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How to talk to your daughter about puberty

If you have a daughter approaching puberty, you might be apprehensive or unsure what to expect. Of course, you once went through puberty yourself, but it’s a little different when you’re watching these changes happen in your child.

She’s bound to have questions for you, and you want to be prepared to guide her through this phase of life. Here are a few questions to expect from your daughter and how you can answer them.

What is puberty?

Puberty is the time when our bodies begin to change from child bodies into adult bodies. Everyone, including boys and girls, goes through puberty. When you think about puberty, it’s normal to feel all sorts of emotions — from nervous and excited to embarrassed and disgusted.

Each person is different, but puberty typically happens between the ages of 8-17. Most people begin when they’re between 10-14 years old, but there is no “right” age to start puberty because everyone’s body is different. These changes also occur at a different pace for every person, and it takes longer for some than for others — this is completely normal.

What changes should I expect?

A variety of changes take place during puberty. Some of these changes can be seen by other people, but some of them are only visible to you. You’ll get taller and heavier, your bones will grow bigger and your hips will get curvier, your face will change shape and your voice will get a little deeper.

You’ll also start to grow hair under the armpits and around the genitalia, and the hair on your arms and legs will get darker. Your breasts and nipples will grow, as will your internal and external sex organs. Your body will start to sweat more, and you might have mood swings, as well as sexual thoughts and feelings.

All these changes are caused by hormones — chemical messengers that travel through the blood to organs to do a specific job. The pituitary gland, deep in the brain, gets things started. It sends hormones to the ovaries to start making sex hormones, which sparks the changes during puberty.

What are periods and when will I get mine?

Girls are born with hundreds of thousands of tiny eggs, called ova. At puberty, hormones tell the ovaries it is time to start releasing one, so usually, one egg at a time matures and is released from an ovary.

At the same time, the uterus starts to grow a thick lining, which contains lots of blood vessels. In response to hormone changes, the lining breaks up and comes out of the uterus into the vagina and out the vaginal opening — that’s called a period, menstruation or menses. This process happens every month.

There’s no way of knowing exactly when you’ll start getting your period, but there are often signs. Girls usually get their period about 12-18 months after pubic hair starts to grow, and many get white or yellow discharge on their underwear for several months beforehand.

What is a normal period like?

Every person is different, but periods typically range from 3-8 days in length. They are usually once a month but can be less predictable when they first start. Keep track of your periods so you can see if a pattern develops.

When you’re on your period, you can use pads or tampons to catch the blood that comes out. They absorb the blood and protect your clothes, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Tampons fit in the vagina to absorb the blood before it comes out, while pads stick to your underwear like a protective lining. It’s normal to use either or both.

What is PMS? 

PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome. Some females feel weepy, bloated or more emotional than normal. Some also get headaches and get upset more easily, but everyone is different.

Will I feel different?

During puberty, your emotions might be all over the place. It’s normal to feel anxious, nervous, angry, dumb, sexy, powerful, clever, awkward, gross, scared — and anything in between. Many girls get mood swings and cry more often during puberty, but remember you can always talk to me about how you’re feeling.

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A lot of changes take place during puberty, and it can be awkward and scary for your daughter. Be there to support her, answer her questions and make her feel comfortable with the changes going on in her body. Remind her that everyone goes through puberty and that you did too!

If there are questions you can’t answer, talk to your daughter’s health care provider, or call 1.844.BSW.DOCS to schedule an appointment.

About the author

Lori Halderman, MD, FACOG

Lori Halderman, MD, FACOG, is an OB/GYN on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – McKinney. She was raised in Hawaii and moved to California to attend the University of Southern California for undergraduate education and medical school. She completed her residency at Harbor UCLA Medical Center. She and her husband Jay moved to McKinney, Texas in July 2000. The Haldermans are active members of First United Methodist Church in McKinney. In addition, the Haldermans are involved in charitable organizations in the community, supporting the Children’s Advocacy Center, McKinney Education Foundation, Food Pantry, Community in Schools and other organizations. Dr. Halderman is an active volunteer with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and helps coach her children’s sports teams.

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How to talk to your daughter about puberty