At www.onlydads.org we are contacted by many single fathers looking for resources to help them and their daughters best deal with puberty. As some of you will know this is an area where mums and dads flounder. You can read my own shortcomings here!
PogoPack wrote this for us – I feel it represents a really clear summary of the main issues.
A daughter’s development from a girl into a young woman can be a daunting prospect for any dad, and this can be all the more challenging for a single dad. How should you support her?
Sharing the responsibility
If your daughter’s mother is around, it would be natural to assume that she would do everything necessary to help your daughter with the practical matters of puberty. The truth is, many women are not comfortable discussing periods or puberty with their daughters, often due to them having had poor preparation themselves when they grew up. If it’s possible, discuss with her how you will both ensure your daughter gets the help she needs.
By all means, seek the support and advice of another woman whom you and your daughter trust, but accept the fact that you need to be involved too because, at any moment, you may be the only one she can turn to for help.
The role of school
Some of your daughter’s sex education will be provided at school as part of the National Curriculum. Currently, this begins in Year 6 in the UK and some schools introduce the topic in Year 5. However, what is taught in the classroom is outside of your control and is very much dependent on the experience and confidence of the person delivering the subject.
Very little time is given to sex education in primary schools, and the practical side of periods may not be taught, so you will need to supplement this with good conversations and support at home.
The timing and signs of puberty
Every girl will experience puberty in a way that is unique to her. Some girls will start to develop at around eight years of age, however, many will not start until they are 10, 11 or 12, and some girls won’t experience any changes till they are 13 or 14, occasionally later.
The age at which her mother started puberty can sometimes be an indicator, but this cannot be relied upon as research published in May 2010 indicates that puberty is now starting much earlier.
Generally, the first visible sign of puberty will be the beginning of breast buds – when your daughter’s breasts start to develop. However, there is no set order in which these changes happen. Most of the changes will generally happen over a 3-4 year period.
The changes experienced by girls in puberty
Here’s a summary of the changes your daughter will experience.
•A growth spurt – growing taller, wider and becoming more curvy
•Growth of under-arm and pubic hair
•Hair on arms and legs begins to get darker/thicker
•Stretch marks may appear on her skin because she is growing so fast
•Moods and emotions become more erratic and irrational
•A sticky vaginal discharge is produced before and between her periods
•Starting her periods
•Facially, she begins to look more mature and adult-like
•Sexual feelings develop.
It’s quite a list!
Periods present one of the biggest changes that girls have to cope with. The average age that girls start their periods is 12, but a significant number of girls are now starting in primary school, and some as young as eight.
It can be a frightening experience for a girl to start her periods and not know what is happening to her. It is therefore vital that your daughter is informed about periods once she reaches Year 5 or age 8, so that she can be fully prepared, and spared any unnecessary distress.
•A girl’s periods can start anywhere from age 8 to 18.
•Periods usually start around two years after breast buds develop.
•They last anywhere from 2-7 days, but the average duration is 5 days.
•Periods will repeat on average every 28 days (“the menstrual cycle”) but can repeat anywhere from 21 to 35 days.
•When periods first start, they can be sporadic and unpredictable, and it can take up to two years for periods to settle down into a reliable pattern or cycle.
•It is recommended that girls use sanitary towels and not tampons until their periods have settled into a reliable cycle.
If a girl is really sporty, she may want to use tampons because sanitary towels can be quite inconvenient in these situations – especially swimming. There are major health risks associated with the incorrect use of tampons, so both you and your daughter must read about Toxic Shock Syndrome beforehand. Although this is a rare illness, it can be fatal, so please familiarise yourself with the causes, symptoms and preventative measures. If a girl uses tampons, organic ones are preferable.
You can get more detailed information at http://www.pogopack.co.uk/all-about-periods.
Sanitary products can be purchased from any supermarket, pharmacy and corner shop. They can also be purchased online. The terms “sanitary towel” and “sanitary pad” mean the same thing.
There is a confusing array of sanitary pads available. The three types your daughter will need are:
1.Pantyliners, for light-flow days, usually at the beginning and end of her period, and for occasional “spotting” in-between periods
2.Regular sanitary towels for daytime, during the main part of her period
3.Night pads, for bedtime or really heavy periods.
