DEAR DOCTOR K: What should I expect when my daughter goes through puberty? How can I help her as she goes through these changes?
DEAR READER: Full disclosure: I don’t have any personal or parental experience to tap into for this question. Experienced colleagues and friends always emphasize how important it is to discuss puberty with your daughter before these changes begin. She needs to know what to expect and also that these changes are perfectly normal.
Puberty typically lasts for four or five years. In girls, it usually starts between the ages of 8 and 13. Remind your daughter that it is normal to begin puberty anywhere within this range. (But do mention it to your child’s doctor if your daughter is showing signs of puberty before age 8, or if there are no signs of puberty by age 13.)
During puberty, the whole body changes shape and size. For most girls, the first sign of puberty is breast growth.
Girls gain weight and muscle and grow taller during puberty. This growth peaks about one year after puberty has begun. The storage of body fat also changes, so that the hips, buttocks and legs get larger.
Hair grows in the pubic area, on the legs and under the arms. Glands in the skin make more oil and sweat. Body odor and acne may become noticeable. Most girls begin to have periods (menstruate) about two years after the start of breast development.
In addition to these physical changes, puberty brings emotional changes. For example, many preteens feel anxious or self-conscious about the physical changes of puberty, especially when comparing themselves with others. Your child’s moods will also change quickly and often.
Do your best to support, encourage and guide your daughter though this new and different, but also exciting and important, time. Even if you’ve done a good job of explaining what to expect, the changes of puberty may frighten your daughter. Your ongoing reassurance is as important as preparing your daughter for the coming of puberty.
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