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Girls, puberty: What to say

The experts at KidsHealth offer this advice for talking to your daughters about puberty:

1. Start the talk early. By the time a girl is 8, she should know about the bodily changes associated with puberty. That may seem young, but consider this: 40 percent of 8-year-olds say they first heard about puberty from a source other than their moms or school.

2. Go slow. Puberty is a big topic that ranges from a girl's first bra to her first thoughts on sexuality. Ongoing conversations about growing up, instead of one big "talk,'' should happen little by little through the months and years.

3. Bring it up. Lots of girls wish their moms would broach the subject. Let your daughter know that you're available any time to talk, but don't always wait for her to initiate the discussion.

4. Share your own story. Sixty percent of girls say they want to know what puberty was like for their mothers. Daughters know their moms were once girls and if you're willing to share your own experiences it will send the message that you've been there.

5. Just listen. It's obvious advice, but can be hard to do. It's tempting to want to jump in and make suggestions or give advice. One of the loudest messages from girls was that they didn't want a discussion of their changing bodies to morph into a scary talk about not having sex.

6. Meet privately and don't tell anyone. A top concern among girls was feeling embarrassed because other people, particularly dads, were part of the conversation or found out the details later. Of course, you might want to share something with your spouse, but ensure that dad will NOT spill the beans.

7. Come across just right and DON'T laugh. Some moms are giddy when they talk about puberty while others may get tearful and seem like they don't want their daughters to grow up. But most girls said knowing their moms would not laugh was a key reason they felt at ease with her.

8. Make it practical. Most girls are interested in practical matters, like how to find a bra that fits and what to do if they get their first period at school. Your daughter will appreciate concrete assistance like having some pads to stash in her backpack or locker, just in case.

9. Offer reassurance. Some develop breasts or get their period early, while others may not start until they're a little older. Assure your daughter that there's a huge amount of variation in the timing of these milestones everyone goes through them, but not always on the same schedule.

10. Take cues from your daughter. There's no one right way to talk about growing up. You may want to adjust your approach based on your daughter's response and comfort level or consider supplemental means of communication, like books and educational websites. Also make sure she knows she can talk to her doctor.

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