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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.
completely different when it's your own kid.
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
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.
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.
isn't a one-time talk
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.
never too late to start
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
A few tips from me:
4. Write it down!
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
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.
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.
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