•Sanitary products are rated according to their absorbency, which is listed on the side of each packet of products.
•Keep a selection of each type of pad in a box in your bathroom or toilet, plus some disposal bags (sold in boxes next to pads in the supermarket) and make sure your daughter knows where to find these products at home when she needs them.
•How much product will she need? Girls should generally change pads every 4 hours during the day, and use one night pad overnight.
•Suggested quantities to start with – 2 packets of pantyliners, 2 packets of regular pads (with “wings”), 1 packet of night pads. Afterwards, your daughter should try different brands to find the ones she prefers.
•Explain that used pads must be wrapped in toilet paper or in a disposal bag and put in the bin – not down the toilet because they will cause blockages. It will help if you can provide a covered bin for her to use.
•Ensure your daughter always has a little purse of sanitary products with her at school, and always a supply of products before leaving for holiday.
Make it easy for your daughter to get more products when she needs them. If you do the shopping, ask her to write down what she needs on the shopping list. Alternatively, give her an allowance every month to buy products herself. Do be aware that she may not need the same quantity of products every month if her menstrual cycle is not regular yet.
In the months before a girl’s first period, she will start getting some vaginal discharge, which is a sticky/watery fluid often noticeable in her knickers when the laundry is being done. This is the body’s final preparation for her periods and is a good tell-tale sign that you need to buy some products and ensure your daughter is aware of its significance. She needs to know that this is a normal part of puberty. Once her periods start, this discharge will continue to occur between periods.
The pain of periods
Period pain, or cramps, will be a regular feature in the days leading up to, and in the first couple of days of, her periods. This pain can be dealt with easily as follows:
•a covered hot water bottle that she can put on her tummy
•a lavender pack, heated in the microwave – again for the tummy – but be careful of extreme heat that will burn
•a warm bath
•an appropriate dose of paracetamol – make sure you always have some in the cupboard
•exercise! Actually this is a fantastic way to get the endorphins going to counteract the discomfort of period pain. Take her rollerskating, kick a ball around, or go for a cycle together.
Do respect your daughter’s wishes as to how she wants to deal with any period pain. She may prefer to snuggle up on the sofa with a hot water bottle, rather than exert herself – even if it is good for her!
It will take, on average, four years for your daughter’s breasts to develop. At some point you will need to think about getting her a bra.
That sweet daughter of yours is going to become less sweet-smelling, that’s for sure! With the onset of puberty, her hormones will be producing greasier skin and hair, sweat and body odour.
If she is not already in the habit of showering every day, then you need to encourage her to start, and especially during her periods, and after she does lots of exercise. She will need a deodorant too – preferably a natural-based one that does not contain chemicals.
Whilst a good lather of soap is vital for dealing with the bacteria that cause body odour under the arms, the vagina requires more careful attention. It has a finely balanced pH level that can be easily upset through the use of highly perfumed shower gels and soaps. You need to encourage your daughter to wash her private parts with warm water only as harsh toiletries can cause irritation, inflammation and infection. If she is adamant about washing with soap or gel, find an organic or natural brand that is as gentle as possible.
When should you seek medical advice?
Your daughter’s progression through puberty is likely to be relatively free of medical problems. However, a medical check-up is necessary if your daughter:
•starts her periods before eight years of age
•hasn’t had her first period by the age of 16
•frequently has very heavy bleeding
•has period pains that are so debilitating they keep her off school
•gets a smelly, itchy discharge (possibly a yeast infection called “Thrush”)
•needs to wee frequently and it burns (probably a urine infection).
Remember to book an appointment with a female doctor so your daughter feels more at ease.
Get your daughter to a hospital immediately if she uses tampons and presents any of the symptoms associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome.
Where to get further help
This article has been provided by www.pogopack.co.uk – a company that helps girls with the transition into puberty. They have created the PoGo Pack™, a complete period kit containing everything your daughter needs to handle her periods. It is the perfect way to introduce the subject to her. The company also sells special teen-size sanitary towels which many young girls find comfortable when they first start their periods. Their website provides lots of free age-appropriate information for girls and parents, including recommended books about puberty.
Elsewhere, for professional advice, speak to the School Nurse, your doctor or the Practice Nurse. Online parenting forums can also be helpful for general advice and support.