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Physical Development

Somewhere between playing with dolls and driving a car, our children change. Suddenly, they want more independence, make-up, bras, moustaches and cool sneakers. During the tween years, children's bodies begin to change as well. You may notice that your child wants more privacy when changing or when he is in the bathroom. This is all very normal and you should allow your child his privacy. His body will be changing and he might not be very comfortable with all of the changes. Hopefully, through positive discussions and accurate information, he will weather these changes with little shame or embarrassment.

It's a good idea to talk to your child about the physical changes her body is going through and how to care for her body. You might want to talk about the ways that puberty and growing up cause other changes in our bodies – like acne, sweating and greasy hair – and introduce new hygiene habits such as shaving or bathing more frequently. Some children may be embarrassed or worried about their body changes so talk to your child and try to answer any questions she may have.

Puberty usually begins at around age 10 for girls when breasts begin to form. Following the development of breasts, you can expect your daughter to go through a growth spurt, pubic hair growth and underarm hair growth.

Menarche is the first period or menstruation a girl will have. For Canadians, this usually occurs between ages 12 and 13, though many girls experience this at an earlier age. Most girls are aware of menstruation before they have a first period and they usually have mixed feelings about this event. Talking to your child before her first menstruation is important. She will likely have some sexual health education if she attends a public school in Manitoba, but having parents talk about menstruation lets her know she can ask questions and discuss her changing body with you if she wants to. If you talk about menstruation as a normal life event it may reduce any shame or embarrassment your child may feel.

Boys usually begin puberty around 11 years of age, when testes begin to enlarge and the skin covering the testicles (the scrotum) changes in colour and texture. Shortly afterwards, pubic hair will begin to grow and the penis will enlarge. Around age 13, your teen will begin his growth spurt and his voice will deepen. Around 14, his penis and testes will have finished growing and a year later his pubic hair growth will also be completed.

At around age 13, your son will have his first ejaculation. Boys are less likely to speak to friends or family about puberty than girls, so it's a good idea to speak to him before his first ejaculation happens. It's also a good idea to talk to your son about nocturnal emissions, or wet dreams. Wet dreams are when a boy ejaculates in his sleep. Many boys know about ejaculation and erections, but they don't often talk about it in a way that gives them positive or accurate information.

When you talk to your child about puberty and sex, you can let your child know that sexuality is a normal and private part of life and that she can always talk to you about her questions and concerns. To ensure your child understands how to care for all parts of her body without being embarrassed or ashamed, it's best to provide positive and accurate information.

It's important that parents talk to their children in a non-judgmental way. Many families find it easier for one parent to discuss puberty and sex, but it is often better for your child if all parents are able to talk about it. It is also best to talk to your child about sexuality and sexual health in multiple, shorter conversations throughout his childhood and teen years as this will let him know that you are always around to listen, talk and provide answers.

For many children and teens, the beginning of puberty and the next few years can be very difficult because their bodies are adult-like but their minds are still developing. Often the quick physical changes do not give them much time to adjust to their bodies and hormones. Many children and teens are also confused about the different messages they receive from family, friends and media about sexuality, independence and the tween years.

Here are some resources for talking with your child about sexuality:

If your child is questioning his or her sexual orientation, be supportive by listening to his or her thoughts and questions. Let her know that you support her decisions and will be there to help her find her way. There are many great resources in Manitoba for children, parents and family members. If your child tells you she thinks she is a lesbian, be honoured that she felt comfortable and safe enough to share her news with you. Many children have a difficult time "coming out" or sharing their sexual orientation with their parents. Just by telling you, she is showing you that she knows you love her unconditionally and will always be there for her. For some children, coming out is a joyous, celebratory occasion. For others, it is bitter-sweet as they may not know how family and friends will treat them. Tell your child that you are there for her & no matter what others may think or say.

If you think your child might be gay but he hasn't said anything to you about his sexuality, be patient. He will tell you, if there is anything to tell, when he is ready. If you are having a hard time with your child's coming out, it's okay. Sometimes when we have children we imagine how their lives will be when they are older and when things turn out differently, we can have a difficult time adjusting. Know that the adjustment period may take some time, as you have to let go of the image you had in mind for your child. Remember that your child needs to know you love him, always.

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