You Talk About Her Body?
Madison, Ph.D., and Amy Lynch
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mom and her 10-year-old daughter work together
in the kitchen.)
Mother: "I've been thinking we
should talk about growing up. I mean, you're
starting to change."
Daughter: (rolls her eyes) "Uh,
Mother: "Are there any
questions you'd like to ask?"
Daughter: "I don't think
toward the door) "Actually, I
know all this already."
you know how this mom feels. You need to talk
with your daughter about physical changes,
but somehow the conversation never goes the
way you plan. Meanwhile, her body hurtles through
an extraordinary transformation, its most profound
Longer a Little Girl
age 7 or 8, a girl's adrenal glands begin to
release androgens, and puberty begins. Soon,
the bones in her legs and arms grow long. Her
hips widen, her breasts bud, the hair on her
legs grows coarse, her waist becomes fuller,
and her weight climbs. Two years before boys
begin to change, girls go through a growth
spurt and sprout underarm and pubic hair. They
gain heightened energy and athletic prowess.
Their sweat glands become more active, and
they develop body odor. Their skin becomes
oilier and more prone to pimples. Meanwhile,
a girl's emotions shift into high gear, too.
Her feelings and reactions become more intense,
and she has new sexual feelings--not adult
sexual desire, but intense crushes and a heightened
awareness of people who are attractive to her.
Finally, usually around age 12, girls get their
periods, marking the formal end of what is
medically defined as puberty (although they
will continue to grow taller for about a year
after that). Reaching puberty usually takes
about four years, but five or six years is
normal, and so is only two.
have many different reactions to the profound
changes of puberty. Your daughter may be aghast
to discover hair growing under her arms when
she is 10, but comfortable with her period
when it begins two or three years later. It's
absolutely normal for her to feel betrayed
by her body during this time, but it's also
normal for her to be exhilarated about her
newly curvaceous self. Many girls go back and
forth between wanting to grow up and wanting
to stay kids.
That was true of 12-year-old Leslie, a girl I
saw in my practice. She had learned about menstruation
in a human development class, but her mother
had never talked with her about it. When her
first period came, Leslie longed to share her
feelings with her mother, but didn't know where
to begin. She feared that her mother didn't care,
or that there was something shameful about the
way her body had changed.
these changes are hard to talk about. It's
complicated, personal, potentially embarrassing,
and fraught with emotion. A whole range of
reactions, from joy to loss to confusion, is
perfectly normal for daughters and parents
alike. But if we don't talk to the girls we
love, they become as confused and hurt as Leslie
was. It's our job to reassure our daughters
that they are exactly who they are supposed
to be right now--no longer little girls but
not yet young women. Someone new in the making.
ideas may make conversation easier:
guidance. Whether you're her mom or her
dad, your daughter needs your guidance as
her body changes. Left to the messages she
gets from the media, she may assume that
puberty marks adulthood or it signals readiness
for sexual activity. It's up to us to say, "This
is a really amazing in-between stage that
prepares you to become an adult later on.
But not quite yet. Right now you're still
steps. When your daughter is about 8,
buy her some books about puberty. Look for
friendly, reassuring texts like The Care
and Keeping of You (Pleasant Company, 1998),
The Period Book by Karen and Jennifer Gravelle
(Walker, 1996), or Body Language: New Moon
Talks About Growing Up (New Moon, 1999).
Simply having these books around encourages
questions and conversation, and talking about
changes before they happen is always less
embarrassing. If you skipped this step when
your daughter was 8, do it now. It's never
too late to show her that you care. Once
her puberty is underway, suggest a shopping
trip to a drug store to buy things she'll
need as she changes. To reduce embarrassment,
buy fun items like nail polish and shower
gel along with deodorant, tampons, and a
razor. At home, set aside a special drawer
or shelf in the bathroom where she can store
of little talks. Supporting your daughter
through puberty means having lots of little
talks and check-ins with her rather than
one big talk. Try matter-of-fact, specific
openers such as, "I have read that some
girls get their periods at 9 or 10. Has anybody
in your class started yet?" or "If
you're going to play basketball this year,
let's buy you a sports bra so you'll be comfortable." Not
all your comments will result in heart-to-heart
talks. Still, they remind your daughter that
you're there to answer her questions.
sympathetic ear. Growing breasts may
ache or twinge. Periods sometimes arrive
with cramps or mood swings. Be sure your
daughter knows that some discomfort is normal;
otherwise she may fear something is wrong.
Offer a sympathetic ear along with a heating
pad, backrub, or pain reliever.
Note to Dads
daughter needs to hear from you during puberty.
While it's never appropriate for you to comment
specifically about her body shape, it's important
that you say things like, "You're going
to be a beautiful young woman" and "I'm
so proud of how you're growing up." Of
course, if you're raising your daughter alone,
she'll need even more support from you. These
ideas may help:
it's awkward. Tell your daughter that
talking about this isn't easy for you either.
Remember that simply listening sympathetically
when your daughter talks about feelings or
uncertainties is a comfort to her. Try, "This
is new for both of us." Buy books about
puberty for her, and read them before you
give them to her.
Call in reserves. Tell
your daughter that you want
her to have a woman to talk
with, too. If her mother
isn't available, ask your
daughter to decide on someone
she trusts, such as the mother
of a friend, an aunt, or
a grandmother. With your
daughter's consent, enlist
this woman's help. Ask her
to shop with your daughter
for things she'll need, and
make sure it's okay for your
daughter to talk to this
woman any time.
Created exclusively for parents, grandparents and caregivers of girls ages 8-15, itís where you find expert answers for all your questions about raising girls. Anchored by more than 250 articles on a variety of topics, from body image to building friendships and communicating successfully, you can connect with others who care about girls. Learn more at www.daughters.com.