Even though I have professional training in social work, sex education and public health, my kids still sometimes catch me off-guard with difficult or sensitive questions. I’ve listed some of the most common questions girls ages 8-12 ask about these topics (and stay tuned: I’m following up with a list for boys soon!) and some ways you might consider responding to them.
I hope they’re helpful!
Mom, what’s a period? 1 of 7As your daughter approaches adolescence, she's curious about puberty with good reason. If you have not yet had this conversation with her, now's the time. Explain that most girls can expect their period to begin at age 12 or 13, and that it's a natural part of growing up. It is, after all, what enables them to eventually become mothers themselves. After you go over the basics, give your daughter the resources to explore the issue on her own.
My Body, My Self for Girls is a great example.
When can I start wearing a bra? 2 of 7If your daughter doesn't need a bra for support but wants to wear one to fit in with her friends, it's a good time to point out that everyone develops differently. That said, try to remember your own experiences with this subject before minimizing her request. Some parents find sports bras to be a good first step— they provide an extra layer without being too mature for preteens.
Why can’t I have my own cell phone? 3 of 7Every family does things differently, but in my house we have a rule: no cell phones until age 12. Our 9 year old is already asking for a phone, and while I can certainly see some advantages I'm holding my ground. I explain that cell phones are a big responsibility, and that until a child is responsible enough to use it properly, keep track of it, and make sure it stays charged it's simply too much to ask of them. And to think I was 24 before I had my own cell phone...
Can I shave my legs? 4 of 7If your daughter is asking about shaving, chances are she's already attempted it. Give her the basics: how to care for her razor, when to change the blade, and how to avoid cuts.
What is Sex? 5 of 7Questions about sex and dating are a normal part of adolescence. Use your own judgement about what to tell your child and when. At 10 or 11, I would keep it basic and simple and not go into unnecessary detail: "Adults show their love for each other in different ways, and when you're ready we can talk about that again." It is important that your child be able to come to you with questions, so don't get emotional or avoid the question entirely, which erodes trust. No matter what, praise your child for coming to you directly with any questions about sex.
Do I need to go on a diet? 6 of 7Follow her question with questions of your own: "Are your friends talking about diets?", "Did someone at school tell you that you need to go on a diet?" , "How do you feel about the way you look?" It's important to acknowledge feelings and be supportive. Help your daughter develop a strong sense of self-esteem by focusing on health and not weight and nutrition instead of dieting.
What’s birth control? 7 of 7I would handle this question from a 10 or 11 year old directly and matter-of-factly. Briefly discuss the major forms of birth control and how they work and then give your child a resource (such as a website or book) that supports your views on the issue.
More by Mary Lauren:
Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.