School Age    

The emotional toll of early puberty



Hudson Valley experts say early development can effect girls socially

When a girl experiences precocious puberty (puberty before age 8), her brain releases gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which stimulates sex hormone production, sexual development, and physical growth. The result is the growth and maturation of the ovaries, development of small breasts, pubic and underarm hair and, in some cases, the beginning of menstruation. It also means also means a rapid increase in height.

 

This early physical development may affect a child socially. A 14-year-old dealing with raging hormones is difficult enough, but for an 8-year-old whose mental maturity is, most likely, not in line with her physical maturity, the changes are harder to understand. She may feel embarrassed by her changing body and withdraw from friends and family. She may also be teased because she is taller than even the boys in the class or she wears a bra.

 

This teasing can lead to a feeling of rejection – a feeling that “I just don’t fit in anymore” – which can then affect other areas of a young girl’s life. “Many times poor self-esteem, poor school performance and other stress-related disorders arise,” says pediatrician Janice Montague, MD, of Tuxedo Pediatrics.

 

It is important for parents to set their role with their children early on to maintain the open lines of communication. Doing so provides strong support for the child’s physical and mental well being. “Children know their body is changing, and the opportunity to talk about their concerns may be a welcome relief,” says Nyack psychologist Eric Neblung, Ph.D.

 

“Parents often provide the sole support for these kids, since their peers aren’t sharing the same bodily and emotional changes,” Dr. Montague stresses. “Always give kids honest information in easy to understand phrases.”

 

Let the child know she’s not alone – everyone goes through these body changes, but some do sooner than others. Explain that even though her body is more adult-like, she is not an adult. This is especially important for her safety. She may be subject to the attention of older peers that she is emotionally unequipped to handle.

 

Be aware of withdrawal from family and friends, depression, loss of interest school or home activities, and slipping grades. Talk to the child about her feelings and be available so that she feels comfortable addressing difficult issues.

 

Your reaction to your child’s body changes will greatly affect her attitude. Help her celebrate her new maturity, rather then feel embarrassed by it. Help her understand that these changes don’t affect who she is inside. Praise her accomplishments at school, on her sports team or other activities, and be supportive.

 

If a child is having difficulty adjusting to the changes she’s experiencing, consider consulting with a child psychologist. It’s imperative to ask questions regarding the psychologist’s expertise and be sure the doctor is trained to work with children and adolescents.

 

The combination of open discussions with your child, consults with your pediatrician, pediatric endocrinologist, or child psychologist will certainly form a good support system for you and your child.

 

Donna McDine is a freelance writer. This is her first feature in Hudson Valley Parent magazine.