How to help girls through puberty.


I have 3 girls. One has gone through the hormotional hell that is puberty, one is on her journey, and the other one is just starting out. (I also have a boy, but puberty for boys will be a separate post). 

This means that things are quite rocky in our house and have been for a while, because on top of all their changes, I’m still young enough to enjoy my own visits from the bitch that is Aunt Flo and her crazy bestie PMT. (And this annoys me greatly because I’m done making babies). So there are a LOT of hormones raging around this household. 

Do you remember going through puberty yourself? I don’t really. But I remember when my eldest started. Actually, my eldest two started at the same time so that was fun. Seemingly overnight they went from happy go lucky children to grumpy, tired, always hungry, hangry, rage-quitting, argumentative monsters. They still looked like my children, and still answered (somewhat gruffly) to their own names, so I was sure they were definitely still mine. But I couldn’t work out what had happened. 

Then someone asked if Jess had started her period and it all slotted into place. Of course it was hormones. 

Anyone who knows me will guess what I did next. 

Google. 

Yep I googled the shit out of puberty. I googled how to help girls through puberty and learnt quite a lot. I love science, particularly biology, so it became a bit of a hobby. And I tried to learn as much as I could about how to help girls through puberty.

Pre-puberty

It isn’t just about puberty. There’s also pre-puberty or pre-pubescence. This typically begins around the ages of 8/9 for girls and lasts a couple of years. (Sorry to be the bearer of bad news).

This is basically the time where the body gets ready to go through changes. Without wanting to get too technical, because I realise not everyone is fascinated by biology, a little area of the brain called the hypothalamus starts producing hormone signals. The signals travel to a small gland just under the brain called the pituitary glands and tell it to start producing the 2 puberty hormones. 

These hormones travel to their ovaries and trigger the production of another hormone (oestrogen). This prompts the ovaries to begin maturing the eggs. This in turn, causes more oestrogen to be released, which tips the body into starting the change from a little girl, into a young women. And if that isn’t enough, at the same time, the adrenal glands start producing another hormone called androgen which stimulates the growth of pubic and underarm hair. 

The release of oestrogen causes a number of changes that you can’t see, but quite a few that you can. 

All of which I have tenuously linked to various childhood favourites.

Read on for tips and advice on how to help girls through puberty.

I’m so angry

Rapunzel

Usually, the first noticeable signs that things are kicking off are changes in mood. And it’s no wonder when you think how many different hormones are coursing through their very young bodies.
Although the hormones are there, they aren’t in synch yet and a lot of girls really struggle during this time. One hormone goes up and the other goes down, then they swap, sometimes both the hormone levels are high and sometimes both the hormone levels are low. 

During this time you might think you’re going crazy, because you’ve suddenly got a daughter with multiple personalities. She can be happy and hyper, low and miserable, same as she always was, tearful or angry over nothing, or my personal favourite absolutely chock full of attitude (not).

I’m fairly convinced that the reason Rapunzel was locked in a tower was because she was an absolute nightmare during puberty. I don’t think she was stolen as a baby, but handed over to a strict witch once she got too emotional to handle, and then freed once she’d come out the other side of the puberty years. 

The worst part of the Rapunzel years, is that your daughter has no idea why she feels like she does, and has no way of controlling or regulating her mood. She also won’t have the emotional maturity to deal with all of this alone.

So what can you do to help girls through puberty?

Well, just keep being you. Keep being consistent and loving. Make a few allowances for mood changes, but not so much that she thinks it’s ok to smash up her bedroom and blame it on her mood. Don’t take it personally when she runs up the stairs and slams her bedroom door shut or screams at you because you dared to ask how her day was. 

Time for ‘the talk’

As soon as you start to notice emotional changes in your 8+ year old daughter, it’s a good time to have the conversation with her about puberty and what it means for her body and emotions.

However you approach it, pick a time when she‘s not hyper and silly or low and angry, and you’ll get a much better reception. Let her know that you are always there for her for a cuddle, chat or a mini pamper session. Puberty is a long old process and she needs to be reassured that all her feelings are normal for this stage.

I’m so ugly

Snow white
The ugly duckling

Shortly after this all kicks off, the next stage arrives. Girls suddenly develop an intense disliking for their appearance literally overnight, and start calling themselves ugly. They may also question if other people think they are ugly, and refuse to pose for photos.
Things that don’t help during this stage are older siblings (thanks Joe!) telling her that she is ugly, because to her it’s just confirming how she feels.
It’s probably no coincidence that this time coincides with losing the last of her baby teeth and having very gappy smiles.

