In a CMB contributor poll about embarrassing moments, a time in many of our lives came up surrounding the start of menstruation. It just so happened that many could relate to the feelings of confusion, panic, fear, and embarrassment that body puberty brings. This conversation combined with my recent experience of speaking to a 4th grade girl scout troop about growing and changing inspired to write about my experience in a discussion of growing up. If you’re thinking your kids are too young…I promise you, your time will be here before you know it!
I’m still not sure how I was the lucky chosen one to be invited to talk with a bunch of 10-year-olds girls who I barely know about puberty, but that’s here nor there. After my initial fear and concern I’d say the wrong thing or offend a mother (they were informed and given choice to opt out of the meeting), I felt honored with the opportunity to share knowledge and empowerment, as well as practical skills with the girls.
I am a nurse and a mom of three. Having two girls and a boy in between has set us up for many opportunities to discuss gender-specific parts of a body and why we sisters look different than brothers. When you start talking with your children at an early age, “the talk” becomes a lot less scary. For starters, use the correct terminology with your children. An elbow is an elbow and a vagina is a vagina. Simple as that! Be sure to cover the body safety rules when the are young. Your body is yours. You are the boss of your body. We play with our clothes on. Very simple but open conversation from a young age sets you up for a much more comfortable conversation as they mature. With my own third grader, we’ve recently had discussions brought on by more specific questions and I simply took this opportunity to teach her about her own body and what to expect in the years to come. After some great conversations, I gave her a book I highly recommend if you have a daughter: The Care and Keeping of You by American Girl. This book is very well written and colorfully illustrated and talks about oily hair, smelling pits, boobs, and periods. I used this book as a guide for my speaking obligation with the girl scout troop. The discussion started with talking about how amazing our bodies are and the body’s special jobs. Thinking about the job of your respiratory and cardiac systems, and that of the reproductive system puts it into perspective.
When you talk about puberty it’s simply your body preparing to become a mother (if you desire and, ideally, a long time in the future). We discussed the timeline of these changes and when to expect what. The girls had really great questions about shopping for a bra, shaving legs, and “exactly” when will my period start… million dollar question, right?! Nervous giggles and red faces in palms turned to highly raised hands, sharing stories and problem-solving. Questions of, “am I able to swim, what about gym class, does it hurt?” were all addressed. I encourage you to share the answers to these in your own discussions. The importance of exercise, good nutrition, keeping your body clean and safe, are all other points to cover. It was rewarding to see the faces turn to smiles and amazement.
When many of us were young it was not uncommon for mothers (or fathers) to not discuss puberty. It is important to talk often and openly with both our sons and daughters. Set aside your body issues and teach your children what they need to know to be prepared and empowered by their bodies and changes. Our bodies do not define who we are but it is by no means a source of shame. When girls know what to expect and why puberty is occurring we can turn a scary situation into a proud one (with the high potential of an embarrassing moment to follow somewhere down the road).