Focus on the Family

How to Talk to Your Daughter about Puberty

Your tween girl needs you as she starts to go through physical and emotional changes associated with puberty. Learn how to appropriately approach the topic of puberty with your daughter.

Puberty. The very word can strike fear into the heart of even the bravest mom and dad. But what makes talking to your daughter about puberty so difficult? Maybe you’re plagued by your own memories of stumbling from childhood into adolescence. Perhaps you feel unprepared to have these conversations with your daughter. Or you simply feel inadequate when it comes to explaining what happens during the preteen years.

Here’s the good news: Helping your daughter navigate his way through puberty doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, God can use you. As a parent, you can guide your daughter, normalize conversations about healthy sexuality, and ease your daughter’s anxiety.

When it comes to healthy and biblical sexuality, knowledge and prayer are they keys. In fact, these two ingredients directly lead to reducing stress and smoothing the sometimes-rocky path into adolescence. Accurate information, presented calmly and confidently, can reduce a girl’s fears of the unknown. Prayer can reassure her that the changes she witnesses in her body are normal and natural. The best way for that to happen is for moms and dads to educate themselves about the basics of puberty, including female anatomy and physiology.

Determining Success with Puberty

“One day I’ll be your period buddy,” my 10-year-old daughter said, grinning.

I couldn’t help but smile back. “You sure will!”

I’m the mom of four girls, ranging in age from 4 to 11. At our house, my older daughters and I talk openly with each other about the menstrual cycle. It’s a normal part of our “girl time.”

The conversations started when my oldest daughter turned 9. I didn’t just dive into the topic with a box of pads in hand, though. Instead, after I explained in simple terms what a period was, I focused on why we as females have them. My goal was to frame the changes she’d soon experience with excitement and purpose, rather than fear and dread. Her “period buddy” comment signaled success.

If you haven’t already begun to discuss with your 8 to 12-year-old girl the emotional and physical changes she’ll experience, it may be time to start. Here are some helpful tips on how you can parent your daughter through puberty.

Among your son’s age and physical development, you also want to consider his personality in deciding how and when to talk about puberty with your son. Consider your son’s maturity level. Is he ready for conversations about puberty, sex, and sexuality? His personality will determine how he receives the information.

Dr. Danny Huerta, Vice President of Parenting and Youth

When Should I Start Talking to My Daughter about Puberty?

Remember, no one knows your daughter better than you. Use your familiarity with her personality and the way she asks questions to guide your approach in the beginning. It may feel awkward at first. And that’s okay. But it’s important to talk about puberty with your daughter to discuss this upcoming phase in her life.

The best approach includes multiple conversations over the course of time. Don’t feel like you need to have this entire conversation all at once. Also, provide opportunities for her questions and opinions. Specifically, the transition from age 8 to 9 is the typical age and stage to have a significant and positive impact in your daughter’s life.

Watch for Signs

How did I know when it was time to bring up the menstrual cycle and puberty with my girls? I watched for both physical and emotional signs.

Physical Changes

Best-selling author and speaker Dannah Gresh says, “Physically, there are a lot of signs of the oncoming change long before the big one. Menarche, or your daughter’s first period, is not the onset of puberty. There’s something that happens one to two years before that: breast buds.”

According to Gresh, medical journals point to 10.7 years as the average age that girls develop breast buds. Even so, she encourages parents to watch for them earlier. “About 15 percent of girls experience both breast buds and pubic hair before they are 8 years old, which means they’re probably set to menstruate between their ninth and 10th birthdays.”

Breast buds and periods aren’t the only visible signs of puberty. You may also notice a sudden growth spurt or an increase in your daughter’s leg hair, as well as the appearance of hair in her armpits. The physical changes that may be the most noticeable are oily skin and hair, acne, and body odor when your daughter sweats.

Emotional Changes

It wasn’t physical changes that I noticed first. I saw an emotional shift in my older daughters’ attitudes and moods not long after their ninth birthdays. They experienced sudden inexplicable outbursts of tears, anger and unattributed sadness before any physical changes were evident. These strong emotions came in waves, lasting a few days to a week.

