Preparing Your Daughter for Changes

If your daughter had grown up 150 years ago, she could have expected her first period around age 16.

Today, the average age for that milestone is 12, according to the National Women's Health Information Center. Nutrition, evolution, and hormones in our food contributed to that change. But whatever the reasons, girls are left with questions about their sexuality earlier in life--and parents have to know how to handle them.

"With some children, the first period can happen before the average age; that's why parents have to be prepared far in advance of 12," says Laura Kastner, Ph.D., a Seattle clinical psychologist who has co-written several books on adolescence. "A young girl's first period should not happen out of nowhere; it should never be a complete surprise. If your daughter starts developing breast buds, you should be talking to her."

Tips for talking

  • Begin naming body parts by age 2.

  • Teach your daughter that these changes are no cause for shame. She should feel pride as she starts to become a woman.

  • Explain that despite these changes, she is not ready for adulthood. Becoming a woman is part of a process that will involve many other steps.

  • Prepare a kit your daughter can keep in a purse or school locker with the products she'll need for her first menstrual cycle. Explain the bleeding and tell her it is no reason for fear. Explain that it is another part of her body--like her teeth--that she must care for.

  • Go to the library. Look for easy-to-read materials.

  • Volunteer information. Don't just answer questions.

  • Realize that it's better to struggle with uncomfortable explanations than avoid them, says Dr. Kastner. Nothing matters more to children than intent. "If they see you're trying to get across sensitive information they appreciate it--even if it seems at the time that they do not."

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