So what can you do to help girls through puberty?

This stage is really quite difficult, because no matter how much you reassure them that they aren’t ugly, your words are falling on deaf ears. Your opinions mean squat. 

You’ll probably be told that you have to think she isn’t ugly because you’re her parent. And really, the only thing you can do is keep reassuring her, and not pressurising her to pose for photos if she really doesn’t want to.

Chances are, she’ll decide she suddenly wants to change her hair. If she wants to change the length of her hair dramatically out of the blue, suggest a bunch of new hair accessories or watch hairstyle tutorials together on YouTube. Because the minute it’s been cut she’ll probably regret it. Jess went from having very long hair to a bob, and even though she begged for it, it was still my fault that her hair was too short and made her face look fat. (Her opinion, not mine). 

I’m so fat

Fairy Mary

Which leads us nearly on to the ‘I’m so fat’ stage. Even if you couldn’t pinch an inch on her frame, she’ll still think she’s fat. And arm in arm with being fat, comes useless, rubbish at PE and clumsiness. (It doesn’t really, it’s just how she feels). 

This stage is all about her struggling to come to terms with her changing body. A lot of girls start putting on weight during this time, which used to be referred to as ‘puppy fat’. In my experience, referring to anything as any kind of fat is a little bit like lighting the touch paper of a rocket. Just don’t mention it, unless you want an emotional explosion that is.

This is the time for body positivity, and Fairy Mary had loads of it. Yes she’s bigger than all the other fairies, but she can still do her magic, she’s still amazing and is positively graceful in the scene from Secret of the wings where she ice skates so beautifully.

I don’t know how things work around the world, but here, all the girls get changed for PE in the same changing room. This is usually not a problem until they suddenly become interested in appearance and start comparing themselves to all the other girls getting changed. Even if they are the slimmest girl in the room, they will still question whether they’re fat. Because, just as she is looking and comparing herself to her classmates, so are all the other girls. Which is perfectly natural, but comes with its own set of challenges.

I’ve got a tummy ache

You can usually tell when this stage has started, because headaches or tummy aches happen on days where they have PE. In my experience, this can be dealt with by buying underwear that doesn’t have Disney Princesses on it, or buying vests/crop tops if they don’t have them already. The less skin they have on show, the more comfortable they feel about people looking at them.

The best way to approach this is to say to them that as they are growing up, you think it’s time for new underwear. Don’t make any reference to their body size, at all. If you can get matching vests and knickers or matching crop tops and knickers, even better. They’ll feel great in them, feel more grown up and actually want to show them off when changing for PE. 
And if she comes home from school and says she needs a crop top because so-and-so wears them, you’ll know why the sudden interest.

I’m so hungry

The very hungry caterpillar
The very hungry caterpillar

Ah the growth spurt. Pre-puberty brings with it the second biggest growth spurt your daughter will have in her life. (The first one being at 0-1yrs). Expect to see a massive increase in hunger, snack demands, hanger tantrums and an increase in your Clubcard points from all the extra shopping.
Your daughter will essentially be the human equivalent of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. She will probably put on some weight during this time, which is perfectly NORMAL. Their bodies are about to change dramatically. She’ll go from a little girl with knobbly hips and skinny little chest to growing breasts and spreading hips. Bodies need stores of fat to burn in order to grow. 

This doesn’t mean stuffing them full of junk food and fattening them up. They need a balanced diet with plenty of water, calcium, vitamins (especially the B, C and D) carbs, fruit, veg and sources of protein. The odd treat won’t harm her. And it’s important to incorporate them into her diet so she doesn’t feel deprived, restricted or develop secret eating habits.

The brighter the colour the more nutrients and vitamins

Don‘t be alarmed when your little girl suddenly shoots up to 5ft something with feet bigger than yours. Just be super proud that you managed to grow something so wonderful despite killing off all every single plant or pot of herbs you’ve ever owned.  

Can it get worse? 

I’m not going to lie to you. Even though you’ve just been through a pretty rough couple of years (yes it takes that long), now you have the joys of actual puberty. So yes. It can get worse.

Growth

Now all the hormones have been doing their thing for a couple of years, her body has suddenly shot up, she’s eaten you out of house, home and your local Tesco, now comes the growing of other bits. 


