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Gill Lough – Helping your child develop a healthy sexuality

Archive for the ‘9-12 year-olds – case studies’ Category

I hope I never get my period!: 11-year-old

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When your 11-year-old daughter tells you, ‘I hope I never get my period‘,  she may be reflecting comments from others, girls who at age 11 or younger are  menstruating and may be having a difficult time.  She may feel awkward that she has not had her first period, feel she is left out of the group, or feel uneasy about the changes ahead for her during puberty.

When you respond to her, think about what you want her to learn and how best to give your message.

You could say, ‘You sound upset, what’s on your mind?‘  If it’s appropriate you could say, ‘ I know how you feel. Let me tell you about me at your age…

These answers show you care about how she feels.

From this beginning you can talk about how puberty begins and ends at different ages for different people.  Girls and boys often feel uneasy when they reach puberty either earlier or later than their peers. Give your child reassurance about the changes ahead,  and that they are normal.

I have dealt with issues around puberty and menstruation in earlier posts in this blog – see the 9-12-year-old categories for case studies and answers to questions.

Written by frombirthtopuberty

February 15, 2009 at 8:26 pm

12-year-old: How do you know if you’re in love?

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Last night your 12-year-old daughter asked you,  ‘How do you know if you’re in love?’ In the past few weeks she has talked about a special friend, and she spends so much time daydreaming and talking on the phone to this friend that you are concerned. Now her question suggests to you that she thinks she is in love.

Asking about love does not mean your child wants to have sexual relations.  There are a number of possible reasons why she has asked you the question:

  • She wonders if she could really be in love.
  • She has loving feelings for a special friend.
  • She wonders if it is normal to feel this way.
  • She wants to know if you approve.
  • She wants to know if it is okay to be sexual with the friend if she feels she loves them.
  • She wonders if this is the “real thing” or the “right person”.

In thinking about your response, remember that many preteens express “being in love”.  It is exciting and scary for them to have these feelings.   While you may doubt they are real or long-lasting, if you say this to them they may choose not to share feelings with you again.

You can help your child learn the difference between feelings and actions. Be positive about the good feelings, and talk about the results of acting on those feelings. You can set limits at this time, for instance, ” In our family the dating age is _____, because ______.

Possible responses

“Being in love is a great feeling. And it’s different for 12-year-olds, 16-year-olds and 20-, 30- 50- somethings. Let’s talk about it.”

This give the message that you are willing to talk and can help her make sense of her feelings.

“This is a sign you are growing up.”

Message:  She is entering a new phase, with new issues for her to face.

“Being in love is one thing.  Sex is another. I’d like to hear what’s going on for you and to share my feelings and thoughts.”

The message here is that you want to help her learn about love and sexuality. You can share some of your experiences at her age to help her understand her own situation.

Written by frombirthtopuberty

February 8, 2009 at 10:03 pm

I don’t want you to talk about sex: ten-year-old

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Your 10-year-old son (or 11 or 12-year-old son or daughter) has never asked you any questions about sex.

You may assume that they know all they need to know at their age, or they may have told you that “I already know all about it.”

Sometimes a child may resist their parents efforts to talk about puberty and sexuality. They may protest and walk out of the room when you raise the subject.

What can you do in this situation? A good first step is to ask yourself why they are behaving this way. It could be they are embarrassed, or they think they should already know the answers. They may know a little and think they know a lot. Or your past reactions may have taught them not to ask.

Here are some suggestions of things you could do.

Use incidents on TV shows to start discussions about relationships and sexuality. Soaps and sitcoms  are scripted with many aspects of relationships, and sexuality topics are frequent. You could ask, “How do you feel about what that person did? What might happen because of their choice?”  This gives the message that there are choices in sexual situations and that people should think about the choices they make.

Talk about sexuality with another adult while your child is present. For example, “Have you seen the news report about…?” The message to your son or daughter is that it is okay to talk about sex in this family.

Ask your preteen to help you explain something to a younger child. For example, ask your 11-year-old son to help you talk to his eight-year-old brother about his aunt’s pregnancy. This will give the 11-year-old a face-saving reason for listening to what you have to say. The younger brother is likely to ask questions the 11-year-old also wants to have answered.

Mom, do you have sex with the men you date?

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The 11-year-old daughter of a single mother asked this question.

If your child asks you a similar question, ask yourself, “Why is she/he asking that?” There is often a question behind the question. It is an opportunity to understand the question your child really wants answered.

In responding remember what you want them to learn. A positive response could be:

‘I’m happy to talk about my choices. I thought hard about them and they were right for me at the time. My choice may not be the right one for you when you get older. But first tell me why you want to know.’

This answer gives the message that this is an okay topic to discuss, that wise choices require thought, and that you are prepared to help your child learn to choose wisely.

Written by frombirthtopuberty

January 18, 2009 at 10:13 pm

Children’s sexuality from birth to puberty

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play21Regular readers of this blog may know (or maybe not?) that I have written a popular parenting book on children’s sexual development.

It’s titled From Birth to Puberty – Helping your child develop a healthy sexuality.

It features the topics that I have blogged here in more depth, with case studies and questions and answers. Order a copy from

My nipples are almost the same size as my breasts, is this normal?

