My daughter is just 11 and some months, and is extremely embarrassed about her changing body shape, as well as her periods, which she has just started. I have bought her trainer bras, which she needs to wear, but she wears them only when I badger her. She goes to great lengths not to let her father or younger brother even see her bras on the clothes line and does not let me refer to any of her bodily changes in front of them. She manages her periods quite well, but during them she will make up all kinds of stories about why she won’t go swimming, among other things, for her close friends—instead of just telling them upfront that she has her periods. She begs me to let her bunk school during this time, though I know she is not in pain. How do I get this child to relax about all this?
Many young girls are mortified, as your daughter seems to be, by the onset of puberty, and these early signs of womanhood. It is a deep and perhaps unconscious discomfort with becoming and being seen as a sexual being. And if she has begun to grow breasts before her classmates and other girls her age, she could be particularly awkward on this count. Some girls are very pleased to develop, and will, to their parents’ bemusement, strut and talk about it all—the bra, the sanitary pads, all of that!
Girls at both ends of this spectrum need to be taught to take their emerging femininity in their stride, and not make too much of it in either direction—not be embarrassed and hide, not draw attention to it. Perhaps your child also has a mistaken notion (children jump to such conclusions even if there is no mishandling of the situation by parents) that she is in some way “disgusting” to her father and brother. Her father must find some way of reassuring her.
Little woman: Puberty can be a challenge. ThinkStock
You would have to help this process, perhaps by telling your daughter that her father is a man of the world, knows about these things and is proud and happy that his daughter is developing into a healthy, normal, young woman. Perhaps you can encourage, and your husband can actively think of, ways for the two of them to bond in this new stage of her life. She must continue to feel precious and loved by her father.
At this stage, the physical touching and horsing around, among other things, between father and daughter does tend to reduce naturally. While this is appropriate, he must maintain a physical link with her, in a different way from when she was a little girl. This will help her accept her changing and growing body in a self-loving, self-respecting way. Once this happens at home, you may find that she will be less likely to come up with elaborate stories and ploys to simply avoid mentioning that she has her periods.
As for her not going to school, perhaps you could indulge her on some days and let her be at home till she begins to take all these bodily and emotional changes in her stride.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.
Send your queries to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org