That’s right, lumps, bumps, hair and probably some spots too. Oh, and a nice bit of body odour gets thrown in for a laugh too. I know right? Just when you thought things were calming down and your daughter was feeling happy about herself, actual puberty has to go and ruin it all. 

Body odour

Probably the first thing you’ll notice about this next stage is the body odour. I’m not suggesting you sniff your daughter every day, don’t worry! But having a quick sniff in the armpit area of her school shirts will tell you all you need to know. This is the time to introduce daily showers (if you haven’t already). Let her pick her own shower gel/bubble bath and sponge, so it encourages her to want to keep clean. You can introduce body sprays or roll on deodorant too if she’s feeling worried other people can smell her. Let her pick her own scent and make sure it’s different from your own. 

Discharge

Next, you might notice a bit of discharge in the gussets of her knickers when you’re doing the laundry. This is again perfectly normal, and is just a sign that things are changing internally. Unless it’s very smelly or any colour other than clear/milky white, it’s not a cause for concern.

It’s puberty’s version of ‘the show’ women often have before labour starts. Its one of the biggest signs that periods are not far away. This can be a good time to introduce panty liners in preparation for using sanitary towels. Whether or not she uses them every day, it’s a lot less messy to show her how to use and how to dispose of them correctly than it is to show her once her period has arrived. And also a lot less embarrassing for her too. 

Hair

This is one that you probably won’t notice, because by now she’ll be showering or bathing on her own, and getting dry and dressed in her room alone. You can ask her every now and then if she’s grown any. It shows that you’re open to conversation and that it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Just let her know that she doesn’t have to tell you if she doesn’t want to. But she probably will. Its an important milestone and quite exciting when she finds the first few. 

The actual period. 

Weirdly, although we tend to assume that this is the first sign a girl has reached puberty, it’s actually the last one! The first period might just be a little bit of brown staining, and then there might not be anything for months. Or it might just start as you would expect yours to, right from the off. Any of these scenarios are normal, unless it’s very smelly. In which case you should see your GP.

Supplies

You don’t need much, but it’s useful to have a stash of supplies ready to go.
I would have;

  • Sanitary towels
  • Panty Liners
  • Hot water bottle
  • Pain relief (paracetamol or ibuprofen)
  • Chocolate

Oh, and a calendar, either on your phone or an actual one to note down her cycle. It will really help when you’re trying to work out why the hell she’s been such a moody cow for no reason!!

Following on from the first period

Wouldn’t it be great if all the hormones settled down once the first period had arrived?

Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen.

Your daughter is now on the wonderful journey of monthly periods, monthly rages, monthly spots, bloating and probably food cravings.

It will be a rollercoaster

For around a year after the first period, your daughter’s mood will be all over the place. It literally is like an emotional rollercoaster. But for your daughter it’s like being on that rollercoaster blindfolded. She has no idea what’s coming or how long the dips or highs are going to last.

It’s perfectly normal for her to be crying one minute over something inconsequential, and then laughing at something random a short while later.

It’s perfectly normal to have flashes of rage and times where she’s pretty much detached.

When to worry

It’s hard to know when you should start worrying about the mood swings or how your daughter is feeling. As a general rule, if she is spending more time feeling low and tearful or very angry, than anything else, it’s probably best to have a chat with your GP.

My eldest went completely off the rails. I’m not even joking, she did it all. We absolutely went through hell as a family.

As much as I was trying to keep her on the straight and narrow, she was buckling against me.

I chose to involve her school, her GP, and eventually social services once it got really bad. Now I’m not saying this is the route everyone should follow, and many people didn’t agree with my choices. But it helped us massively as a family.

Now her hormones have been settled for a while she’s absolutely fine.

Further reading

There’s a great book you can get called “What’s happening to me?” By Susan Meredith. It’s a great resource for children and parents all about how to help girls through puberty. It explains puberty really well to children using language they get. Both my younger 2 have their own copies. They read it as and when they like, and come to me with any questions.

You could also try reading some the information on these sites for more guidance.

Tampax
Bodyform
NHS

Also. I highly recommend keeping a stash of emergency chocolate/wine/gin for yourself during this stage. Because there will be times that you want to burst into tears because she’s just being so unreasonable. And that’s ok too. You can’t help girls through puberty without looking after yourself too! 

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