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A preteen going through puberty asked me this question:

I am 12  years old and my breasts are larger than my sister who is 14 and i have noticed that my nipples are almost the same size as my breasts, is this normal because my sister tells me im a freak and i just want to know why my nipples are so big and if this is a bad thing.

Different people grow at different rates and we all look quite different with our clothes off. There’s a huge range of normal and guess what? You’re well within that range.

Don’t stress over your body so much. It can be difficult coming to terms with all the changes your body is growing through. Get some information on puberty, a book form the library, ask your parents. There are some good websites with excellent information about puberty. Can you talk to the school nurse?

It may be that your sister is just a bit jealous!

Written by frombirthtopuberty

December 19, 2008 at 6:30 pm

My 8-year-old wets his bed sometimes. Should I be concerned?

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All children wet their beds occasionally.  Bedwetting typically occurs in about 10% of 6-year-olds and 3% of 12-year-olds.

Bedwetting is defined as a problem when it occurs more than one night a month. A small bladder capacity, deep sleeping or a number of medical reasons may cause it.

It is more commonly a problem for boys and often runs in families. It can be very helpful for a child to know if it was also a problem for one of their parents when they were young. They will then know their parents understand how they are feeling.

Staying overnight with a friend or going on a school camp can cause extra anxiety for these children. The problem may cause considerable tension within families and embarrassment for the child. Even the most understanding parents can become frustrated and angry with repeated accidents. In these cases parents need extra support.

If the problem persists until the child is 7 years old, behavior management techniques or medication can be helpful. In this case the first step is to talk to a health professional.

Written by frombirthtopuberty

December 17, 2008 at 9:01 pm

Differences in values

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Within a family, parents may differ in some of their values, such as whether it is acceptable to be naked in front of the children, whether masturbation is normal, and in attitudes toward homosexuality.

The following stories highlight some of the issues.

Brian enjoyed swimming naked in the family pool, which could not be seen by the neighbours. His wife, Jenny, objected to him doing this when their children were school age. Jenny and Brian talked about it many times, often in front of the children. Brian continued to do it, arguing that it was a perfectly natural thing to do. It was a worry to Jenny every summer for years, until Brian stopped when their daughter turned twelve.

Margaret (a European New Zealander) asked her daughter Puti (11 years) why she hadn’t washed her hair when she had a shower. Puti said her Nanny (her Maori grandmother) had told her she should never wash her hair while she had her mate (period). Margaret thought that was ridiculous. “What’s this stupid thing Nanny is telling you Puti? What right has she to tell my daughter this sort of rubbish?”

Tammy found one of the difficulties in her marriage with Hone was the way his whanau (family) treated their place as their own. Uncles, cousins and people she didn’t even know would turn up for a meal unexpectedly, borrow their tools and never return them, or just hang out drinking their beer. But what really irritated her was how they assumed it was okay to call in and take her children to the river or out visiting without asking her or Hone.

The children in these stories are receiving different messages about values from their parents, grandparents or other relatives. The last two stories highlight value differences within families when parents come from different cultural backgrounds.

There can be many differences in values between parents, including:

  • The values, attitudes and beliefs about family, health, education, discipline and honesty.
  • The way sexuality is expressed. For example, whether it continues to be appropriate to hug your son when he has reached puberty.
  • The parents’ experience of different role models (especially their own mother and father).
  • The traditions, rituals and behaviours that are part of the parents’ culture. Usually these have been handed down through many generations.

These differences can cause confusion for children if it involves conflict between parents about who is right or wrong. For example:

Don’t listen to your Dad he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

How can you avoid confusing your child with conflicting messages? How can you positively influence the values of your child and help them to decide for themselves what their personal values will be? A starting point is to clarify your own values. We will look at ways to do this in the next post.

Breast size and confidentiality

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Kelly (11 years) told her mother Catherine she was worried that one of her breasts was getting bigger than the other.

Catherine brought up the subject with some of her women friends at work during morning coffee, and she was relieved to hear that a number of them had the same experience during puberty.

When Catherine told Kelly this later, she was surprised that Kelly was upset that she had discussed her concern with others.

Young people can feel that their trust has been betrayed when their parents talk about them to their friends.

It is good to share things with friends but your child needs to realise that just as they share things with each other, parents need to too.

You could agree not to share without your child’s permission. It is important for you to get the support you need.

Written by frombirthtopuberty

December 7, 2008 at 9:51 am

Values and sexuality #4

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Your child’s need for individuality
Your child needs to maintain or achieve a sense of being a separate person.

This  develops from an early age,  as a two-year-old’s tantrum demonstrates. A two-year-old will stand and demand, perform and cry, trying to get his or her own way.

If you are continually putting pressure on your child to behave as you want them to they often rebel. A common reaction to you ‘laying down the law’ is that they will deliberately rebel to oppose your authority.

Sarah (9 years) said her mother told her she should always wash her hair once a week or it would fall out. So she didn’t wash it for a month to see if her mother was right.

This kind of rebellion in children can be positive and healthy, although Sarah’s example isn’t very hygienic.

The positive outcomes include the ability to think and speak for themselves, to respect the individuality of others and not try to make others conform to their own opinions or values.


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