A series of posts on this blog about the challenges of 5th and 6th grade would be incomplete without mentioning the impact of puberty on students at this age.
Our school nurse, Deb Smith, is a pro at handling this subject. Her talks with our 5th grade students arm them with language, facts, empathy, and self-acceptance to help them make this transition into pre-adolescence as positive and empowering as possible.
Nurse Deb, as she is known to our students, is one of two RNs who works with our students in all grade levels on both campuses. Ms. Smith is in her 19th year at Randolph and she has seen countless children through this tumultuous phase of life.
"We're teaching students about puberty at a younger age because the onset of menses is earlier," she says.
She sees students again in the 7th grade, when they talk about reproduction as part of their life science curriculum, and again in 9th grade science to discuss sexual health, which dovetails with the biology curriculum.
So whether your child is approaching these years or you are all living the reality together, here are her five top tips for making it a positive experience for everyone.
1. Use real language
Kids need real vocabulary to describe themselves. It's important to share current knowledge in a clinical fashion. Parents don't always remember all the facts they may have been taught. And having current, factual information is important. We share a Proctor & Gamble video and they all watch it together – boys and girls. It's important for them to see each other's struggles. It helps them with the next point, and the one after.
2. Be empathetic
You need to emphasize empathy. Kids are acutely aware of their differences. Puberty is connected to growth, and rates of growth vary. Some kids are four feet tall, others six. Our culture is obsessed with height. But, again, variation is normal. And our school has students from different cultural backgrounds. Girls bodies may or may not be changing. It's important to remind them that puberty happens at different ages, but we all get there. Also, growing pains are real!
3. Don't be embarrassed
Students are often embarrassed to ask their parents questions, but it goes both ways. I always tell them, "Be gentle when you tell your parents what you learned."
We try to alleviate any anxiety. It's important to prepare children for what kinds of changes are coming—periods, nighttime emissions—and that these are normal.
When your daughter gets her period, it's something to celebrate, not a burden to bear. A parent's attitude will influence how a child feels.
4. Be fearless
I think parents are sometimes afraid that when their children enter puberty their teens will no longer be good kids, but if children are confident and feel good about themselves they will be kinder and more empathetic. If kids are unkind to each other it may be based on fear.
5. Keep talking
Talk to your kids about what they are going through – sure, it can be embarrassing, but you're the parents.
Puberty peaks in the 7th and 8th grades. Mood swings are normal and hormonal. Think about all the other periods of growth and transition — toddlerhood, childbearing, menopause – chemical messengers are telling different parts of your body what to do. Your middle schooler may be grumpy. Try to be understanding and considerate.
There is so much anxiety in the world about body changes, but this should be something to celebrate.
Further reading: Ms. Smith recommends the American Girl books for sound, straightforward advice: The Care and Keeping of You and Guy Stuff: The Body Book for Boys. And if you just need to talk, Nurse Deb is always happy to speak with students and parents.
This post is one of a series of posts about the needs of 5th and 6th graders. We've expanded our popular e-book to include 5th and 6th grades. You can download it here.