At Routes of Life’s GirlKind sessions our question box is always placed in the centre, ready for anyone to pose an anonymous query. For girls entering or experiencing puberty the questions usually fall into five aspects of growing up:
-My changing emotions
-What happens during adolescence
-My changing body
At around 8-9 years old girls enter ‘pre-puberty’, this transitional phase can take parents by surprise as you may think your child is too young to be experiencing signs of puberty. However, it will become clear around this age that hormones are activating and impacting your daughter’s emotions and changing her body. You may start to notice a little body odour, signs of discharge in their underwear, a few hairs in new places, budding breasts, widening hips and no doubt unusual mood swings.
This is a healthy process but can be confusing for both daughter and parents. Suddenly doors start slamming, eyes begin to roll and the relationships at home may come under some pressure. At school this hormonal change can materialise in tricky friendship issues. Girls may suddenly feel excluded or become more aggressive and the disagreements can feel like the end of the world. This emotional storm is difficult to weather, confusing for girls to cope with and can cause upset and pain.
The most important mantra we can remind girls of is that her changing emotions and body are OK and natural. Let her have a big cry if she needs, reassure her of your support, be patient and be prepared for a new level of relating to your special girl.
Finding tools to support your daughter as she experiences deeper parts of herself is also crucial. Journaling and moon charting (noting your emotions with the phases of the moon) are two methods we explore in GirlKind circles as well as other well-being resources for children.
Let your daughter know that her inexplicable anger, frustration, irritability and sensitivity are all part of her exciting journey to womanhood and reassure her that it is all natural.
Open communication is easier said than done. When your daughter starts developing signs of puberty it can be a shock and perhaps you were not guided by an adult at this time in your life thus find it hard to know how to talk to your growing child. There are many parenting books available but even better is a book you can read and consult with your daughter.
Spend time alone with your daughter, encourage her to move, relax, get creative and go into nature. Ensure that she allows these new feelings to flow through her. As a parent it is important to hold gentle space for her as she begins to discover new aspects of life.
Here are some typical questions 10-13 year olds ask regarding emotions:
Why do our emotions change as we get older?
Why do I hate my sister so much when we used to be such good friends?
Why am I getting impatient?
Why do I keep getting angry at myself?
How do I stop stress from affecting my life?
Why do I get angry easily?
These are real questions from real girls and if such thoughts are in your daughter’s head she may not be sharing them or understanding what she is experiencing. Be gentle, guide her, allow room for these changes, find ways to interact and discuss growing up.
Spots, weight gain, pubic hair, cramps, mood swings, heartbreak, exams; adolescence can be tough and many girls I meet harbour fear and anxiety around this new phase of life. Here are some questions girls ask and they are issues your daughter may be wondering about too:
Why do people have spots during the teenage years?
When should hair start growing in different places?
Do girls’ voices break when we reach puberty like boys?
What time/age do you have sex?
Why do I have tummy ache?
Reading or talking about these issues together, taking special time out just you and your daughter to answer her questions and ensuring she feels safe, loved and accepted as her body and emotions change is vital.
PUBERTY & MY BODY
Many girls I meet have no idea what is about to happen to them, little if any open discussion is happening at home and not much relevant information is offered at school to support their emotional journey to puberty. There is therefore a huge amount of worry, misconception and fear surrounding the changes occurring to their body during the onset of puberty and the big event ahead – Menarche (their first period) – seems terrifying.
Despite the lack of support we may have received as young people it is so important that parents and teachers become informed and make an effort to talk openly about growing up to the children in their care. High quality health education combats childhood anxiety, self-harm and depression; which are all on the rise. If we want girls to embrace self-care, self-love, create healthy boundaries and live fulfilled lives they need to understand their body and have the language to talk about it.
In the months leading up to menstruation your daughter will start feeling the monthly cycle of emotions and you may intuitively feel that her first bleed is approaching. Equip her with knowledge, confidence and a positive attitude towards this journey to womanhood. I recommend creating a ‘moon purse’ together - a small pencil case for school with spare pants, pads and a little bag for any soiled pants and perhaps a special object or note from you.
Girls are desperate to know:
Will the blood gush out? Will I have to stay on the loo for days? Will other people know I have started my period? How can I swim? What do I do if my period starts at school or on a school trip? How do I use a tampon?
These burning questions can be easily answered by parents and the grown-ups need to pre-empt this build-up of concern by openly discussing their daughter’s changing body, however hard this may seem.
Girls also regularly ask:
Why am I scared to grow up?
Why is there clear fluid in my knickers?
Why is puberty so scary?
What happens if there is blood and it is not my period?
How do I deal with taking pads to the toilet without people knowing?
Why do I feel embarrassed talking about puberty with my parents?
How old are you when you get your period?
How do you know when your period is going to start?
Why do I keep on getting tummy aches?
How many growth spurts do you have?
Why do my breasts feel sore?
If you are unsure about answering some of these questions find out if there are girl circles near you such as our GirlKind offering. You could also talk to other parents, approach teaching staff and read about puberty.
I have met many healthy and fit pubescent girls who feel they need to go on a diet. It is totally natural to gain a little weight during puberty and girls may be surprised that suddenly their body feels slightly rounder. Reassure your daughter that this is normal and healthy. A balanced diet and lots of exercise will not prevent their bodies from filling out, this change is part of puberty and dieting is not a good idea during this growing phase.
I am asked lots of questions regarding body weight and body image. Changes during puberty create a sense of self-consciousness and exposure to modern media often creates more pressure and unrealistic ideals surrounding beauty. Be mindful of what your daughter reads, follows on social media and watches on television. Girls I meet are already photo-shopping images of themselves and they all have several parts of their bodies that they actively ‘hate’.
We need a world where mothers and female carers demonstrate a healthy, loving attitude towards their own body so that girls can learn to love their young, growing, magnificent body. Also crucial is that dads engage in these discussions, continue to hug and feel close to their daughter no matter how much she is changing – this will boost her self-esteem.
Here are some questions girls share:
Why am I so fat even though I eat healthily and exercise?
Why do I crave food?
Why are my legs so big?
Why do I keep worrying about what I look like?
Why do I always want to look good around other people?
When should I start to shave?
Why is being insecure common in myself and my friends?
The other topic that often crops up in our question box is pregnancy. Mostly girls learn about puberty in relation to sexual reproduction and they assume that all of the experiences during puberty relate to conception. GirlKind’s Menstrual Cycle Awareness workshops encompass a whole range of topics regarding growing up and teach girls that their hormones and developing bodies are changing for more than just the possibility of making a baby in adult life. Healthy hormones, regular periods and emotional well-being link to all aspects of life and are a sign of a balanced life-style.
There are naturally some burning questions around motherhood and here are a few I have received:
What is morning sickness? What should you eat during pregnancy?What age can you get pregnant? When you are a mum, what do you need to do?
All questions that mums can answer and an area they can explore in much depth to ease any concerns their daughter may have.
My final tip is that when developing your daughter’s body literacy find words that you are both comfortable using, learn the real terms for all areas of the genitals and be honest about their functions. The more we use words like vagina, womb, uterus, menstruation, puberty; the more normal these terms become and your child will open up and increase what she is willing to share with you.
By engaging in discussions about growing up you can quell anxieties and also bond in a new way with your daughter and you can courageously gift her the freedom to accept and love herself; which is what parents want more than anything.