Keeping clean and healthy is linked with self-esteem. When a girl likes the way she looks, she's likely to feel happier and more confident, which in turn helps her put her best foot forward in the world. This is especially important during puberty, when body changes inevitably make girls feel less sure of themselves. Help her learn how to take care of herself and establish a routine.
“I was thinking about going shopping for a new cleanser and shampoo for you, now that you're getting older. We could check out what's recommended for your skin and hair type, and you could pick out some things you'd like to try."
Part of the recipe for feeling, doing, and even looking one’s best is eating right. Your job, which isn’t always simple, is to ease your daughter into understanding that food is about making choices for health as well as pleasure.
“Your body is really starting to grow, and that makes me think of how important it is that your eat healthy foods. It’s like your body is a house that you’re building now to live in for the rest of your life. You want to build it right so that it stays strong.”
Physical activity makes the body and the brain feel great and reduces stress, too. If your daughter is complaining about how much you prompt her to get out and move, that’s not so bad. It means you already know there are so many good reasons for being active. The challenge, of course, is helping your daughter learn this, too, and feel the benefits of exercise firsthand.
“How about doing a mother/daughter yoga class with me? It could be good exercise, and I think it would be fun to try something new together.”
Safety rules can seem silly or downright annoying to the tween or teen brain. Put on your helmet! Buckle up! Put on sunscreen! But, ultimately, being safe means having respect for yourself and your body. As you communicate this to your daughter, help her to understand the wide range of circumstances when she needs to consider her safety.
“Now that you’re getting older, you’ll be making more decisions on your own. Let’s talk about how you can handle it when a friend wants to do something that might be risky, and you know it breaks one of the safety rules. Let’s say you’re at a friend’s house and she wants to bake cookies. But her parent isn’t home, and we have a rule that an adult has to be there if you use the oven or stove. How can you keep yourself safe in that situation? What could you say to your friend?”
Your daughter’s body will transform during puberty, but exactly what will happen first or when it will start is impossible to know in advance. The lack of predictability is a source of anxiety for many girls, and they often compare their development. One comfortable way to ask your daughter how she feels about her progress through puberty is to offer to share your own story.
“How are things going? You and your friends have a lot going on now. I know we’ve talked about puberty and the different emotional and physical changes that go with it, and you’ve done some reading, too. Do you have any questions? Would it be helpful if I told you a little bit about what it was like for me when I was your age?”
In general, girls are entering puberty sooner than their moms did. But they aren’t getting their periods at younger ages. Talking about when you first got your period is a great way to open the conversation with your daughter. You can also help to put her at ease by giving her some basic information and taking some practical steps.
“Even though it could be a while before you start your period, I was thinking this might be a good time to get you some supplies. That way you can feel prepared. How about going shopping together for supplies to keep at home and in your backpack? It might also be a good time to sit down together and talk about anything that’s on your mind about starting your period.”
Of all the changes in puberty, changing shape is possibly the most complicated. A girl’s new curves—whether small or large—will make her feel older, and she may not feel happy about it. Curves are also complicated because they are connected to issues of body image, size, and weight, and standards of beauty.
“I felt like you do when I was your age—not just about the changes in my body but also the way my feelings seemed to flip-flop. I would like looking and feeling more mature one day; then the next day I’d wish I could go back to being a kid. What helped was remembering that there was no rush to grow up, and that I could still enjoy things I liked when I was younger. It also helped when I remembered that my friends were probably dealing with the very same feelings.”
Many parents feel that the clothing available for girls is too grown-up and that the media make the problem worse. Explaining your concern requires both specificity and delicacy.
“That's a cute tank top, but it's too casual for your volunteer job. How about putting a sweater over it? That will help with the cold air-conditioning, too.”
These days the word friend has many different meanings. A friend used to be a person you knew rather well and in the flesh. But now it can refer to someone you connect with through social media—maybe you only sort of know them, or maybe you’ve just seen their pictures and read their profile. Today, “friends” can actually be total strangers.
“You’re old enough now to have an account—congratulations! Before you sign up, we need to talk about ways to stay safe with social media, not just on this site but also any other we give you permission for. Some rules go with this privilege, and I’ve put them in a contract. Let’s look at the contract together and go through each point. Then we’ll both sign it.”
Parents shouldn’t shy away from conversations about crushes because they’re worried they might open the door to inappropriate thoughts, words, and behaviors. Talking about them helps your daughter sort out her confusing feelings and learn to behave in ways that feel right for her and are appropriate for her age.
“Girls are often trying to figure out who they like, but it’s also important to know how to choose that special person. It helps to remember what you learned about picking good friends when you were younger, because it’s not any different. Look for someone who’s kind to you, and caring and respectful to everyone. Honesty is big, too. Most of all, pick someone you can be yourself with, and who makes you feel great when you’re together.”