“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.
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.
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.
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.”
Teach her discipline
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.
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, these types of conversations 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 it well.