It is not an easy task for any parent to discuss bodily changes with their children, especially at times of puberty.
The task becomes more complex when it comes to discussing puberty with children who have special needs.
Karen, a parent, says “When our child was transitioning to his middle school, I along with my husband realized the need to discuss detailed health issues with him.
We designed a customized approach to discussing his emotional and physical needs.”
1. Private Time
We chose a quiet hour to begin speaking with our child. To our disbelief, the first time we tried discussing the issue, he started laughing uncontrollably.
We dropped the subject and decided to try our luck again.
The second time we tried bringing the topic up he was better receptive and was ready to share his thoughts and listen to what we had to say.
2. Discuss your child’s knowledge about the subject
Doug Goldberg advises parents to begin the conversation with asking how much he/she already knows.
Goldberg, an avid blogger and a special education advisor, says “This could act as an icebreaker between you and your child.”
Goldberg further adds, “This helped us strike up an initial conversation with our child, and by discussing we could understand he knew a little bit about reproduction and anatomy.”
Children gain awareness from a young age by seeing adults and just by observing the physical differences which are visible at the time of changing swimsuits, says Goldberg.
3. The Importance of Using Scientifically Correct Terminology
It is always a good practice to use correct terms with children. Children with special needs, for instance, autism, at times pick up a particular phrase or word and stick to it for the rest of their lives.
Thus, it is important to use the correct scientific terms from the beginning to avoid later confusion and miscommunications.
At times, many grown-ups face difficulties when it comes to recalling the correct terms.
Thus, looking up correct terms before you bring up the topic will help you stay on track.
For instance, girls have
• Outer labia
• Inner labia
While boys have
Using the correct names and discussing them helps the child and makes it much easier for him/her to identify for medical issues at a later point in life.
Although some parents find it too difficult to use the correct terms with their children, it is always important not to confuse the correct terms with day-to-day slangs.
Karen, a parent, says “When I was pregnant with my second child, I discussed with my son his other sibling was growing healthily in my uterus.”
However, says the mother, “When the child hears other mothers explain babies are growing in their bellies, it seems to be upsetting.”
4. It is normal
Convey to the child that it is normal to feel anxious or alarmed during the course of bodily changes. Discuss and increase your momentum gradually.
Help the child understand everyone undergoes changes. You can always show him/her that every adult comes in different shapes/sizes.
Karen says, “My son was curious about our height differences. His grandmother was less than 5 feet, while on the other hand, I am over 6 feet.”
Karen adds, “We discussed with our child that we all are healthy despite being physically different and everyone changes in a unique way.”
Karen says, “I have observed my son is more of a visual thinking personality. I quickly figured outspoken explanations are not of much help.”
Thus, says the mother, “I decided to use social stories in a unique way by creating different expectations and varied milestones in order to understand puberty.”
Karen advises other parents to look out for books that beautifully illustrate the puberty changes in young children which can also be helpful as a source of reference.
Some of the books that I have personally found interesting include:
• Special Boy’s Business by Heather Anderson, Fay Angelo and Rose Stewart
• What’s Happening to Me? By Peter Mayle
• Puberty and Special Girls by Heather Anderson, Fay Angelo and Rose Stewart
• Boys, Girls and Body Science by Meg Hickling
And there are many other useful resources available on the market.
6. The Different Stages of Puberty
Karen says, “As we slowly progressed with our discussions during the course of time, we realized our son was in need of visual examples to help him better understand.”
“To make things easier for him, I explained to him the ways to use deodorant and helped him understand why he needs it.
Further, I showed him the way I wash my face and how often I do it, helping him during the process to learn the same.”
The mother advises other parents to incorporate more details into discussions such as skin conditions, voice, mood and height.
Help the child understand nothing happens at a single go, rather the body progresses slowly with these changes over a period of 10 years.
7. Bodies are always sacred
You need to teach your children that bodies are always sacred and they need to take complete care of it.
Karen says, “I ask my child to visit his great-grandfather who is 101 years old to see someone who has lived his life happily for so long.”
Further, the mother says, “I always take time out to explain to my children how their grandfather maintains his strength and health despite his age.”
8. Inappropriate Touching
The mother says we need to ensure, at all times that our kids know what is appropriate and what is inappropriate.
For instance, the data showcases 30 percent of boys and 68 percent of girls who are diagnosed with disabilities are sexually assaulted. However, only 3 percent of the cases are reported to the authorities.
Help your children with the right information to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate things.
Karen says, “I taught my child about his rights of being kissed and hugged.” The mother says, “I further taught him his rights to say no.”
Karen further adds, “I and my husband have shared the list of important people our children can approach in times of emergency.”
9. Your Availability Matters
Children sometimes have unpleasant questions.
Karen says, “We have made sure our children know we are available at all times for their every need.”
It should be noted that the things discussed above should be repeated often to allow children ample time to grasp your points of discussion.
It is not a one-time process. Rather it should be an ongoing discussion.
For instance, says Karen, if we see our child forget to use his deodorant, we review hygiene.
If we see his friends with their new-born siblings, we try explaining about reproduction.
Being honest with your children helps them know you are with them all the way.