Focus on Purpose First

After you’ve determined when to talk to your daughter, where do you start? You can begin, as I did, in a less obvious direction.

Of course we all must talk about the basic, physical side of periods, but we should also consider talking about why women have them. It is one way that God is preparing your girl to possibly be a mother someday. My daughters’ first step into being a woman was also a time that we talked about our values and the honor they might have of someday being a mother.

At the same time, because our value as females isn’t confined to our possible future as mothers, it’s important we teach our girls that womanhood encompasses more than that prospect. This is a perfect opportunity to point our daughters back to Genesis and discuss that God created men and women to be different from each other, yet called them both “good.” We can use the Creation story as a springboard to talk with our girls about the many unique God-given qualities that set women apart from men.

Once you’ve laid that foundation of purpose, it’s time to get practical. Gresh explains, “I gave each of my girls a fun basket for their bedrooms and a zip-sealed pouch for school. Each had anything they would need, including pads, Midol, chocolate, fun-scented spray and a note from me.”

Handling the Emotional Changes with Puberty

The most challenging part for me has been navigating my daughters’ emotional ups and downs. While I aim to handle them in a way that fosters open communication and strengthens our relationship, it’s been difficult at times. Gresh gives two suggestions to help with this challenge.

First, we can remind our daughters that these changes aren’t an excuse to be unkind, grumpy, or argumentative. “I tell my girls, ‘Your period is not an excuse to sin,’ ” Gresh says. “Remind her that self-control applies even when she has cramps.”

Second, we can teach our girls how to monitor their own emotions. Suggest to your daughter that she mentally count to 10 before responding to a disappointment or frustration. Encourage her to control excess emotional energy by doing something active, such as going for a run. The point is to help her find the emotional discipline she needs. No matter how she is feeling, she needs to understand how to be kind to others. And if you model this, as you teach her, she may pick up the concept sooner.

How Dads Can Be Involved

What’s a dad’s role in all of this? While Gresh say that moms should be responsible for handling the majority of these talks, dads can be involved, too.

“Dad should know when the change happens and encourage her,” she explains. “Then involve him directly as needed. One area I found Dad’s influence to be helpful was in explaining how boys think and why modesty matters. As my girls needed bras or wanted to buy miniskirts, we tackled that as a team. One male brain. One female. Together we made sense.”

For single dads, ideally try to find a trusted female mentor or relative to help your girls. If that option isn’t available, you’ll need to be more involved in the process.

Regardless, it’s best for all dads to support their girls during these times.

Talking to Your Daughter about Puberty for Boys

During your conversations with your daughter about puberty, there’s a good chance she’ll have some questions or thoughts about boys. She’ll start to connect the dots that boys probably go through puberty also. Likely, she’s noticed some of her friends that are boys going through some physical changes as well.

Don’t avoid talking to your daughter about puberty for boys. Instead, take initiative and use these moments to have ongoing conversations about sex and puberty. Remember, it’s important not to overshare or overtalk if your daughter isn’t that interested in this topic. Here are some things you can consider discussing with your daughter:

  • If your conversations include the topic of sex, you can describe a male’s role within sexual intimacy. Also, help your daughter know the proper terminology for a boy’s anatomy or genitalia.
  • Remind your daughter that girls often go through puberty a bit earlier than boys. Even if a boy doesn’t show much emotion or change during this age and stage, those changes are occurring. Make it clear that mocking or making of fun of boys for notable physical changes like voice cracks or growth spurts is never okay. Instead, encourage her to recognize the opportunity to respect boys and model good friendship.

Final Thoughts on How to Talk to Your Daughter about Puberty

While it’s important to teach our daughters not to feel embarrassed about puberty, it’s also crucial to instruct them on when and with whom to discuss these changes. For example, it’s helpful to remind our girls that because men and women are physically and emotionally different, conversations about puberty are reserved for “girl time” only. Help them understand that we don’t talk freely and openly about these topics with male family members, relatives or friends.

As parents, we have the God-given privilege of guiding our daughters through puberty and into womanhood. We can embrace this responsibility with excitement and purpose as we equip our girls to navigate puberty well.

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