A concerned parent contacted me with these great questions about early development during puberty. Her situation raised several issues related to typical childhood sexual development and how to talk to children about puberty.
Dear Puberty Lady,
I am a single mom of a 9-year-old who is growing really fast! She is at 99% of her growth. Most times her age and body confuse people because she looks like she is 11 or 12.
Seeing her fast growth when she turned 9, I bought her books about body changes and being a girl which I thought were really good for her. But when she looked at the titles, she did not want to see these books! She did not want the books in her bookshelves! When I talk to her about changes in her body she gets upset and walks away!
Her breasts are showing a little bit, and she wears a sweater all the time trying to hide. I bought her tank tops, but she did not want to wear those! And she doesn’t want to tell me why!
When she comes out of the bathroom, she closes her bedroom door. When she hears me in the hallway, she will run into her closet, yelling at me that she is changing and I should not be in her room!
We are only two of us in the house, and I am not sure why she is doing this! I suspect that she is talking with other kids at school, and maybe she has heard information that I do not know. My worry is I feel like she going to start her period with little information.
She is very secretive. Sometimes, when we talk about our day during dinner, she just says “it was good.” If I ask her more questions she gets upset because I am asking her questions! I am just wondering if you have any ideas of how I should handle this!
Dear Sidelined Mom,
Thank you for reaching out to share your experience with your daughter and her puberty journey. As I think about your story, these issues come to mind:
- Early development
- Typical childhood sexual development
- Strategies for talking about puberty
- Consent check
So, let me jump in and share my thoughts.
Being an early developer is challenging for girls. As you said, when your daughter’s body makes her look older than she is, people often expect her to act older than she is. Also, she might be getting some unwanted attention from her peers due to her changing body and their natural curiosity about those changes.
It sounds like your daughter might feel more comfortable about her developing breasts if she wore a bra. Perhaps you could go purchase a few different bras made especially for young girls and let her try them on to see what style she prefers. Be sure to include a sports bra style. When she wears a bra, she might feel more confident about wearing a wider variety of tops.
Perhaps share your own puberty story with her. Be sure to affirm the beauty and wonder of growing from a child into a woman. Also talk about the challenges of learning to deal with so many changes. Let her know that everyone goes through puberty at their own pace, including her classmates.
Typical Childhood Sexual Development:
Typically, kids her age get very private. Please read my blog about typical childhood sexual development to learn more about what to expect. You will also find many other parent resources on topics that will support you and your daughter during puberty. The new hormones released during puberty cause emotional outbursts and mood swings. You can help your daughter learn to manage these new feelings by remaining calm and supportive. Expect her to vacillate between wanting to be treated like a child sometimes and like a young adult at other times.
Strategies for Talking About Puberty:
As parents, we want to know all about our children’s lives, right? Your daughter might feel uncomfortable with too many questions, especially since she, as an only child, is the focus of all of them. Here is a post with tips for being an askable parent. A book I like to recommend is Breaking the Hush Factor. It does a great job of preparing parents and other trusted adults to have ongoing conversations with their children about this and other sensitive topics.
A strategy you might like to try is telling your daughter something you heard or learned and ask what she thinks about it. This often works better than asking direct questions. Also, get her used to talking about general things; that will help when it’s time to talk about puberty topics. Here is a good article about having dinner conversations with kids.
Another strategy is to try to find teachable moments as you watch TV, cook, or ride in a car together. It is often easier to talk when you are doing something else instead of looking at each other.
If your daughter has been, or is being, harassed or touched inappropriately, this might contribute to her discomfort with her body at this time. It is important to talk with your daughter about her right to privacy and bodily autonomy. Let her know that she can tell you anything and you will support her. Please read my blog post with resources about consent for you and your daughter. It can also help if she has another trusted adult she can talk to, such as an aunt, school counselor, coach, or spiritual leader.
Keep up your efforts to be an open, approachable, and askable parent!
Yours for health, The Puberty Lady