- adjusting bedtimes and morning routines,
- purchasing school supplies, and
- choosing an outfit for the first day.
If you have a daughter in elementary school, there should be at least one more item on your list: puberty education. While many parents imagine several years between their daughters learning to tie their shoes and needing to try on a bra, that gap is often much shorter.
1 in 7 Incoming Second Graders
According to recent research, more than 1 in 7 seven year old girls (15%) and more than 1 in 4 eight year old girls (27%) have already started puberty.
Puberty is the process of changing from a child to an adult, including the acquisition of reproductive capabilities. It is important to remember that this is not a single event; it is a multi-year process involving numerous milestones. During this stage of life girls experience considerable change: physically, emotionally, cognitively and socially.
While puberty includes numerous changes, physical development is easiest to observe. These changes include a number of milestones that generally occur in a specific order.
- feet and hands grow
- breast development begins with the appearance of buds*
- vaginal discharge begins
- pubic hair (and later underarm hair)
- final growth spurt
- menarche (first menstrual period)
- growth slows significantly
- menstrual cycles regulate
*Note: Pubic hair precedes breast development for a small percentage of girls.
Breast buds often begin as hard knots below the surface. The nipple and the darker area around the nipple, known as the areola, get darker and begin to poke out a bit creating a bump. While one may appear before the other, it is only a matter of weeks or months until the second arrives. Early on, it is also common for them to feel tender and/or itchy.
While school classes, community programs, and your child’s pediatrician are excellent resources, they should serve to supplement rather than replace you as your daughter’s primary puberty educator. The most important thing you can do is to start the conversation (in an age appropriate manner) before your child starts school, regularly continue the conversation in the years until puberty arrives, then continue it alongside more detailed human sexuality education once puberty is underway. Remember, even if your daughter is not an early developer some of her friends and classmates will be. Your proactive conversations will prevent her imagination from running wild.
The following tips are helpful and healthy general guidelines:
- Listen carefully
- Use proper names for body parts
- Take advantage of young children’s natural curiosity
- Introduce educational toys that teach about the body
- Make the most of teachable moments
- Provide honest, complete, and simple answers
- Correct misinformation
- Share stories of your own experiences
- Teach puberty basics for both boys and girls (not just your daughter’s own gender)
- Wait for your child to approach you and ask questions
- Assume you need to become or should act like an expert
- Think its harmful to share too much too soon
- Try to cover everything (or even big chunks of information) in a single conversation
- Stop learning
Tara Bruley (Founder of Be Prepared Period) and Greg Smith (Director of Education for You ARE Loved) are partners in education who seek to empower parents to fulfill their roles as their child’s first and primary puberty educator. They invite you to participate in an educational Twitter chat they co-host or to submit your questions to an interactive message board focused on puberty and periods.
Biro, F., Galvez, M., Greenspan, L., Succop, P., Vangeepuram, N., Pinney, S., Teitelbaum, S. , Windham, G., Kushi, L., & Wolff, M. (2010). Pubertal assessment method and baseline characteristics in a mixed longitudinal study of girls. Pediatrics, 126, e583-e590. Doi: 0.1542/peds.2009-3079