam Linke 2015.
  • From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children by Debra Hafner 2000.
  • Handbook of Child and Adolescent Sexuality; Developmental and Forensic Psychology edited by Bromberg & O’Donohue 2013.
  • Understanding Your Child’s Sexual behaviour: What’s Natural and Healthy by Toni Cavanagh Johnson 1999.
  • Where Do I Start? Supporting Healthy Sexual Development in Early Childhood by Family Planning QLD 2009.
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You’re not alone if you’re a parent who just doesn’t know what to do with a child putting hands in pants. It is a common concern for many parents, especially those with boys. Just talk to any parent’s of boys, and I can guarantee that they will be more than willing to sympathise with you!

So what should you be doing about it? Without psychologically scarring your child (or yourself) in the process? And without having to resort to an anti-masturbation suit that will stop any child putting hands in pants. And yes, luckily the suit I just linked to, is a bad-taste joke!

This article focuses on boys, from babies to tweenhood, but the information is still relevant for girls who are touching (or holding) their genitals too.
How to get your child's hands out of their pants - YouTube
So what is my child actually doing ‘down there’?

Before we even look at why your child is putting hands in pants, we need to be clear on what they are actually doing with their hands.

So what is actually happening down there?

Not a lot!

9.999999 times out of ten, your child is just resting their hands down there. They might be holding their penis but there is usually more inactivity than activity.

And the times that they aren’t just resting their hands? We’ll get to that later on in this post!

So why is my child putting hands in pants?

So why is your child putting their hands in their pants?

Because they can! Just like you might pick at a pimple that is on your chin or flick the hair out of your eyes, your child will just put their hands down their pants.

It is a subconscious action ie it is something that they do without even thinking about it.

You could even call it a habit as it is a behaviour that they are usually unaware of doing until you point it out to them.

They aren’t masturbating. It isn’t sexual. And the chances are, that their dad (or any other significant male in their life) does it too! It’s just a male thing!

Should you ever worry?

Usually, there isn’t anything to worry about. A child putting hands down pants, is more like an annoying habit that your child has. You might be sick of them having really smelly hands. Or you keep asking them to not do it, but their hands keep on finding their way back down there.

Sometimes it might be something that they do when they feel insecure. Little boys will hold their penis when they are in a new social environment or when they are feeling uncertain about something. Both boys and girls will touch their genitals when they need to go to the toilet.

Depending on their age, there might be a reason for doing it. For a 6 month old baby, they are trying to learn about their body by exploring it with their hands. So every time their nappy is off, they will touch their genitals.

Or sometimes, they might be masturbating ie touching their genitals because it feels nice.  You can learn about child masturbation here.

Or there might be a medical reason. Maybe they have an infection or dry skin or chafing. Or their clothes are rubbing their genitals. Or their underwear is uncomfortable. Or they have worms.

But sometimes, our ‘gut instinct’ says that there is something going on. In this situation, I would suggest that you trust your ‘gut’ and download the Traffic Light app.  This easy to use app will allow you to quickly work out whether to worry (or not) about your child’s behaviour. It will also provide suggestions on what your next steps should be.

Do I need to do anything about it? Or can I just ignore it?

A large part of parenting is to guide our children as to what is (and isn’t) socially acceptable behaviour.  Just like picking your nose and eating it, a child putting hands in pants is one of those socially unacceptable behaviours!

And if you don’t want your child to be teased about this behaviour, then you need to teach them that it is a behaviour that they shouldn’t be doing in public.

The challenge though is in doing it in such a way that your child doesn’t grow up ashamed of their body or confused about what they can do with it.

So as a parent,  it is your role to teach your child that they shouldn’t be touching their genitals in public.

As to what you expect at home, well every parent is different. Some parents are okay with their child touching genitals at home whereas others aren’t. Some are okay with them doing it anywhere in the home (as long as there is no company) whereas others expect their child to go the bedroom. So you need to decide what you are comfortable with. Just try to remember though that they aren’t masturbating and that it is just an age-appropriate behaviour that they do without thinking.

What should I be doing about it?

So how do you teach a child to not put their hands down their pants?

The main thing to remember for managing this behaviour is for you to stay calm and to not make a big deal about it or to discipline your child about it.

So we go slowly and gently so that your child doesn’t get a ‘hang up’ about their body or feel ashamed.  And so that it doesn’t become an attention-seeking behaviour or something that they keep doing more of.

And don’t expect them to stop doing it overnight. It can take years for the ‘no hands in your pants’ message to sink in safely!

Babies and toddlers

So what do we do when it comes to babies and toddlers. In this age, it is more of a hassle because they may be waking up with wet beds because they are either removing their nappy or pulling their penis out over the top of their nappy. Or they are removing their nappy and leaving puddles of urine (or even worse) all through the house.

So you may need to devise a way to keep their nappy on. parents have successfully resorted to duct taping the front of the nappy closed (so that they can’t open it as easily), putting a onesie or sleepsuit on them so that they can’t get their hands in underneath) or even putting it on back-to-front (so they can’t unzip it). They even make a special sleepsuit now that has a zipper at the back which will stop your child putting hands in pants. As they get older, you can even resort to putting shorts on them with a zipper and button or even using a  belt.

