Girl Talk: The Puberty Conversation

Stephanie Specht's picture
By Stephanie Specht on February 7, 2018

I still remember when I got my period. My mom had “the talk” with me and to this day I just remember her saying the word “intercourse” way more times than I ever wanted to hear in my life.

I wanted to sink into the floor and disappear at that moment.
However, puberty and all that comes with it does not have to be an uncomfortable conversation for you or your daughter.
Having the Talk
According to Jill Lucas Drakeford, a Carilion Clinic community health educator, the important thing is to have a direct, open and honest conversation and have it early.
“The more your daughter knows about the changes that are happening to her body, the more comfortable she will be with it,” she explained. “Let her know that we have all been there and it is completely normal.”
If you aren’t sure how to start the conversation, Jill suggested sharing a “been there, done that story,” such as when you got your period or something else to do with puberty. If it was embarrassing and funny for you, all the better to break the ice.
And remember to keep the conversation casual but direct.
“Let her know that puberty is completely normal and that everybody goes through it,” explained Jill. “Talk about some of the changes she will be going through, so she can know what to expect, but also let her know that everyone is different. These changes will happen over time and at different rates for everybody.”

Physical changes to share:

  • Your body grows taller and broader
  • You begin to grow underarm hair, as well as pubic hair in your pubic area
  • Your body may sweat more and you may develop body odor
  • Your skin may become oilier and you may get pimples
  • Your hair may become oilier
  • Your breasts begin to grow
  • Vaginal discharge begins
  • Your period starts

And don’t forget to talk about the emotional changes she will be going through as well.

Emotional changes to share:

  • You’ll start to think more like an adult does
  • You’ll begin to make more sense of your feelings—both positive and negative ones—and express them better
  • You may get angry more easily and go through mood swings. Plus, you may cry more—over little and big things
  • You may become more self-conscious
  • You may compare yourself to your friends and feel like something is wrong with you. But there’s not!
  • You may feel and act more feminine

“Reassure your daughter that there is nothing to feel self-conscious about and that all her friends will be going through the same thing,” added Jill.

This might also be a good time to introduce her to any products—deodorants, skincare and hair care products—that may help with the new body odors, oils and sweating she’ll be experiencing.

Make it a special day and go out together to pick out a few new products at the store.

“If you get the sense during your conversation that she is still a little uncomfortable about asking you more questions, just tell her to leave you a note,” said Jill.
Puberty usually starts between the ages of 8 and 13 and lasts a few years, but every girl is different. However, if your daughter hasn’t experienced any puberty changes by age 14, you may want to talk to your doctor.
Around this time your daughter might also start noticing changes in her appearance and she might become more clued into how other women look on TV, social media or magazines.
“Remind your daughter that we’re all unique and healthy bodies come in various shapes and sizes,” said Jill. “And try to avoid praising her on her appearance. Instead, praise her for how she solves problems or challenges.”
Here are few things that you can share with your daughter that can help her boost her self-esteem:

  • Find something you do well—like a sport, an art or a school subject—and focus on succeeding at it
  • Find time each day to focus on you and write down three things about yourself that you wouldn’t change
  • Set realistic expectations. Aim for accomplishment, not perfection
  • Concentrate on your abilities and accomplishments instead of your faults
  • Do a good deed. Making a difference will help you feel like a better person.
  • Move your body with physical activities. You’ll unload stress and feel stronger and happier.

Getting Her Period

Most girls get their first period between the ages of 9 and 16, but if she hasn’t started by the time she is 16, you should talk to your doctor.  
If your daughter is asking you when she might start her period, take a look at this rough guide. Everyone is different, so it can vary, but she should start: 

  • About two years after her breasts begin to develop
  • Within a year or so after she has developed pubic and underarm hair
  • After she starts to notice some vaginal discharge in her underwear

“Getting her period is probably the biggest change your daughter will experience during puberty,” said Jill. “Let your daughter know that it’s a very normal, healthy and positive part of growing up. Celebrate it!”
Once your daughter does start her period, let her know that being irregular can be a regular thing at first.
“She could have one period and then it could be 6 months before she gets her next period,” explained Jill. “Or one period will last one day and the next could last 10 days.”
This is all normal and it sometimes can take up to 2 to 3 years before her cycle is regular.
Since her cycle might not be regular, her period could take her by surprise, so make sure she is prepared, especially if it happens at school.
A few tips to share include:  

  • Prepare a locker or backpack “emergency kit.” Keep a pantiliner, a pad and a pair of clean underwear in a discreet bag.
  • Keep a pantiliner or a pad in your purse.
  • You can use toilet paper or tissue until you can get a pantiliner or a pad. Your period won’t start all at once, so you have a little time.
  • Ask a friend, a school nurse or a teacher for help. Most schools keep extra pantiliners or pads for times like these.

If your daughter chooses to start using tampons, make sure that she understands how often she needs to change it.

“It can depend on how heavy your daughter’s flow is, but a tampon should be changed regularly, about every 4 to 8 hours,” noted Jill. “Although a tampon can be worn up to 8 hours, make sure she knows to never leave a tampon in for longer than that.”
When it comes to using a tampon at night, make sure your daughter wears a pad instead if she plans to sleep more than 8 hours.  
“Make sure that she also understands that she should only use a tampon during her period,” said Jill. “If she thinks that she may be starting soon, tell her to use a pantiliner.”
Still not sure what to say to your daughter? Join Jill on Feb. 24 for Girl Talk, a class designed for parents and their 9- to 12-year-old daughters to talk about puberty, periods and more. 
Other Resources:
How to Talk to Your Teen About Sex
Should Your Child Get the HPV Vaccine?