Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

New WakeMed program to help moms broach puberty talk with daughters

Posted September 21, 2015

Puberty. It can be a tricky topic for parents to broach with their children. But pediatricians, experts and parents know that it's critical for kids to get the facts from trustworthy adults in their lives so they can better understand the changes that are happening in their body and can grow up safe, healthy and knowledgeable.

WakeMed is about to make those discussions a little bit easier ... and even more fun ... for moms and their daughters. On Oct. 22, the hospital will host a mother-daughter event at its Andrews Center at WakeMed Raleigh Campus called "Something New About You."

The physician-led program for fourth and fifth grade girls, along with their moms (or mom substitute), offers factual conversations about puberty in a fun and interactive way. It's free, but registration is requested.

The program will tackle topics such as growth and development; bras and bra shopping; hygiene and hair management; nutrition; menstruation and feminine care products; moods and emotions; and more. The goal is to set the stage for a lifetime of open dialogue, stronger relationships and healthier choices.

The program is designed by Girlology, a South Carolina-based program launched by a pediatrician and an OB-GYN, who realized girls needed more information about their own development beyond what pediatricians can offer at an annual check-up.

Like Girlology's two founders, Dr. Rasheeda Monroe, medical director of WakeMed Physician Practices-Pediatrics, has seen the same need in her own practice. She helped to bring Girlology to the Triangle. If this first program proves successful, WakeMed will likely offer more, including possibly sessions for boys and their dads.

"It certainly is something that causes anxiety for moms and dads no matter what culture we're talking about," said Dr. Monroe, a mom of two young boys. "A lot of people think no news is good news."

In fact, she tells me, the opposite is the case.

"Really, you have to anticipate some questions and some needs and really initiate that type of discussion early because no matter how well you think they are sheltered or been brought up, they are going to be exposed to things. Their body is going to change. They are going to have questions."

So how do you have these conversations with your kids? Dr. Monroe shared some tips.

Normalize it

Any time you notice changes in your child's body - breast buds or public hair, for instance - have a conversation about it.

"I always bring up those things and try to start the conversation just to normalize it," Dr. Monroe said. "You want to make sure there's not shame associated with it."

Many moms have told her that their own mother never told them about the menstrual cycle. They tell stories about crying when they first got their period, feeling shame and trauma and even worried that they were dying.

"I just really just encourage people to be open and honest and have those conversations," she said. Be prepared for questions so that when your child comes to you with them, you're not caught off guard. You're ready to talk.

Start early

Don't wait until puberty has started to start talking to your child about her body. Even when her own boys were toddlers, Dr. Monroe talked openly about boy parts and girl parts. Little kids are curious, she said, and at preschool or daycare often end up learning early that boys and girls are different.

"I use the real world for private parts - penis, vagina," she said. "No code words like it’s a secret. It is what it is."

What's more, puberty is starting earlier and earlier. Some girls will start developing breasts at age 7 and have their first period at age 9.

"You need to have those conversations before there are concerns and surprises," she said.

Even if your daughter isn't developing early, her friends might be.

"Their peers are changing and talking about it," she said. "You want them to be educated and not in the dark."

Talking doesn't lead to action

Talking about puberty and sexual development with your kids doesn't make them sexually active earlier. In fact, studies show, Dr. Monroe said, that the opposite is true.

"It doesn't make them want to go exploring and doing things," she said. "In all actuality, studies show that it educates and protects them from making bad choices and bad decisions."

Whether you hear it or not, kids are talking about it.

"What you don't want is that they are getting their information from an unreliable source," Dr. Monroe said. "It could be information that's wrong or scares them or they're not prepared for what's happening to their body."

For younger kids, it's important to have conversations about safe touch and who can see their private parts.

"Those discussions should be happening early and often," she said.

For older kids, parents need to have ongoing conversations about making good choices, being safe and protecting themselves. Sexual activity - even just touching and exploring - can start in middle school these days.

"You don't want them to learn that from somebody else," she said.

Get help

Dr. Monroe knows these conversations can seem awkward at times. Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there. If you need help starting the conversation, enlist your child's pediatrician. Schedule a visit outside of the annual well visit to talk with the doctor and your child about what's happening to their body.

Programs like Girlology also can smooth the process. The program on Oct. 22 will be fun and interactive with models and diagrams that are aimed to take the secrecy out of the whole process. Make it a night out and go with a group of your daughter's friends and their moms.

There also are a lot of books on the market aimed at helping parents and kids with these conversations. Girology publishes several. I've also had success with the American Girl series, "The Care and Keeping of You."

Dr. Monroe has these conversations daily with her patients and their parents. She's excited about the opportunity to reach a large group.

"I'm passionate about educating girls about their bodies and protecting themselves and making good choices," she said. "To be able to do that in a large group and reach more people in an entertaining and fun way is exciting and important work. ... Whether you realize it or not, your little girl wants this conversation."

Registration is open now for the program, which is 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Oct. 22, in Raleigh.


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