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Don’t Wait: Talk to Your Tween About Her Changing Body

“Mom, Caitlin got a training bra. What is that?” You’ll hear that question at some point, or another about budding breasts, underarm hairperiods. Pre-teen girls need to learn about how their bodies will change. Be the one to steer that conversation.

ABCs of Talking to Girls About Puberty

At school, on playdates or wherever they spend time with other children, pre-pubescent girls will start hearing tidbits about the female body. They’ll get the best baseline information from a trusted mother, aunt, grandmother, family friend, mentor or pediatrician who is comfortable discussing puberty and related personal issues.

The conversation is likely to begin organically, such as when you’re asked a question about why a classmate is wearing a training bra or an older sister’s underarms smell. Answer in a straightforward manner. And if your daughter wants to try a training bra yet is nowhere near developing breasts, get one anyway. There’s no harm to it. More tips:

  • Time it right. Some girls will be clueless about the entire topic, others inquisitive. Still, starter conversations should begin at the age when some classmates start puberty. Use the mnemonic “8 is great, 9 is fine, 10 is too late” to schedule your first discussion — at 9 years old, if possible.
  • Keep it brief. At age 9, it’s rarely necessary to discuss sexual relations in general or intercourse specifically. Instead, use this time to introduce the topics of breast development, menstrual cycles, and underarm and pubic hair growth. In other words, you’ll begin the trek from explaining how her body will transform from a girl’s to a woman’s, like Mommy’s. Male sexuality, masturbation, orgasm … this is not the time for those conversations unless the girl has been exposed to the topics elsewhere.
  • Know when to stop. You’ll know when your listener has reached her limit for the day. Respect that and end the talk. The rest of the information can wait.

But What Do I Say?

Our bodies evolve naturally, and knowledge is power. So, even if you’re uncomfortable, remember that you’ll be empowering your daughter by introducing her to her own anatomy, and how and why her body will start to transform. If you don’t know some of the information yourself, no problem. Educate yourself. Books and websites aplenty present information on puberty, and women’s bodies, in conversational tones that make the topics easy to self-learn.

These tips will help guide your talk.

  • Use “real” words. Call a vagina a vagina, a vulva a vulva, etc. The playground, and the internet for that matter, are filled with negative words for the female anatomy. Use the vivid, real names so your daughter will have respect for that part of her body.
  • Bring visual aids. It will help for tween to see and touch a menstrual pad and a tampon. Search online in advance for a graphic of female genitalia and print it out — but choose a version that’s not too scientific-looking. Your goal is to raise the topic of conversation; you can teach more over time. You might also bring a speculum and explain how doctors use it or even how women can use it with a mirror to see inside their own bodies.
  • Offer a reading list. Bookstores, libraries and online retailers stock plenty of books with titles written specifically for preteen girls. Review one or more to make sure the content aligns with your way of presenting information. Some children might never open a page, but it’s good to provide another way of learning this important information.

Keep the Dialogue Going

A first talk is just that: a first talk. Answer questions over the next several years as your daughter asks. If she never brings up queries about her changing body, find appropriate times to broach the subject. Then, again, answer questions candidly and completely, but stop when she seems satiated with knowledge.

Discuss your approach with her friends’ mothers, too. If you’re open with the adults who are feeding (or not feeding) accurate information to her playmates, you might be able to empower your daughters as a community effort, of sorts. In fact, if one adult is most adept at having this type of conversation, that person might talk to all the youngsters at once, with parental permission. Then even the ones too shy to ask questions will hear what their peers ask, and will learn the answers.

From fifth grade on, girls will benefit from a caring, responsible adult beginning the process of communicating about what is happening to the girl’s body. The conversation should continue for several years, led by the child as she learns enough to have more questions. Answer in a straightforward way, going into more detail as the girl grows more mature.

The result will be a confident, knowledgeable, empowered young woman who understands her body and how to take care of it.

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