When changing their nappy, you can let your child grab their genitals and explore this part of their body. Child touching genitals at this age isn’t going to awaken any sexual feelings or start any future problems as they get older. They are just touching their genitals because they are curious about their body and they learn best by touch.

This is a great age for starting to name the different parts of their body to them, and you can learn how to start naming the private parts in young children here.

Children

Once they are toilet trained and capable of understanding the difference between public and private, you can start teaching your child that it’s okay to have their hands down their pants in private, but not in public.

There are a number of ways to start this discussion.

Some parents will use distraction to get their child’s hands busy doing something else. For example, you might suggest that they start playing with their blocks, or see if they can click their fingers together, or some other age-appropriate task that is readily available.

You will need to start teaching your child the difference between public and private.  We have public and private places where public means that there are people around and private means just you. Parts of our body can be private too, and they are the parts that are usually covered up by our private clothes. They include your penis, bottom and mouth or vulva/vagina, mouth, bottom and breasts.  A great book that will help you with teaching your child about the difference between public and private is Hayden-Reece learns a valuable lesson that private means ‘Just for you’ by Holly-ann Martin from Safe 4 Kids.

Sometimes it can be helpful to ask your child why they are doing it. Maybe their underwear is uncomfortable or they are pushing their penis down because they have an erection. By asking, you may find that there is a reason for their behaviour, and possibly it is something that you can help them with. Try casually saying ‘ Hey, I’ve noticed that you often have your hands down your pants. Why’s that?’, and see what they say.

If you don’t want your child to be touching their genitals at all in public spaces in the home, you can introduce a family rule about touching their genitals.  You could try saying something like ‘It’s okay to touch your penis but because it is a private part of your body, you should only touch it in a private place, like your bedroom. So if you want to put your hands down your pants, you need to go to your bedroom.’.

You could use a similar explanation to explain why your child shouldn’t be touching their genitals in public.  You could try saying something like “It’s okay to touch your penis but because it is a private part of your body, you should only touch it in a private place, like at home (or in your bedroom). When we are in a public place, like at the shops or visiting your friends, it is bad manners to be putting your hands down your pants in public.  So I would like it if you would try hard to not do it.’. It also doesn’t hurt to let them know that some kids will tease them. This won’t act as an incentive to stop but it does inform your child that there will be some consequences from their peers if they do it in public.

Your child will need reminders to remove their hand as it does take time for them to remember to not touch their genitals.  You could try a subtle reminder where you discretely says ‘Hands’ and pointedly look to their groin.  Or in a light-hearted voice say ‘Hands out of your pants please’.  Or you can even joke about it. My favourite line to my son is ‘ What are you playing with down there? A toy car?’. He’ll laugh and the hand will come out.

Try to use your everyday voice when reminding your child as you don’t want them to think that they are in trouble or to feel ashamed.  So remind your child in the same voice that you might use when asking them if they can go and have a shower.

Oh, and you may want to add in that they will need to wash their hands after touching their genitals.

In summary

If you have got this far, I am hoping that you will have some ideas on how best to manage your child who has a thing about touching their genitals.

The trick is to be patient, and eventually (with lots of gentle reminders), they will outgrow it. Oneday………..

There are also some fantastic books that will help with talking to your child putting hands in pants.

DISCLAIMER: I am the mother of a 8 year old boy who is often found with his hands down his pants. But he is reformed because he usually always remembers to keep his hands out of his pants when we are out in public or when he is at school.  I do have to watch him though because now he will just put his hands in his pockets instead. Or sometimes he'll have a grab through the outside of his pants. He knows that it isn't a 'socially acceptable' behaviour (like nose-picking) but sometimes he just reverts back into the habit when out in public.
References
  • Children’s Sexual Development and Behaviour – Pants Aren’t Rude by Pam Linke 2015.
  • From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children by Debra Hafner 2000.
  • Handbook of Child and Adolescent Sexuality; Developmental and Forensic Psychology edited by Bromberg & O’Donohue 2013.
  • Understanding Your Child’s Sexual behaviour: What’s Natural and Healthy by Toni Cavanagh Johnson 1999.
  • Where Do I Start? Supporting Healthy Sexual Development in Early Childhood by Family Planning QLD 2009.
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As a parent with a son who is on the cusp of puberty, awareness of the stages of puberty in boys is a handy thing to know. Why? Because by knowing what the stages of puberty in boys are, you can at least be prepared for what changes will be happening to your son. And prepare your son by talking about them before they even happen. Especially when it comes to things like wet dreams!

When we look at breaking puberty up into stages of development, we are often talking about the Tanner Scale. A British paediatric endocrinologist, James Tanner,  developed the Tanner Scale in the mid-1900’s to measure the stages of sexual development during puberty.

