Changing Body

Talk with Your Daughter About Her Changing Body - Part 1
Talk with Your Daughter About Her Changing Body - Part 2
Talk with Your Daughter About Her Changing Body - Part 3
Education Links & Web Sites

Talk with Your Daughter About Her Body - Part I

Talking with Your Daughter about Her Changing Body and Sexuality, Part II

Note: This is the second in a 3-part series that explores the topic of parents communicating with their children about puberty and sexuality. Part I explored the challenges of talking about these sensitive issues, and the reasons why it’s so important to find ways to talk nonetheless. Part II explores the first set of specific strategies you can use for starting and sustaining these important conversations. The text below is adapted from a free brochure entitled Talking With Kids About Tough Issues, published as part of a national campaign by Children Now ( and the Kaiser Family Foundation ( promote parent-child communication. The full text of the brochure, as well as other helpful resources, is available on the web at Additional web resources can be found at the end of Part III.

In Part I, we explored the many fears, concerns, and embarrassments that can keep us from talking with our children about puberty and sexuality. But consider this: our kids are already hearing about these issues from TV, movies, magazines and school friends. If we don’t talk with them early and often–and answer their questions–they’ll get their facts from someone else. And we’ll have missed an important opportunity to offer our children information that’s not only accurate, but also in sync with our own personal values and moral principles.

Below are some practical tips and strategies for getting these difficult conversations started; more tips will be provided in Part III.

Start Early

Kids are hearing about and forced to cope with tough issues at increasingly early ages, often before they are ready to understand all aspects of these complicated ideas. As parents, we have a wonderful opportunity to talk with our children about these issues first, before anyone else can confuse them with incorrect information or explanations that lack the values we want to instill. We need to take advantage of this “window of opportunity” with children and talk with them earlier and more often, particularly about tough issues like sex, HIV/AIDS, violence, alcohol and drugs.

Initiating Conversations With Our Children

While we want our children to feel comfortable enough to come to us with any questions and concerns–this doesn’t always occur. Often it’s necessary to begin the discussions ourselves. TV and other media are great tools for this. Say, for instance, that you and your 12-year-old are watching TV together and the program’s plot includes a teenage pregnancy. After the show is over, ask your child what she thought of the program. Did she agree with how the teenagers behaved? Has she known of any teenagers who got pregnant? Just one or two questions could help start a valuable discussion that comes from everyday circumstances and events. If you have more than one child — and your kids are widely spaced — try to speak with them separately, even about the same subject. The reason? Children of varied ages are usually at different developmental levels, which means that they need different information, have different sensitivities and require a different vocabulary. (Whenever possible, use short, simple language). What’s more, older children will often dominate the discussion, which may prevent the younger ones from speaking up.

…Even When You May Be Embarrassed

If you feel uncomfortable talking about sensitive subjects–particularly bodies, sex and relationships–you’re not alone. Many parents feel awkward and uneasy. But, for your child’s sake, try to overcome your nervousness and bring up the issue anyway. Acknowledge your embarrassment, acknowledge your child’s embarrassment (“Sweetheart, this is hard for both of us to talk about, but it’s important that we try…”), and plunge in.

Create an Open Environment

Children will look to their parents for answers only if they feel we will be open to their questions. It’s up to us to create the kind of atmosphere in which our children can ask any questions–on any subject–freely and without fear of consequence or shame.

How do you create such an atmosphere? Be encouraging, supportive and positive. For example, if your child asks, “How do you get AIDS?” try not to answer with, “It’s complicated. Please just finish your lunch.” No matter how busy you are, respond with something like, “That’s an interesting question. We don’t have time to talk about it right now, but let’s talk about it tonight after dinner.” And be sure to do so. If they ask something you don’t know, simply say, “I’m not sure. Let’s go look it up.” (FYI: Don’t worry that if your children learn that you don’t know everything, they won’t look up to you. That’s simply not true. Kids accept, “I don’t know,” and “let’s go find out.” These are better responses than any inaccurate or misleading answers you may be tempted to offer.)

One more point: You don’t need to answer all of your children’s questions immediately. If your 10-year-old asks, “Mom, what’s oral sex?” it’s perfectly okay to say something like, “That’s an important question. I’d like to explain it after I’ve had time to gather my thoughts. Let’s talk this weekend.” And make sure you do.

Communicate Your Values

As parents, we have a wonderful opportunity to be the first person to talk with our children about sensitive issues before anyone else can confuse them with “just-the-facts” explanations that lack the sense of values and moral principles we want to instill. When talking with your child about bodies and sex, remember to talk about more than “the birds and the bees,” and communicate your values. For example, talking about the changes of puberty is a wonderful time to affirm your daughter’s changing shape, and help her develop a positive body image. Talking about sex requires talking about relationships, and offers the opportunity to engage in a discussion of respect for oneself and for others in any kind of relationship. Remember, research shows that children want and need moral guidance from their moms and dads, so don’t hesitate to make your beliefs clear.

