At first you might not even realize what is going on. Every once and while, your perfectly normal 9-year-old is suddenly weepy, anxious, angry, or annoyed, and you simply have no idea why. An hour or two later and everything is back to normal, leaving you to scratch your head and wonder if you were imagining the whole ordeal.
It’s not you, it’s her.
Yes, girls as young as 9 years are going through the changes that lead into adolescence. Let that sink in a little; 9-11 years old is the average age for girls starting puberty. If that feels shocking to you, just know that I completely understand! As a first time mom, I was terrified my 9 year old was going to start her period. Well, take a deep breath. Puberty does not mean immediate menstruation. A slew of other changes happen first and you are going to start noticing around the time your daughter is 9.
This is around the same time that she is going to have her first “health class” moment in school. However, as the school will tell you, anything they teach is really just supposed to supplement what you are talking about and teaching at home.
Wait! Back up — we’re supposed to teach her about hormones? And boobs? And periods? Hair that doesn’t see the light of day? I’m not a professional!
Talking to your daughter about puberty is awkward, with a capital A. When things get awkward, I ramble, get weird, and take 15 million off-topic tangents.
This is not helpful.
Especially not for her because she is 9 and doesn’t really care about what you are talking about. She still wants to play Barbies or watch My Little Pony for the umpteenth time. She is still a child after all!
Remember a few seconds ago, when I mentioned puberty does not mean immediate menstruation? I equated the two. How in the world can you possibly tell your child, who screams bloody murder at the sight of a scraped knee, that she could very soon start bleeding from her vagina once a month? Oh boy, let me tell you, I would have loved to avoid this topic. But, guess what? As a parent, we signed up for this hormonal circus of fun, except we didn’t read that in the fine print of having a baby.
Let’s get super real for a moment…you think it is awkward for you, mom? Take that and multiply that by 100 and that’s what dad is feeling about the conversation. Yes, dads should be in on the conversation! Girls need to know they can talk to their dads about this stuff, too. It’s highly likely he’s going to end up making a late night run for pads or tampons anyway. It may be true that he does this for you, but it is one thing to pick up the supplies for the wife and a whole other level of weird to be picking up supplies for the daughter.
I have successfully navigated puberty in one daughter and now I’m lacing up for the puberty marathon with the little girl. However, I am no expert. Simply put, we owe our easy navigation to a lengthy and complicated journey to the book The Care and Keeping of You 1: The Body Book for Younger Girls.
The Care & Keeping of You: Understanding the Whole Girl
Surprise! Puberty is not just about the reproductive system and hormones. Thankfully, this book breaks it down so you don’t have to focus on all the big, scary changes first. While The Care and Keeping of You is geared toward your daughter it is a perfect book to read together. I would encourage you to read the book first so you are familiar with the content. You can also start to gauge any topics that might elicit questions. Then, I’d let her peruse the topics to see what she might be interested in reading. Let her be the guide. It doesn’t have to be read in order and you can save some of the serious content for when you are both a little more comfortable.
Body Knowledge from Head to Toe
I appreciate this book because, aside from menstruation, the topics include health care and changes from head to toe. It doesn’t really occur to us that we should probably tell our daughters that their hair is probably going to start producing more oil meaning showering more often. The Care and Keeping of You talks about caring for your teeth when you get braces. Never having braces before I was surprised that we started consultations in upper elementary. I, for sure, didn’t know proper braces hygiene.
We all know that acne is just a part of adolescence, but how lame is it to say, “Yep, you are getting older so you get zits. Wash your face every day.” How about using the book to discuss skin care; how to wash you face, what type of product to use, skin care in the sun, and acne. It is so easy to say do this and do that without actually educating as to the why. I can be guilty of this. It’s the easy way out. However, it is so much easier for me to come up with a routine or plan for doing something if I know why I’m doing it. I can imagine it is the same for kids.
From hair care to skin care to body changes, periods, and wellness, this book covers it all. AND, it is so easy to read. I promise you, it does not even feel like you are having the awkward (with a capital A) conversation. The best part is that the content is age appropriate. Staying on topic and age appropriate is my biggest challenge. Trying to gauge how much info is too much info, is stress that we don’t need. The Care and Keeping of You tempers the unnecessary word diarrhea of oversharing.
Fosters a Close Relationship with Mom
Let’s be honest, I want to hold on to my daughter’s childhood as long as I possibly can. These are big topics and big changes for a little girl. I love that we can still curl up together and read about becoming an adolescent. We can continue to foster a nurturing relationship through literature. The Care and Keeping of You might not be a fun adventure like The Tale of Despereaux, but it’s quality time nonetheless. That is important.
Fosters Independence for Your Daughter
Equally as important is beginning to foster independence in a safe atmosphere. Naturally, children are curious and they know things are changing. Left to their own devices at some point they are going to go looking for this info. We can cross our fingers that they would approach a trusted adult (if not us), but more likely, it’ll end up being peers or the internet. Not good. I like this book because I can also start working on letting her independently find answers to the questions she has.
Each topic in the book has a section called Body Talk and, essentially, it’s a Q & A area about puberty. For example, in the Body Talk about breasts, questions are presented about bullying, breast size, and how you feel about your breasts. Answers are provided in a smart, encouraging way that helps grow positive self esteem while connecting with the individual reading the book. Body Talk is great opportunity to allow your daughter to independently learn and come to terms with growing up. I would encourage you to let your daughter read these to herself. After all, privacy and independence is also a part of this growing up process.
You’ve read the book…now what?
Give yourself and your daughter some time to process all this new information. It’s okay to let everything sink in for awhile; to let her go back to being a child for awhile. Hopefully, now that you read the book, you won’t be taken unawares with new things you are noticing in this stage of growing up. She might not be able to conscientiously verbalize any given issue that she is having, but by reading this book she could have something to fall back on and read again if she needs to.
There are also more books and a journal in this series. I did not know this navigating my first daughter through this journey, but I’m glad to see that there are more! We are dealing with some pretty big emotions right now so I think the next book on our list will be The Feeling Book: The Care and Keeping of Your Emotions. I’m going to need a TON of help in that area.
Lastly, I want to share our own experience. I feel like The Care and Keeping of You built an open and honest foundation for talking about even more difficult topics that arise in adolescence. This book helped us create a dialog that was not completely awkward (yes, there will always be some level of awkward), overbearing, and irrelevant. We used this book as a tool and aid to become the parents that our daughters can talk to about anything.
Truthfully, daughters deserve parents who they can be open with. Even if I’m uncomfortable or unjustly believe the subject matter too serious, I choose to be one of those parents.
How did or will you handle puberty with your daughter?
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