Talking to Your Daughter About That Dot Thing, and Other Growing Up Insights

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Tonight is the big meeting at our school for “Parents Only” where we get to preview the movie our fourth graders will be watching in the next couple of weeks about puberty. The very thought of it sends a mere shudder down my spine. I tend to take a “no nonsense” approach when it comes to difficult subject matter to talk about with my daughter. Whether it be about bullying, or under age drinking or drugs, I present the facts, follow up with life experiences and usually don’t sugar coat any of my past experiences, or examples of others, in the hopes that I can enlighten the right path for her. However, talking to her about the changes her body will be going through in the next year or two makes me feel like I’m talking about sex to a nun.

Growing up in a conservative Catholic family, those conversations just didn’t come around for me. My mom talked to us about a few basic things, but for the most part, conversations with my friends at school and just going through with it was how I had to deal with the changes in my own young body. I remember being so embarrassed about so many things and just begging for people not to look at me. The day I wore my first bra to school, I swear, I wished someone just threw a rock at me and knocked me out. I wished I had someone to talk to about how uncomfortable I was, but more importantly, that what I was going through was normal, natural feelings that would one day pass, as I grow more and more comfortable with myself. (I’m still waiting for that day to come, but that’s another conversation.)

Having talked with a few of my friends about how they are talking about puberty with their girls, I realized that a lot of us are just as uncomfortable talking about it with their daughters as I imagine our daughters are uncomfortable about talking about this with us. My friend Elizabeth* mentioned when she was just trying to bring up the subject about the menstrual cycle with her daughter, her daughter blatantly replied, “The only period I want to be talking about with you is the one that comes at the end of this sentence.” Harsh. Another one of my soccer friends expressed that her daughter shut the door to her room and said, “I do not want to talk to you about that dot thing, Period.” While my own daughter hasn’t been that objective to the conversation, her blank staring and red face clearly informs me that this conversation is taking a turn in a direction she doesn’t feel like going.

So what’s a parent to do? Here’s my top ten list on how to break the ice with your daughter to get her talking, or at least thinking about the upcoming changes that she will inevitably face.

1. Before you “personalize” the conversation, buy your daughter a book about what she is going to be going through and how to get through it. One of the best books I found was “The Care and Keeping of You, The Body Book for Girls.” The makers of the American Girl Doll wrote this. I gifted this book to my daughter and asked her to read it at her leisure. Soon enough, we would sit down to have conversations about some of the chapters. It really allowed us the time we both needed to get informed while not feeling the pressure of communicating such a sensitive topic right away. Providing your daughter a book in no way eliminates the need for a conversation; it just provides a playing field to open the dialogue. Which brings me to #2…

2. Talk with your daughter. Be honest and open about the changes she is going to face and allow some of your own personal (and sometimes embarrassing) experiences to surface. When my daughter started reading the book, I found that a trip to Starbucks or the ice cream shop was a great time to have some quality time with my daughter to talk about the chapter she was reading. It allowed us to be together in a setting that was comfortable enough to talk, but not be awkward. If you are a single father talking to your daughter, this may be tough, but allow some of your insight from your perspective to enlighten your daughter. She may find some of the things that she thought would be so embarrassing from a boy’s point of view really weren’t a big deal at all.

3. Make sure your daughter understands the “science” behind her menstrual cycle and other changes her body is going through. Sometimes just the actual facts can help ease the burden of the unknown. Helping her through the facts and letting her know the signs she needs to look for, as well as what to do, will help her be prepared when her actual period, or “dot” shows up.

4. Use any means possible to communicate with your child and keep a conversation active. Let’s face it; some of us aren’t comfortable with talking to our kids about tough subjects. Use email, text messages, video games, and other means possible as a way to connect with your child and let them know you are interested in what’s going on in their lives. Having said that, for goodness sake, don’t post on her Facebook or My Space wall. Make sure whatever method you are sending your messages that it goes to her and her alone.

5. Don’t give up talking to her. Many girls will be too embarrassed to talk to their parents. Their reactions can vary from anger, to frustration, to just plain insolence. You must understand that her reaction is normal and is based out of fear. You may have to give her some time to process what you want to talk to her about. If she is adamantly refusing to talk to you, let her leave the conversation. Just let her know that you understand this is a tough subject and she may not be interested in talking right now. But also let her know that her period or changes are inevitable, and that at some point a conversation needs to happen. Ask her to suggest a better time to talk. Wait until she is having a calmer moment to bring the subject up again. Don’t give up on her.

6. Since the subject is already sensitive, don’t just stop at the menstrual cycle when talking to your daughter about puberty. Also talk to her about sex. She needs to know that reaching puberty isn’t just about getting her period; it also means that she is capable of getting pregnant. Give her the all the facts, no matter how red in the face either one of you are.

7. Reassure her. Let her know that every girl is different and that every girl will grow at her own pace. Also let her know that she is normal, and that this process, as painful as it seems while you’re going through it, will come and go. Let her know she does not have to compare herself to anyone, and teach her to be comfortable in her own skin.

8. Use everyday media to get a conversation going. Whether you saw an article in a magazine, watched a TV program or read a funny posting, look for ways to get a conversation going without just sitting down and saying, “Let’s talk about sex.” or “Let’s talk about your period.”

9. Don’t be too graphic or scary when it comes to the talk. When dealing with a nine-year-old girl, hopefully, you don’t need to talk about orgasms. Use age appropriate facts when talking with your child so you don’t scare the crap out of them and close the door on future conversations.

10. Read your daughter. Let her be the little girl she needs to be, but also give her the room to grow. Don’t be caught off guard if one day she wants to cuddle in bed with you with her pillow pet, and the next day she’s PMS’ing. Read the signs, and adjust your temperament accordingly so you can best deal with your child.

Fortunately, there are lots of resources for both parents and children to learn and talk about puberty and sex. The Care & Keeping of You book is a great start, but you can also get resources from your local library, the health counselor or nurse at your school, or even your daughter’s pediatrician. Good Luck, and plant some happy with your child.

Cynthia Johnson

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