As your little princess gets ready to step into womanhood, here’s how you can prepare for that all-important role.
By Aparna Samuel Balasundaram
It feels like it was just yesterday that you held your baby girl in your arms and gazed in awe at the little bundle of joy. But today, she is already 10 and showing early signs of womanhood!
Though the average age of girls attaining puberty is 12 years, today, for some girls it happens as early as 9 years. The period of puberty can be confusing and emotional for both you and your daughter, especially because of menstruation. Some young girls can be embarrassed and may even cry when they start menstruating; on the other hand, older girls cannot wait to start and be like their peers!
As a parent, you need to come to terms with the reality of your daughter growing up. You need to prepare yourself to have the ‘talk’ with her to guide and support her through this transition. Here’s how you can do it.
A good time to start having the puberty talk with your daughter is when you notice that she is developing breast buds and body hair [pubic or underarm]. These are signs that her body is undergoing hormonal changes and preparing for menstruation. In some cases, this could mean you have to start this conversation as early as nine years. If you see no such bodily changes, it is still good to have this conversation by the time she is 10 or 11 years old.
As tempted as you might be to just hand the 8th-grade biology chapter on the human reproductive system to your daughter, do not do it! You could use a book as an aid to your conversation, but do not just give a book and walk away. Instead, look at this as a great opportunity to bond with your daughter. Remember, this will be one of those moments she will remember for the rest of her life. Jyotika Bedi, Co-Founder of the Global Women’s Group, shares her own growing-up experience, “My mother very lovingly and logically shared the facts and the importance of menstruation in a woman's life cycle. My dad joined the conversation and ever since, we have enjoyed a great bond and shared everything. When it’s time for me to talk to my daughters, I would recreate the same for them.” Echoing similar thoughts, Samidha Makkar, a homemaker from Delhi states, “I vividly remember when I first started menstruating. It was my sports day! My mom waited for me in the school and calmly told me not to worry about anything. She asked me to focus on enjoying my sports day. She was more like a friend to me and we still share that bond.” such discussions will lay the foundation for a girl’s perception of sexual health.
It’s a great idea to get our girls to mark the dates on the calendar so they know when their periods are supposed to start.
Most young girls view the subject of puberty as something strange or messy. I connected with over 100 mothers of pre-teen and teen daughters to find out how their daughters felt. Most mothers shared that when they had the ‘period talk’ with their daughters, reactions were almost always, “Ewwwww,” “Yuck,” “No way!” “Are you joking, Mom?” It’s understandable why they would feel that way. The blanket of discretion and shame held firmly over the subject of puberty and menstruation could only result in this disgust over a bodily function. Besides, one usually associates blood with a wound that hurts; so, to the young mind it’s inconceivable that this could be a ‘normal monthly cycle’. It is, therefore, your duty to ensure that this information is presented in a factual manner and in an environment that’s caring and nurturing.
Vandana Sarda, a homemaker from Singapore, shares, “I had a talk with my daughter when she was 10 and was going for a school trip. When she started menstruating at the age of 12, we had an even more detailed practical discussion. Her dad was not a part of that initial conversation. However, as they are diving buddies now, there is an open communication between them so they can plan their trips as per her schedule.” My advice to mothers is that you should involve the father and brother too in the discussions. After all, this is a normal growth milestone, just like the first time she walked! It’s nothing to be ashamed of or hide from. In fact, in many Indian states, this is a cause for celebration. Anubha Jain, mother to a teenage boy from Delhi says, “As a woman and mother of a son, I feel it is my responsibility to educate my son too. I have had discussions with him on the importance of a woman's role in today's life.”
Some of the fears that many girls have are, “What if I start in school or I get a leak?” If such mishaps occur and your daughter isn’t prepared, it could be enough reason for her to get teased and bullied! Therefore, it is important to address these fears and create a sense of control for your daughter. How can you do it? Amrita Ramani, an HR professional from Chennai, shares a very practical solution, “It’s a great idea to get our girls to mark the dates on the calendar so they know when their periods are supposed to start. They could create their own fun symbol or code! It is also a good idea for them to carry a discreet ‘big girl kit’ to school that includes a pad/tampon and underwear.”
If your daughter is into sports, especially swimming, and participates in tournaments, then you should prepare her accordingly. Dr Neerja Chanda Peters, Family Specialist from Gurgaon, suggests, “It’s perfectly safe to take progesterone tablets, once in a while, under a physician's guidance. They are usually started at least three to five days before the expected date and the periods begin two to three days after the withdrawal of the medicine.” The tampon is always an option to be considered, though it may take time for young girls to get used to.
So, as your little princess gets ready to blossoms into a beautiful young lady, stay by her side and hand-hold her through this magnificent journey towards womanhood, be her confidant, her best friend, her guiding force!
As a parent, you need to come to terms with the reality of your daughter growing up. You need to prepare yourself to have the ‘talk’.
Ms Shalini Nambiar, Deputy Director of Gems Education, India, points out, “The more you hide information from children, the more their curiosity would build up. Today’s technology-driven world provides information at fingertips. This information can be right or misleading. So, it’s the duty of social institutions like family and school to provide the right information to children.”
The CBSE board has taken a progressive step by requiring its schools to include sex education in its Adolescent Education Programme (AEP). However, the reality is that many schools still shy away from ‘sex’ education and many fall short as they end up being ‘biology lessons’ alone.
To make them more relevant, Ms Nambiar suggests that these sessions should also focus on teaching children to respect their bodies and enhancing a positive body image. She says, “A teacher is the best counsellor for her students, as she already shares a bond with them. If a student is shy to ask a question in a workshop, she can always bring it up with her teacher.”
Ms Renuka Padmini Masih, a reputed educationist in Hyderabad, advises that when a girl attains puberty quite early [grades 4-6] or if there are any medical complications, it is prudent for parents to share this information with the class teacher. The teacher would then be better prepared to help the child in this transition.
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Aparna Samuel Balasundaram