Talking with Your Daughter about Her Changing Body and Sexuality, Part III

Listen to Your Child: Seek First to Understand

How many times do we listen to our children while folding clothes, preparing for the next day’s meeting, or pushing a shopping cart through the supermarket? While that’s understandable, it’s important to find time to give kids our undivided attention. Listening carefully to our children builds self-esteem by letting our youngsters know that they’re important to us and can lead to valuable discussions about a wide variety of sensitive issues.

Listening, versus lecturing, is very important. The research tells us that one reason some teens do not talk to their parents about sex is that they anticipate getting a lecture when they ask a question or raise a concern. It’s natural to want to get your opinion in any time the conversation turns to such important topics, but it’s more important to listen first to your child, then share your thoughts and feelings.

Listening carefully also helps us better understand what our children really want to know as well as what they already understand. For example, suppose your child asks you what an “orgasm” is. Before you answer, ask her what she already knows about it. If she says, “I think it’s something that makes you yell during sex,” then you have a sense of her level of understanding and can adjust your explanations to fit.

Listening to our children and taking their feelings into account also helps us understand when they’ve had enough. Suppose you’re answering your 9-year-old’s questions about AIDS. If, after a while, she says, “I want to go out and play,” stop the talk and re-introduce the subject at another time.

Be Honest

Whatever your children’s ages, they deserve honest answers and explanations. It’s what strengthens our children’s ability to trust. Also, when we don’t provide a straightforward answer, kids make up their own fantasy explanations, which can be more frightening than any real, honest response we can offer. You can be honest but keep the information you share simple enough to fit your child’s developmental level.

At the same time, it’s perfectly okay to set limits on the personal information you share with your child. For example, if she asks a question about your own sexual debut, and you don’t wish to answer, feel free to say something like, “That’s private, and one day you might have some things that you want to keep private, too. But I’d like to know what you think is the right age to start having sex, and I’ll tell you my opinion about it, too.”

Be Patient

Often it can feel like forever before a youngster gets her story out. As adults, we’re tempted to finish the child’s sentence for her, filling in words and phrases in an effort to hear the point sooner. Try to resist this impulse. By listening patiently, we allow our children to think at their own pace and we are letting them know that they are worthy of our time.

Use “Teachable Moments” — Everyday Opportunities to Talk

It’s important to try to talk with your kids about tough issues often, but there isn’t always time in the day to sit down for a long talk. Also, kids tend to resist formal discussions about today’s toughest issues, often categorizing them as just another lecture from mom and dad. But if we use “teachable moments,” moments that arise in everyday life, as occasions for discussion, our children will be a lot less likely to tune us out. For instance, walking down the tampon aisle at the supermarket can spark a conversation about menstruation; a TV program showing a “first kiss” can be a conversation starter about how the character handled the situation; a TV commercial about medicine for herpes can give you an opportunity to talk about STDs; and a billboard about HIV transmission can give you an opportunity to talk about condoms.

Talk About it Again. And Again.

Since most children only take in small bits of information at any one time, they won’t learn all they need to know about a particular topic from a single discussion. That’s why it’s important to let a little time pass, then ask the child to tell you what she remembers about your conversation. This will help you correct any misconceptions and fill in missing facts.

Finally, in an effort to absorb all they want to know, children often ask questions again and again over time — which can test any parent’s nerves. But such repetition is perfectly normal, so be prepared and tolerant. Don’t be afraid to initiate discussions repeatedly, either. Patience and persistence will serve you and your child well.

Education Links & Web Sites:

SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States) A starting place for parents & teens to learn about sexuality issues and communication within the family:

National Parent Information Center. A research-based information on parenting and family involvement in education:

National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Research, statistics, and useful information providing insight into the phenomenon of teen pregnancy:

Birds and Bees. Information on birth control, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STDs) and links to other sites:

Go Ask Alice! Q&A site including information on relationships, sexuality, and sexual health:

gURL. Information on issues that affect the lives of girls 13 years of age and older:

Iwannaknow. A safe and fun place for teenagers to learn about sexual health and for parents to receive guidance:

Outproud. Information for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth. Also, a useful site for parents and friends of GLBT youth:

SEX, ETC. Information, advice, and resources by teens for teens (and parents, too).:

Youth Resource. Information and peer support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth:

College Student Intimacy Guide The guide discusses communication boundaries for intimate situations, has frequently asked questions about sexual health in college, and includes expert advice from Nicole Cushman, former Director of Education for Planned Parenthood and current co-chair of the American Public Health Association’s Sexuality Task Force.