Dear Dr. Cara: My daughter is developing, but doesn’t want to talk to me.

Dear Dr. Cara: My daughter is developing, but doesn’t want to talk to me.

Our expert: Dr. Cara Natterson

Our resident expert on all things girls. She’s a board certified pediatrician, author of the best-selling book series The Care and Keeping of You, and travels the country speaking about health and wellness issues to both kids and parents.

My daughter is developing, but doesn’t want to talk to me – how do I get her to engage?

The answer really depends upon what kind of relationship you have with your daughter. Some moms and daughters talk about everything, while others have a more silent relationship. One dynamic is not necessarily better than the other.

If you and your daughter have a pretty open relationship, it may be easier for you to begin the conversation about body changes and periods. But it is also easier to share a little too much – be careful not to go into too much detail with your daughter if she’s not ready. One of the best ways to gage how far to take the talk is to ask your daughter if she has more questions. She will tell you when she is ready to stop. And if she asks you a question that seems too sophisticated for her age, stop and ask her what made her think of that question. You may be surprised to find that she’s not asking such a broad question after all, but rather she just wants to know one detail about something and didn’t know how to word it. When in doubt, say, “That’s a really interesting question – what made you think of that?”

If you and your daughter are not talkers, bringing up sensitive topic can be really awkward… for both of you. But it is still really important to have those conversations. So try to open up when you are not looking each other directly in the eye – start the talk in the car or before bed when the lights are off and you have some down time to chat. Any scenario where you can avoid eye contact makes it much easier to talk through embarrassing topics. If you cannot stomach having the conversation out loud, do it in writing. Some girls share journals with their moms, where they trade questions and answers in writing. This can make it much easier to communicate because there is zero eye contact!

Sometimes one person is a talker and the other isn’t. This lopsidedness can make it especially hard for mom/daughter pairs. Since there isn’t a “right” way to talk through period and puberty issues, try one approach and, if that fails, change course and try another. The two of you will have to figure out what works best for you. Even if an approach fails miserably, your daughter will still appreciate that you are bringing this up with her – even if she doesn’t show it. And eventually you will find a way to communicate that works for both of you.

The most important piece of advice is that this is not a one-time conversation. Your goal is to identify a way to talk with your daughter so that you can cover all sorts of topics that will come up during puberty. If you feel like you have missed your opportunity, let that go. You always have another shot at talking to your daughter.

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