It may seem that having a conversation with your daughter about just about anything these days is difficult! There are the eye rolls, the “yep, I know” comments and the “you just don’t get it” remarks that make it feel impossible to communicate.
However, if you have a tween daughter you may have noticed that things are changing for her and her friends right before your eyes.
She may be going through a growth spurt, changing interests, changing friend groups, developing breast buds, or now has body odor.
Welcome to puberty.
Puberty is the time in life when a girl or boy becomes sexually mature. It is a process that usually happens between ages 10 and 14 for girls and ages 12 and 16 for boys. It causes physical changes for girls like breasts, curves, acne, weight gain, growth spurts, and mood swings. For girls, the first sign of puberty is usually breast development and eventually leads to getting her menstrual cycle.
These are important things to educate your daughter on, while or even before they happen so that she understands what is going on in her mind and body as well as her friend’s and she has the tools to deal with all of these changes.
While it can be hard to start these talks, there are certain ways to approach them that may increase the likelihood that they go okay, that expectations are appropriate and that most importantly it keeps the door cracked open for ongoing talks throughout adolescence.
When you first start off, think of these conversations as ice breakers. You want to set the bar at “okay, then good enough, eventually leading to pretty good.”
Tips for starting difficult conversations with your tween daughter:
- Casually talk about how you remember going through a growth spurt and needing news shoes and bras. Talk about how you felt going into middle school or when your best friend since kindergarten all of a sudden left you for a different friend group. What you accomplish by doing this is both empathy and a subtle reminder to her (and maybe even yourself) that you were once 10 years old and starting puberty.
- Keep the talks short and simple. Don’t expect more than a few minutes of her attention or tolerance. Try to stay focused on what seems to be going on for her or her friends, even if you really want to talk to her about other things.
- Location, location, location- be mindful of where you have this talk. It’s often easiest for tweens to talk in the car (think little to no eye contact) or while doing something like shopping, cleaning out a closet or cooking together. Don’t start the talk with friends, siblings or maybe even dad around as that might feel really embarrassing and may cause her to shut down.
- Start the talk at a natural time- maybe you just watched a coming of age movie or show or you know she is reading a book that addresses issues related to growing up. Seize this opportunity to talk about issues related to puberty in context of characters or other people around you.
- You don’t need to know it all- remember that you don’t need to have all of the answers or even solutions to the changes that are going on. You just need to be approachable, open and non-judgmental. If your daughter asks you something and you don’t know the answer, look it up together. There are books, reputable websites and online classes that are there to support you both.
So, now that you are armed with some conversation starters…get started! Look for the moments, awareness is everything. Simply being on the lookout is a game changer so just open your eyes and ears and you will see that they are there. As the parent, you will likely need to start these talks, but if they go “okay” you will find that your child will see you as approachable and may even come to you at times.
Sheryl Ziegler, Psy.D. is the author of Mommy Burnout: how to reclaim your life and raise healthier children in the process and is the founder of Start with the Talk® a girl and parent class focused on the social, emotional and physical changes that occur during puberty. Dr. Ziegler holds a Doctorate in Psychology and runs a private practice specializing in tween and tween girls. For her media contributions on parenting and mental health, check out her website.