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Prepared for Puberty?


Puberty is a word that we hear associated with negative connotations all too often. We all know the stereotypes, a boy who seems to turn sullen and is unable to speak in actual words and only grunts overnight and girls who suddenly become very highly strung, dramatic and over emotional.

The reality is that when the signs of puberty first start to hit it can be unsettling and out of the blue for all concerned. Research suggests that this phase of development begins any time from aged 8 and affects not only the physical attributes of these young men and women but also their emotional and psychological make up. Adolescence itself, the term most commonly used to describe boys and girls in this stage doesn't end physiologically until the frontal cortex of the brain is fully developed and this can happen until people are in their early twenties.

We have been working recently with several families who were looking for tips on how to understand their child during this tricky stage and also asking to be equipped with the tools for how to best manage the child concerned especially when the usual discipline methods don't seem to be working.

The reason that these methods which seemed to have been fine yesterday, aren't working today is that the young person themselves may not actually be able to articulate what they are feeling and so just end up feeling confused or angry for a lot of the time. Particularly if they are male, they are unlikely to want to discuss their feelings and so are likely to express most of it in actions. Even for the most articulate pre -teen, this can be an embarrassing and unsettling time and therefore trying to rationalize their behaviour through conversation is unlikely to be the best approach.

It is important however that the consequences you would normally use are still enforced if your child has done something inappropriate. The consistency of these rules and routines will actually help to anchor them. Having the same expectations of them as everyone else in the class or family will also stand you in good stead. It is not for nothing that teenagers have developed a bad reputation and it is at this stage that they try to push every boundary and their friend's opinions take on far higher importance than those of the guiding adults in their lives. The only response that works is to stand strong in the values you want your child to learn from and to find a different way to connect with them. This may be finding an activity to do together or giving them an area of responsibility within the house so that they can see you love them and trust them and want to spend time with them.

Most of us don't do brilliantly when we feel that the world around us is constantly changing and when we do feel "in limbo" we are likely to be more anxious, snappy or moody with those closest to us. We are also likely to cling on tighter to the things in our lives that provide us with routine, stability and security. The problem is that right at the time when these children need consistency the most there are external changes. Most move from primary to high school around this time and many peer groups mix up quite a lot at the same stage. Their favourite friends may be in a different class or school or simply decide they want to be friends with someone else.

These changes can exacerbate the dichotomy between these young adults feeling that they want full autonomy and independence one minute and then wanting reassurance from mum and dad the next. It is really important to create opportunities to promote their independence in a safe way as this also helps to make them feel that they are in control of something tangible. It is highly likely that they are feeling out of control by the new thoughts, feelings and bodies that they are now having to understand.

I am yet to meet a pubescent or pre pubescent person who couldn't benefit from more time to themselves or in activities they enjoy to give them a release from the real world. The changes they are processing are big ones and can take up a lot of energy. Therefore regular "breaks" from chores, school work; monotony and routine can be a huge help. Find something they are passionate about - the options range from bike rides to computer games to manicures and tv shows. It may be a sport that they love and chills them out. Whatever it is, help them to focus here for at least a half an hour every day. All that is required (not so simple I know) is to work with them and their schedule to find an appropriate time each day. It is likely to be something that will help to boost their confidence when they may be feeling unsure in many areas of their lives.

The most important thing is to simply be there. They may not handle it the way you would want but unfortunately at this age and stage the mistakes they make are important and are theirs to make and to learn from. By taking a supporting role and a big step further back you are empowering them to become the adults you always dreamed they would be!