Q: I'm a single dad and my daughter is 11. I know I'm going to have some kind of discussion with her about puberty, but I don't have a clue where to begin. I also don’t know what and how much I should say to my daughter about her body and about sexual feelings she is going to start to experience. Help!
A: Congratulations! You're about to deal with something that most dads spend a lot of time worrying about. Luckily, though, it really isn't all that bad.
Whether you're a custodial dad or you share custody, it's reasonably safe to assume that your ex will be having some discussions about puberty and menstruation with your daughter. But sometimes things don't work out exactly the way you planned. Even if they do, it's a good idea for you to prepare yourself to deal with these issues anyway. Women's bodies have always been something of a mystery to most men and it's perfectly normal to be confused, embarrassed, or even somewhat put off by your daughter's physical changes.
To start with, you should learn a little about girls' puberty. That way if you ever need to talk to your daughter about it you'll sound a little more knowledgeable.
Somewhere between ages of 8 and 14 the process will start. Your daughter will start to develop breasts, she'll start growing hair on her genitals and under her arms, her skin may start breaking out, and eventually she'll start menstruating. The whole process usually takes from 18 months to as long as 7 or 8 years to complete. If your daughter seems to be starting puberty at the very early end of the age range or hasn't started by the end of the range, have a talk with her pediatrician.
Ask your daughter whether she has any questions about what's going on and let her know that she can ask you anytime she wants to talk. She'll probably be far to self-conscious to discuss those intimate details with a guy but having made the offer will let her know that you care--and that's the most important thing.
If you sense that your daughter isn't getting the information she needs from your ex, offer to put her in touch with an adult female friend or relative she might feel more comfortable talking to.
Your daughter may feel fat, embarrassed, and uncomfortable in her new body. She may be constantly comparing her rate of development to that of her girl friends and, if she's started early, she may have to deal with some increased attention from boys.
In addition, as strange as it sounds, your daughter's puberty is going to affect you too. She may, for example, start flirting with you just like she did when she was a toddler. If this happens, keep in mind that feeling a little sexual tingle around your daughter is completely normal. Acting on it absolutely not. The problem is that a lot of guys are scared of these feelings and they end up backing away from their daughters, as if to keep their daughters from harm. Don't do that. Just like when she was three, your daughter needs to know what she's going through is normal and that you, the most important male figure in her life, love her. If you push her away, no matter how good your intentions, she's going to feel rejected and bad about herself.
A great dad himself, Armin speaks not only as a specialist in parenting, but as a parent himself. He has written several books including The Expectant Father and Fathering Your Toddler.