Talking to kids about puberty isn't easy for most parents. Puberty involves a lot of highly personal information and sometimes it can be embarrassing for parents and kids alike. However, you're not doing your kids any favors by waiting too long to talk to them about the changes that come with puberty or by avoiding the subject. If what they know about their body, emotions and feelings, sexuality, and everything else doesn't come from you, they'll learn it from someone else. When you, as the parent, take control of the puberty conversation, you can control how and what they learn.
There isn't one perfect age for broaching the puberty discussion with your kids. Although there may be a health class at school that will address the issue around 5th or 6th grade, your kids should already have heard much of the "puberty" discussion at home from you. Ideally, it should be a conversation that starts well before they hit the age of puberty. Misinformation abounds, and chances are that your kids, even at younger ages, have seen or heard things that may confuse them. Open up the conversation, in an age-appropriate manner, before the onset of puberty. Then, it'll be that much easier when the time comes for the "big" talks.
Determining When Your Child Hits Puberty
Puberty has a lot of the same signs and symptoms in kids, even if it hits them at different ages. If you're wondering if your kids are starting to enter into the puberty phase, look for these signs, among others:
Crushes on the opposite sex
Changes in physical size and shape (i.e., broader shoulders in boys, budding breasts in girls)
Onset of menstruation
Attitude changes or secrecy
At times, despite your best intentions, your kids won't want to talk to you about every aspect of puberty. In that case, give them a book on the subject or some websites that you've read through yourself for accuracy and perspective. Then kids can read about details, get questions answered, and even ask questions. KidsHealth.org has a wealth of information about puberty and related topics, and it's geared towards kids of all ages.
Discussing Puberty with Girls
There's no one perfect way to talk to girls about puberty. However, it'll be a lot easier if you start earlier and give your daughter bits of information and have smaller discussions along the way rather than throwing a lot of details out all at once. Pre-puberty in girls starts between ages 8 and 10. Start teaching your daughter about hygiene, how to recognize when her period has started, and about dealing with fluctuating emotions. Once she hits puberty, keep the open dialogue running so it can mature, as she does, into more complicated subjects like sex and dating.
Discussing Puberty with Boys
Boys mature a little later than girls, around 10 or 11 years old, although you should still initiate the dialogue and keep it running with them as well. Sexual development in boys can be just as disconcerting as it is for girls. Boys get erections and can have an unintended ejaculation before they start to develop in other areas. It will help your son to know ahead of time what these things are and how to deal with them. Start talking to your son before he hits these ages. Be casual and light so that when the time comes that he has something really big to share, he'll know he can come to you.