Help your daughter understand puberty

  • Age: 11-16 yrs
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Help your daughter understand puberty

Buying a first bra, starting your period and hormones – your daughter probably has a hundred questions about puberty. Use our helpful action checklist to guide an open, honest and blush-free conversation with your daughter.

Some time, usually between the ages of 8 and 14, girls transition from being the children you know into adolescence. They may become disoriented by the rate and magnitude of change their bodies are going through physically, hormonally and emotionally. Welcome to puberty.

The impact of puberty on body confidence and self-esteem at this time is obvious. Hardly surprising given their developing breasts, arrival of periods, appearance of body hair and body fat where it hasn't been before – their body is becoming unrecognisable to them.

It's also unsurprising that she may be feeling a bit embarrassed by these changes and hyper-sensitive to anyone noticing them in her. It can be tricky to navigate this time in your daughter's life and provide all the support you'd like to.

Don't leave it too late to start the conversation about puberty

This is a time when lots of new 'information' starts flying around among peer groups as they all grapple with the new things they're experiencing.

"Early is usually best when it comes to puberty-related conversations," advises Dr Christina Berton, self-esteem expert and founder of the Amara Pro Self-Esteem Foundation. "Avoiding the topic could send her a message that you don't think she's mature enough emotionally to discuss it, which can be at odds with her rapidly physically maturing body. The earlier you open up some honest discussions about puberty, the easier it will be for her to talk to you when she needs to.”

Be open about puberty

It can be all-too-tempting to leave a book casually on your daughter's bed for her to 'discover', but this kind of gesture makes it look like you're embarrassed. And if you're embarrassed, she will be too.

That doesn't mean you have to make a big deal out of it, as mum Martine discovered. "I gave Lucy two books relating to sex, hormones and puberty to give her educational and emotional support without her feeling embarrassed," she says. "She embraced this idea and I reiterated some of the key changes and how to deal with them, but on a very casual basis."

Giving your daughter the opportunity to read about these changes herself, while being open and upfront about why you have bought her the book, gives her control over how she digests information. It means you know she is learning from a trustworthy source but also gives her a clear signal that you’re available to talk if she wants to.

Let your daughter steer the puberty conversation

In the midst of so much change, she probably feels a bit out of control. It's important to talk about body changes but there's a fine line between opening up positive lines of communication and being seen as intrusive. You'll probably be the one who has to start the conversation (see some talk-starters below in the action checklist), but let her steer the focus of your discussion.

By being open and honest with your daughter early in her experience of puberty and helping to demystify the changes she is experiencing, you’ll give her a sense of control and help her avoid social awkwardness. You’ll also be supporting her emotional as well as physical development – building her self-esteem and laying the foundations for her to love and care for her body.

To protect privacy we've changed the names of the people whose stories we tell on these pages. But the stories they tell are absolutely genuine.

Action checklist:
Answering your daughter's questions about puberty

Ask a few questions of your own: let her answers guide you as to which changes she's finding particularly difficult to cope with.

Give her the space to talk: try to use open-ended questions when you start the conversation – these are questions that require more than a 'yes' or 'no' answer, for example:

  • What changes have you noticed in your body recently?
  • How much have you talked about puberty at school so far?
  • How much do you know about what happens when you start your period?

Get ready for the changes to come: organise a shopping trip to select bras, pads and tampons together. It will save her the embarrassment of asking and give her the opportunity to ask questions.

Talk about your own experiences: share with your daughter what puberty, and waiting for it, was like for you. You can dig out old photos of yourself at her age and look at the pictures together.

Talk straight: much of what your daughter hears will be 'Chinese whispers'; other things simply mythical – and she has to try to sort the fact from fiction. You can help her by setting things out factually – be straightforward in your approach to show her that these things are normal and don’t have to be such a big deal.

Give her something to read: consider buying her a book about puberty. Look through it together or, if she wants to read it alone, encourage her to talk to you afterwards.

What next: action steps to help

  • Use the action checklist to help guide your conversation with your daughter. Ask her how she’s feeling about the changes that are happening – is there anything worrying her?
  • Remember to check back in with your daughter. She may have more questions in the future so make conversations about puberty a regular, normal thing rather than a one-off, big deal.
  • Ask your daughter if she talks to her friends about puberty. What sorts of things do they talk about? Share the funny myths and stories that you and your own friends used to talk about when you were her age.

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