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Changing expectations and relationships

The changes that happen to your child during puberty aren’t just physical changes to the body.

Introduction

The changes that happen to your child during puberty aren’t just physical changes to the body. There are social changes that happen as well. Understanding what these changes are will help you to prepare yourself and your child for what might happen as your child ages. Remember, puberty can start from the age of 8, so it is important to prepare as early as possible.  

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As your child ages, they may want:

  • more privacy. For example, when speaking to their friends or getting changed
  • more time with friends and less time with family
  • a boyfriend or girlfriend, or they may show an interest in dating and sexual relationships
  • more independence

These are all normal things that many children want as they grow older and it is important that you are prepared for how to respond.

Some of the things your child wants may not be possible straight away. This might be because of your child’s age or their support needs. Some things they want cannot be guaranteed for anybody.

It is important to acknowledge your child’s desires, but it also important to be realistic. Don’t promise things that might not happen. Instead, work with them to come up with a plan for what needs to be achieved before it can happen. For example, you can’t promise your child they will find a friend, but the two of you could come up with a plan for where to meet new people who could become friends.

If your child has a particular relationship or independence goal, you can use this to motivate them to build their social skills and independence. You can work together to come up with a plan to achieve their goal.

For example, if your child says that they want to find a boyfriend but they struggle with maintaining good personal hygiene and dislike meeting new people, it will realistically be difficult for them to find a boyfriend. Instead, you could motivate them to improve their hygiene and conversational skills to maximise their chances of finding a boyfriend. If your child does not show an interest in these things, social skills and independent living skills should still be taught proactively to empower your child to be able to have healthy relationships in the future and be as independent as possible.

Conversation Starters

Your sister has a new boyfriend. Have you ever thought about whether you want a boyfriend or girlfriend too?
You’ve been doing so well lately speaking to the worker at the takeaway shop. Did you want to try ordering the food by yourself next time?
The teenager on that show just told their mum that they want to spend more time by themselves. Is that something you ever think about?

Strategies for you to try

Reflect on your own values and expectations

Think about your personal, cultural and religious values. Think about what you want life to look like for your child in the future. What do you want them to be able to achieve? What do you want their relationships to look like? Thinking about these things in advance will help you to respond to your child if they express a desire for more independence.

Support your child to be more independent

Independence looks different for every child. Consider the skills that your child has now, and think about how you can give them opportunities to continually build those skills.

For example:

  • If your child needs assistance putting clothes on, they could choose the outfit they want to wear. If they struggle with having too many options, you could start by asking them to pick between two different outfits that you have selected
  • If your child wants to make new friends but they have difficulty talking to strangers, they could practice ordering food at the takeaway shop. Or you could take them to the corner store to buy some milk. Stay at the door and let your child choose the milk and pay for it
  • If your child is building their cooking skills, have them choose and prepare a meal once a week. They may choose to just prepare toast for everyone – that is okay. Accept that, as it is their choice. You can always build up to “better” meals
trying to make friends

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Introduction to puberty for girls
Changing expectations and relationships

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