The Onset of Puberty

Young people and puberty

Puberty is the biggest growth spurt that your child will go through since their infant years. The body is changing from a child’s body to an adult’s body.

The age that puberty starts varies greatly between children and starts much earlier for girls than boys. On average the physical changes of puberty can start between 8 and 13 for girls and 10 and 15 for boys. The changes are both physical and emotional and are related to the growth spurt and changes in their body’s hormones.  The pituitary gland has began to release hormones which are telling the body to change. For boys, this hormone is testosterone, for girls, the hormone is estrogen.  As well as physical changes puberty is also associated with great emotional and social changes. Children can feel emotions intensely and at times it can be rollercoaster of emotion and mood swings with pronounced highs and lows. In addition, children can become much more self-conscious socially and feel more acutely the pressures to fit in and be accepted by peers.

So how do you help them, and you, to get through this difficult and fractious time?  The key to helping your child is to make sure that they are aware of and understand the changes that they are physically experiencing and to ensure that you keep communication active with them to help them through the physical and emotional changes they are experiencing. This will require a lot of patience as the teenage moodiness and mood swings can be very hard to tolerate sometimes.

Knowledge is King!  Make sure that your child has all the information that they need to understand what is happening.  Consider the following:

  • Check with the school as to what sex education has been given
  • Check bookstores for a book that is suitable for your child’s age
  • Try to get a copy of Busy Bodies from HSE
  • Talk to your child and if they have questions, try to answer them as clearly as you can

Some of the physical changes can be embarrassing for your child so discuss what these could be. The following is a short list of common changes during puberty:

For both boys and girls

  • Pubic hair on genitals and underarms
  • Growth spurt – may feel awkward (e.g. my feet are too big)
  • Perspiration in underarms and feeling a bit ‘stinky’
  • Skin problems such as spots or acne
  • Greasy hair

In addition, depending on sex, your child will also experience:


  • Voice breaking
  • Shoulders widening
  • Growing chest & facial hair
  • Wet dreams


  • Development of breasts
  • Body becoming curvy 
  • Periods begin

It is very important that your child is supported by you throughout this phase of development.  They are probably confused and embarrassed about the physical changes to their body and also upset by their feelings of highs and lows for no apparent reason.  Explain the physical changes and reassure your child that what they are experiencing is normal for young people their age.  Remember, communication is the vital so keep that link active with your child.  Try some of the following:

  • Set aside one to one time with your child each day.  Don’t be discouraged if they seem a bit reluctant at first – just keep trying by simple things like watching a program with them, taking an interest in the things they like such as sport, music etc.
  • Try to share an activity with your son/daughter.   Perhaps helping them out with fixing their bike, asking them to help you prepare a meal, asking them for their opinion on something.
  • Encourage them – comment on how well they have done something, how nice they look, how much you appreciated their help with something and so on.
  • Listen very carefully and make sure that you understand what they are saying.   Use techniques such as reflective listening to ensure that you understand and that they know that you understand what they are saying.   See  link for tips on this technique.
  • Recognise and let them know that you recognise and respect that   they are getting older.  Maybe you can chat about extra pocket money, a later bedtime, more responsibility etc.  This will be very encouraging to the child and will help their self esteem to improve.
  • Don’t forget the T.L.C. – we all need it!

Usually puberty lasts about 4 to 5 years.  If you are concerned at any stage about your son/daughter, speak to your GP.  Don’t just take it for granted that it is part of puberty – if the physical changes or mood swings are a problem then discuss with the GP and take his/her advice.