"My child's only 10 but she's crazy about boys"

How do you help your eight-year-old figure out puberty? Is it appropriate to start being interested in boys at 10? We ask the experts on what parents can do when their kids grow up too quickly.

My child's only 10 but she's crazy about boys. What should I do?

Ng Siaw Hwei of University Children's Medical Institute (UCMI): With early puberty, there is a mismatch between the child's physical growth and intellectual development. 

Cognitively, she still focuses more on herself than on others. Thinking in abstract issues, such as romantic love and sexual identity, is not established yet. At a young age, she will not understand the implications of such attraction, and may not have the skills for self-restraint.

As a parent, you need to remember that she is still a child. 

Let her engage in age-appropriate play and social activities. Resist the temptation to dress her in fashionable clothing such as short skirts and halter tops. Discourage the use of makeup and nail polish.

My Primary 2 daughter is developing breasts. What should I do to prepare her? 

Siau Hwei: Help her understand the physical changes that are happening to her body. 

Explain it in a language appropriate for her age. 

Do reassure her that pubertal changes are normal: While she is experiencing them now, her friends will also go through the same things at a later time.

Check out books and online resources on puberty. Tell her she can always come to you when she has any questions or problems. 

Involve her in shopping for her bras and sanitary products. 

Although it is not necessary to let her teacher know about her condition, it is helpful to keep contact with her teacher, who can help watch out for teasing, or signs of withdrawal or depression.

My child seems mature for her age, even though she is only nine. Should I start treating her like an adult?

Siau Hwei: Most children who undergo early puberty tend to be taller than similar-aged children. It is easy, and natural, for parents to forget the child's actual age, and treat her like an older child. This may place additional demads on the child that she is not developmentally ready for. 

My daughter refuses to bring a sanitary pad to school, and gets upset whenever I tell her to change her pad. Help!

Siau Hwei: To help her understand what she is going through, you must explain menstruation and why it's necessary to use a sanitary pad. Discuss the topic positively. Dispel false information and reassure her worries.

Your daughter acts this way because she may be embarrassed about having to use a sanitary pad in school. You could bring her shopping and get a pretty case for her to store her pads. 

Also, normalise the experience by showing your daughter that you also store your own sanitary pads in your handbag whenever you have your period. 

Rather than become frustrated or angry, calmly remind your daughter to bring her sanitary pads (stored in a pretty case). This helps alleviate her embarrassment. 

My 10-year-old is embarrassed by her armpit hair. Is it safe for her to use deodarants or a shaver?

Associate professor Lee Yung Seng of UCMI: Managing body odour and body hair during puberty is a matter of personal preference. What is safe for adults is generally safe for older kids.

My daughter loves eating chicken, and I've heard that this may be a reason for early puberty. Should I change her diet?

Assoc Prof Lee: Puberty is starting earlier probably because of better nutrition. But there is no evidence yet to show that any particular diet or environmental toxins are the causes.

Will early puberty affect my child's growth?

Associate professor Lee: With early puberty, the child may go through a phase of rapid growth initially because her bones are maturing much faster. This is due to surging sex hormones. This means the growth plates, which help the bones grow longer, also mature faster.

Your child may stop growing at 12 or 13 years old, rather than the usual 15 or 16 for girls. She may end up shorter than what she could have been. 

It is important to find out the cause of early puberty. In girls, we need to exclude sinister causes like brain and ovarian tumours, which occur in rare cases. For boys, there is a higher likelihood of an underlying medical problem. 

After checking with a doctor, and if no medical problems are found, you can decide if you want to treat your child for early puberty. 

If you feel that she can cope, and the predicted final height is acceptable, then you can opt to let nature take its course.

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