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Talk Your Tween Through Puberty in 7 Easy Steps

Having counseled many girls through puberty, you might think that I wouldn't have a worry in the world about broaching this topic with my own kid. I wish. It's one thing to talk someone else's child through the changes and emotional ups and downs that can occur during puberty.

But it's completely different when it's your own kid.

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My daughter tends to be a worrier, so one big talk about how bodies change would be completely overwhelming. Truthfully, that would be overwhelming for most kids. Tackling tough topics, for her, is more about planting seeds. We haven't talked much about puberty yet, but one little thing at a time with plenty of time to process seems to be the best way to work though big questions on her end.

All kids are different, and you know your child the best. It's important to think about how your child processes information and how you typically handle personal discussions. Some kids don't like to discuss anything in front of siblings, while others tend to be an open book. It's always a good idea to take your cues from your kids, and to allot plenty of time for challenging conversations.

Believe me, I know, the word "puberty" makes me cringe, too.

I wanted some expert tips on ways to start the puberty conversation with tween (and even younger) girls, so I turned to Dr. Cara Natterson. She's a pediatrician and author, and she taught a great online parenting class, Parenting Through Puberty. Let's just say she knows her stuff.

Dr. Natterson gave me her Top 3 tips for talking about puberty, and I added a couple of my own. Hopefully these will get you (and me) through that first potentially embarrassing conversation.

From the doctor:

1. Avoid eye contact!

Most kids are embarrassed enough when their parents start talking about body changes and mood swings, so try to bring up the topic in a place where you won't be staring at one another. What are the best spots? Tied for first are driving in the car or that moment when your child is getting ready for sleep right after you've turned off the light at night. In both cases, your eyes rarely meet (in the car you are looking at the road and at night it's too dark to see one another). Embarrassing info can feel less, well, embarrassing.

2. This isn't a one-time talk

That means there is no need to try to cover everything at once. Pace yourself. When you feel like you have said enough—or if your kid tells you she has had enough—that's fine. You can just pick up where you left off next time.

Puberty is a long journey, and it isn't always easy. Empathize with your daughter.

3. It's never too late to start

Some parents worry that they have missed their window. Never true. And if you are not sure how to jump into the conversation, let the world around you help: if you've just seen a movie or read an article that deals with a topic you'd like to discuss, share it with your child and open up the conversation from there.

A few tips from me:

4. Write it down!

Some kids really struggle to talk about this stuff face-to-face in the beginning. It can feel like a lot of pressure. And, as Dr. Natterson points out, most kids are embarrassed when parents start talking about body changes. Try a mother/daughter journal. I recommend this to parents of tweens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes life feels overwhelming, and it's hard to know where to begin when someone asks, "What's wrong?" A daily journal gives kids the opportunity to share their feelings and questions in a safe format, with plenty of time to process the answers.

5. Use the right words

Believe me, I know, the word "puberty" makes me cringe, too. It's important to give your kids the information they seek (or don't seek but need just the same). That begins with using the correct terminology. They will hear it all (correct and incorrect) somewhere, that much I can promise. If it comes from you first, they will know what to expect and how to respond when they encounter similar conversations out in the world.

6. Empathize

Puberty is a long journey, and it isn't always easy. Empathize with your daughter. Acknowledge that it can be embarrassing to discuss and confusing to understand. Share your own puberty stories. The best way to normalize the process for your child is to go through it with her. Laugh when you can. Hug her when she's overwhelmed. Don't push. You can always revisit the conversation later.

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7. Read about it

"The Care and Keeping of You" has been a staple in my private practice for years. Sometimes kids need a great book to peruse before they start asking questions. I'm not sure what the pamphlets that come home from school look like these days, but in the late '80s it wasn't good. I could have used a good book back then.

The good news is that American Girl Library now has two books on the topic: "The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Younger Girls" (age 8+) and "The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls."

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