How to prepare your daughter to deal with her hormones.
Parenting teenagers can be daunting, and because this sneaks up on you sooner than you think, it’s wise to prepare for this milestone early, ie while your daughter’s a tween – or before her hormones kick in and turn her into an alien.
In many ways, the ‘generation gap’ has become the ‘communication gap’. IGens (millennials who have grown up with smartphones, the internet and social media) communicate very differently to the way their moms did at the same age.
Anything they want to know can be found on the internet. But while technology and artificial intelligence may have boosted your daughter’s general knowledge, she is nevertheless human, with human needs, and her body has been programmed for reproduction. Her head will be full of questions about what’s going to happen when she starts growing up and having periods. As her mom (auntie or granny) you’re the best person she can talk to.
What is a tween?
Think of this stage as the ‘warm-up’ to puberty. Tweens (aged 10-13) have reached double-digits, but they’re not teenagers yet. Too old to be a child, too young to be a teenager, tweens often find it difficult to fit in and aren’t quite sure where they stand in the pecking order.
A tween’s hormones are beginning to hum, but they’re not active yet. They’re curious about sex, babies and boys.
Tweens become more abstract and creative in their thinking. According to Dr J Giedd, chief of brain imaging in the child psychiatry branch at the National Institute of Mental Health, Maryland US – who has been studying the behaviour of teenagers for decades – this is because neurons (grey brain matter) peak when girls are 11 (boys at 12½). After that it thins out at the rate of 0.7% every year until their early 20s. Neurons control muscle and sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision-making, and self-control. At the same time, myelin sheaths (these make nerve signal transmissions faster and more efficient) are thickening. This means fewer but faster connections in the brain during puberty. This may be one of the reasons why teenagers are ready to fire questions and question authority.
Tweens start taking a different look at the world around them and enjoy mastering new skills. While they’re sometimes unsure about responsibilities, they prefer taking responsibility. They’re beginning to reason logically and are able to think through simple situations.
What your daughter wants to know
Your daughter wants to know how her body is going to change (not strictly why), so spare her a lecture about hormones, eggs, sperm and sex until (or if) she asks. She wants to know when her body is going to change, and what to do when it does.
Pre-puberty begins with subtle hormonal, physical, social and emotional changes. It takes about two years to reach puberty. After puberty it will be another two years before she has her first period (called menarche). This usually happens around the age of 11-13, but it’s not unusual for girls to start having periods as early as nine, or as late as 16.
Tween girls are often horrified at the idea of having periods, wearing a bra, having to deal with pubic hair, pimples and boys. Be prepared to answer awkward questions at inconvenient times. Keep the lines of communication open with simple, honest, straightforward answers.
Talk to your daughter about pads and periods. Show her how to use them. Tell her that although she may think she is bleeding to death, she will only lose about 4-6 tablespoons of blood in the few days she has her period. She’ll need to know how often she should change her pad. Give her tips about where to keep her pads, how to change them at school, and what to do when visiting friends or going out for the day when she has her period.
What you want to tell her
You may be tempted to overload your daughter with don’ts: Don’t have sex; don’t get pregnant, HIV or an STI; don’t take drugs or drink. Right now, it’s more helpful to focus on the positive girlie stuff and to save the serious talk for later – or when she has her first period – depending on her age and maturity.
As women, we don’t want our daughters to make the same mistakes we may have made. However, being overcautious can make her feel insecure. It helps to strengthen your bond by teaching her trust and giving her age-appropriate responsibilities – with just enough rope not to trip you up.
What to avoid
- Tweens are private people. They’re also self-conscious about what adults consider trivial. Don’t make matters worse by teasing or showering her with copious affection – especially in front of her friends.
- You’re not part of her circle of friends. Step back when they’re around.
- Don’t be surprised if your daughter won’t walk with you at the mall, stick with you at a school function or sit with the family in public.
- Don’t try to be ‘hip’ and talk like a teenager.
- Don’t bring out her baby pictures or the umbilical cord you kept in a scrapbook to show her friends.
- Saying something like ‘I know you’ll do the right thing’ will encourage your daughter to ask you, and not her
friend at school, what she wants to know.
- Teach your tween it’s not about what she wears, but how she wears it.
- Don’t overwhelm her with the negatives of growing up.
- Use social media, music, movies and popular TV series to get messages across.
- The best incentive is positive reinforcement. Make your tween feel wanted and accepted. Give her a sense there is a regular, dependable quality to the world around her. Help her with thoughtful guidance to cope with the demands of growing up. Love her for who she is and not for what you want her to be.
What to expect
Your daughter will swap her Barbie dolls and Frozen memorabilia for what’s trending. She will be annoyingly childish and giggly, and then surprise you by being incredibly responsible when there’s a crisis. Your daughter will have growth spurts we casually call growing pains. This is also an awkward stage when her hands and feet are too big for her body. Don’t be surprised if she’s clumsy.
She’ll ask questions. Use this opportunity of innocence – you may never have this gap again. Despite her fragile self-esteem and sensitivity, tween girls can be surprisingly bitchy. It’s their way of marking their territory and learning to
stand up for themselves. It’ll catch you (both) off guard when it happens. Tween girls are learning about friendships,
relationships and love. Your daughter’s circle of friends will change, and she’ll single out a few to be her ‘besties’.
Asking for advice from her bestie teaches tweens and teens about relationships outside the family. It’s a useful skill, so don’t be upset when it happens. Her attitude towards boys will also change. She may have a crush on an older boy, but will find her peer group very childish. Your relationship with your daughter will also change. When you’re no longer her ‘best friend’ you may feel hurt, rejected and even resentful. Back down and respect the message that says ‘Stay out – and that means YOU’ when she puts this on her bedroom door. But don’t be surprised (or turn her away) when she needs a shoulder to cry on after being disappointed or let down by her friends.
FEATURE: BURGIE IRELAND PHOTO: FOTOLIA.COM