Talking about puberty

Question: My 9-year-old “baby” girl is starting to develop! She is so little, and I have never even thought about discussing the facts of life with her. She still carries around baby dolls and blankies and plays “ring around the rosies” and “CandyLand.” I have no idea how to approach the subject of developing breasts and starting her periods. Laura

Answer: After the shock sinks in, I think you will be delighted at the prospect of your “baby girl” growing into an adolescent. The recurring trick of parenthood is that parents are always playing catch-up to their children’s development. You have already survived so many incredible stages that your experience will serve you well once again.

There is no need to rush your daughter ahead into the world of pre-adolescent games, clothes, and rituals. Many children tend to keep one foot in the new world and one foot in the old world. So, let her enjoy her dolls and childhood games for as long as she likes.

Children do need an accurate understanding of their own bodies in order to grow with confidence. They need just enough information to prepare them for the unexpected (like starting a period or discovering body hair) and to assist them in handling peer encounters. To be unprepared is to allow for the possibility of ridicule, embarrassment and confusion. Instead we can prepare children to embrace growth and change wholeheartedly.

You can begin by checking your daughter’s perception of the changes. Without making her self conscious, talk about the changes in her body. Explore her feelings – ambivalence, curiosity, fear, embarrassment. Is she excited about the changes or hesitant? Do the changes feel good or uncomfortable? How is she the same and how is she different?

Most importantly, let your daughter lead you through this journey of hers. You can do a little homework by reading some of the excellent books published on these topics to help you clarify your experiences (see the previous column on “facts of life” ).

Think back to your own experiences of growing up and speak to your friends. What are the best possible experiences to facilitate a smooth transition from girlhood to adolescence? Take a moment for yourself to treasure your daughter’s childhood and get ready to enjoy new aspects of your daughter personality as she matures into adolescence.

Good Luck,
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.

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