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When to talk to your child about puberty (or will school take care of it)?

By Lucy Doyle

Children usually receive their first lesson about puberty at school in Year 5. Sex and relationships education (SRE) isn’t compulsory in primary schools, although most schools think it is important to tackle puberty, which is a live issue for them given that puberty starts for girls between the ages of eight and 13 and boys between nine and 14.

Those aspects of sex and growing up that form part of the national science curriculum do have to be covered. The 2015 National Curriculum for Year 5 Science includes bodily changes, saying that: ‘Pupils should be taught to describe the changes as humans develop to old age’ – which may well be interpreted as covering puberty.

Parents have the right to withdraw their children from lessons about puberty and sex where these form part of SRE, but not from lessons that form part of the national science curriculum.

A report by the Education Select Committee called for SRE to be made part of the national curriculum for the first time in all schools (secondary and primary) in February 2015 but this has not yet been approved by the UK government.

Will my child receive high-quality lessons on puberty and growing up?

There is currently no standardised SRE curriculum for primary schools, so it’s difficult to predict the quality of a typical primary school child’s education about puberty. Many people would argue that sex and relationships education, delivered in the right way, is an important part of a child’s personal, social health and economic education (PSHE).

The PSHE Association  believes that Year 5 is the latest time at which puberty should be addressed by schools. They argue that a decision to withdraw a child from SRE can have a very negative impact on children, who will be unaware of the potentially alarming changes happening to their bodies if their parents decide not to educate them about it at home. A better-prepared child is almost certainly more confident to tackle life as a tween.

Even if your child is taught about sex education at school in informative and high-quality lessons, it’s still a good idea to talk to them about growing up. It’s important that they feel they can talk to you and come to you with questions in the confusing and challenging time that is puberty. 

Tips on talking to your child about puberty

  • It’s best to introduce the topic of puberty to your child as young as you are comfortable with, so they know about it before they start developing. 
  • Ask your child’s school about the kind of lessons they will have on the topic and when they will happen. You can then tailor your talk based on what they will learn/ have already.
  • Try to avoid making it a formal, daunting process. Keep the conversation light and short in a relaxed, comfortable environment. It doesn’t have to be a 40-minute lecture - a quick 10 minute chat about what happens to your body as you grow older would be a good enough start. Our piece on talking about sex might help you: the suggestions in this article can also be applied to talking about puberty. 
  • Let your child know you’re always happy to answer any questions they have, or, if they’d prefer, suggest they talk to another family member or trusted adult – maybe an older brother or sister or close family friend.

You can also make use of the resources below to help you and your child in the process. Good luck! 

Handy resources 

The PSHE Association 

Great books on puberty and growing up -

Puberty for boys

Puberty for girls

Puberty for parents

Brook – articles on body parts, puberty, keeping clean and more 

Sex Education Forum – organisation that works to achieve quality SRE 


Images: Bird, Jacob Spinks (CCBY); Bumblebee, Serena (CCBY SA)


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