The Tanner Scale is still used today. Although puberty starts earlier in kids today, the sequence of changes that happen in boys is unchanged.

And don’t forget that the timing of when these changes will happen to your son vary. Some boys can be earlier or later than others.

So what are the stages of puberty in boys?

PS I have tried to keep this post jargon-free but I have used the correct names for the private parts of the body ie the genitals. This article talks about the importance of using the correct terms when talking to kids about their private parts of their body, and it is has a download where they are all labelled for you.

Stage 1

(approximately between the ages of 9 and 12)

So what can you expect with the first of the stages of puberty in boys?

The first changes that will happen to your son are hidden as they are happening deep inside his body. The body will start to release hormones that will trigger the changes to start happening. The main hormone for boys is testosterone. It will begin to surge in your son’s body, causing his testicles to grow and make sperm, but no changes can yet be seen outside his body.

No changes can yet be seen outside his body, other than some growth of the scrotum and testicles. Some boys may have a growth spurt, and some may start to grow very fine hairs in the pubic area.

Stage 2

(approximately between 9 and 14)

So what can you expect with the second of the stages of puberty in boys?

Your son’s testicles will continue to slowly grow, with one testicle now beginning to hang lower than the other. His scrotum will also hang lower, becoming darker in colour, thinner and less smooth. His penis will remain unchanged. It may grow slightly larger, but usually there is little or no change at all. He may start to have erections more frequently, but he still isn’t ejaculating.

Fine hair may begin to grow at the base of the penis and scrotum. These first hairs are usually long, slightly pigmented (colored) and straight or slightly curly. It is normal for some boys not to grow hair just yet.

Your son will start to grow taller and the shape of his body will begin to change. Before he grows taller, his feet and hands will usually have a growth spurt of their own. Your son will also gain weight as he starts to develop muscle, and as his bones grow bigger.

Stage 3

(approximately between 11 and 16)

So what can you expect with the third of the stages of puberty in boys?

Your son’s testicles and scrotum will continue to grow. Sperm production may begin for some, but not all, boys, i.e. ejaculation. Boys usually discover this during masturbation, or they might wake up in the morning with wet pants after a wet dream (nocturnal emission). His penis will start to grow. It will grow longer, rather than wider. Erections will be a lot more common than before, often at the wrong time, or in the wrong place.

Some boys may only now be starting to develop pubic hair. It will become darker, thicker and curlier, and start to cover a much wider area. Hair will continue to grow on his legs and underarms.

It can be common for boys to experience short-term swelling and tenderness around the nipples. As their shoulders grow wider, this breast tissue will flatten, usually disappearing within one or two years.

Your son’s body will still be growing, and gaining weight and height. Sweat and oil glands will become more active, which can result in acne. Body odor is here to stay. His voice will begin to crack as the voice box gets larger.

Stage 4

(approximately from 11 to 17)

So what can you expect with the fourth of the stages of puberty in boys?

Your son’s testicles and scrotum will continue to grow, with the skin continuing to darken. Boys will now begin to produce sperm, which means that wet dreams (nocturnal emissions) may start to happen, and they will ejaculate with masturbation and sexual arousal. Not all boys will have wet dreams (either is normal).

His penis will become thicker and longer. Pubic hair continues to grow as well as on his legs and underarms. Facial hair will start to grow on his face, usually on the upper lip, chin and near the ears.

Your son’s skin may become oily, especially around the chin, nose, forehead, chest and/or back. Some boys may develop acne or pimples. His hair is also more likely to become oily too. His voice will continue to crack at times and deepen.

Your son will keep on gaining weight and growing taller.

Stage 5

(approximately between 14 and 18)

So what can you expect with the fifth and last of the stages of puberty in boys?

This is the last stage of changes. Your son will now reach his full height and will look like a young adult. His pubic hair will now cover his groin, and possibly even his inner thighs. His genitals will now be fully grown and will look the same as those of an adult man. Your son will now need to shave, as his facial hair continues to grow. Some boys will begin to grow chest hair.

References
  • Adolescence and Puberty. Edited by John Bancroft and June Machover Reinisch. 1990. Oxford University Press. New York.
  • Gender Differences at Puberty. Edited by Chris Haywood. 2003. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.
  • Handbook of Child and Adolescent Sexuality: Developmental and Forensic Psychology. Edited by Daniel S. Bromberg and William T. O’Donohue. 2013. Elsevier. Academic Press. Oxford.
  • Puberty: Physiology and Abnormalities by Philip Kumanov and Ashok Agarwal. 2016. Springer International Publishing. Switzerland.
Puberty resources

It is easy to get overwhelmed at the thought of talking about the stages of puberty in boys. A lot of parents feel the same way.

The book, Boy Puberty: How to talk about puberty and sex with your tween boy, was written to help parents to get started with talking about puberty. It tells parents everything they need to discuss and how to start talking about it. You can get a copy of it at Sex Ed Rescue.

If you are looking for more blogposts on puberty, you can find that here.

There are also many books on puberty that will help you to talk about the stages of puberty in boys.

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