This isn’t true 100% of the time, but the stats are pretty close. Your daughter won’t necessarily recognize, though, that the boys will catch up one day. It can be tough for a 10-year-old girl to relate to a boy her age—boys often look and act younger. But remind your daughter that it can be tough for the boys to relate right back. And I swear, the boys will grow up.
At 10, good hygiene isn’t about standing under the shower for one minute sans soap and then declaring the body fully washed. Or brushing teeth for 10 seconds and swearing it was two minutes. Kids who do this will be outed because, quite simply, they will smell. Puberty’s first great insult is that it exaggerates body odors. So hound your daughter, check for dirt behind her ears, sniff her scalp. She will roll her eyes at you but thank you profusely when she’s not the kid being picked on for stinking up the locker room.
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Speaking of picking on people … everyone’s body is going to change at different rates and in a slightly different order. Being the first (or last) to get breasts or hair can make a girl feel vulnerable, and vulnerability is expressed in all sorts of ways. It may drive one girl to become shy and another snarky. Teach your daughter to behave thoughtfully toward other girls, even if another girl isn’t being so nice in return. And don’t forget the other gender: The gaping hole between girls and boys at this age means that you might have to remind your daughter to be kind to boys, too, even when they seem immature.
Some girls are aware because their bodies have changed for all the world to see. Others are aware because nothing has changed. With early bloomers—or even late or average ones—there just isn’t a way to go through puberty and bypass the awkwardness. So teach your daughter that if she feels self-conscious, so does everyone else. Help her to choose clothes that cover her up rather than ones that flaunt her changes (or lack of changes). And because respecting other girls is critical, don’t tolerate unkind comments about other girls’ bodies, and don’t make them yourself.
Kids need to get good information about their changing bodies, and they cannot do it if they don’t know how to label body parts! Shaming the use of proper anatomical names also adds an obstacle when a child thinks about asking an embarrassing question. If you don’t use the word in your house, how can you expect your kid to ask about it? So teach your daughter some basic terminology or get a book and read it together—or read it first and then pass it along to her. But get the conversation started, and make sure the vocabulary is correct. You are a much better resource than a Web search.
But many think they have it. This is because breasts are lumpy and uncomfortable when they first grow, and they often don’t grow at the same rate. I cannot count the number of frantic calls I have gotten over the years from a terrified mom (of a terrified daughter) telling me there is a lump on one side and nothing on the other. At 10 (and even at 9 or 8), this is really common. And normal.
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And neither do you. The best guess is about the same age that you (mom) were when you first got your period. There is a ton of chatter about how girls are starting to develop earlier today than they did when we were growing up, and this is true—they are entering puberty a full year or two younger in this generation. But periods aren’t happening any earlier—they are still starting, on average, sometime between 12 1/2 and 12 3/4, just like when we were their age—it’s just that the whole process of puberty is getting dragged out over a longer span of time.
By the time a girl is 10, she undoubtedly has had at least one experience of overreacting: crying hysterically, laughing uncontrollably or fuming at something minor. If you have a 10-year-old, I am not telling you anything you don’t already know. What you may not realize, though, is that your daughter doesn’t like this any more than you do. She feels out of control. Her emotional swings have everything to do with puberty—her brain is responding to all of the same hormones that cause her body to develop.
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This is absolutely true, whether or not your child agrees. Kids who spend more time with their families engage in fewer risky behaviors and tend to be healthier. I always recommend that parents try to have family dinners as often as possible—study after study shows dramatic benefit across the board. And if possible, dedicate one weekend night each week as “family night,” when your child can invite friends to your house but she cannot go out. This ritual maximizes family time and keeps your kids home more as they get older, reducing the likelihood of going out and engaging in foolish activities.
Perhaps the best advice I can give parents is to not make their daughter’s experience about themselves. It’s great to use examples of what things were like for you in order to relate to your daughter, but this is her experience and sometimes she just wants you to listen instead of telling her how it was back in the day. And just because a dad didn’t go through the exact same experience of growing up doesn’t mean he can’t be a great listener and source of support, too.
Dr. Cara Natterson is the author of American Girl's The Care & Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls.
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