Yet we still struggle with how to share these life lessons. What follows are some tips, broken down by approximate age groups, to make it easier to have an ongoing dialogue that will strengthen our relationships with them over the life cycle.
All future learning will build much more easily, your daughter will be more comfortable in her own skin, and your relationship with her will be enhanced throughout your lives together if you lay a foundation of judgment-free, fear-free dialogues during these formative years. Dose her with tiny bits of information during the routine opportunities that pop up all the time. For example, a simple question while potty training is something any parent can handle. Do you want me to put some cream on it?
None of us, at any age, can take in complex information in one bite because complexity demands we work our way up to a fuller understanding. Supporting their developing understanding of sexuality should be no different. Give her information before puberty sets in. By then changes are going on inside her body and she witnesses it in her friends.
They also said they wished for the emotional closeness to their mothers such discussions would have facilitated. So prepare your daughter and be honored to draw her forward into the process of becoming a woman. Fathers should also feel welcome nurturing a connection to their girls in this way. For instance, your daughter may always have been around your feminine hygiene products, but now she might want to unwrap them and check them out with a deeper understanding of their function and their upcoming relation to her body.
You can share stories of your first period, or what it felt like to, seemingly overnight, have underarm hair. Respect the reality that who she is in the world now begins to develop. Expand to include more adult sexual feeling and meaning.
What girls need is very straightforward. In my research, girls wished their mothers had told them masturbation is normal, a good way to learn about her own body, and nothing to feel guilty about. Let her know female desire and pleasure are important. Build a bridge between the basics and more complex concepts. How does a daughter go from having this new body to figuring out how to live in it, for example?
Let her know you understand how bumpy it can be getting accustomed to sexual relationships, dealing with peer pressure, and trying to figure out how to be true to herself. Remember, many kids, especially boys, are learning about sex through porn, which rarely depicts female experiences of pleasure in any realistic way.
Also, no slut shaming. When I speak to ninth and tenth grade girls about sexuality, I tell them that whenever they call another girl a slut, they erase a little bit of themselves and other girls.
We have to stop setting the example of pitting girls against each other. Often, girls who get labeled as promiscuous are girls who may have experienced emotional neglect, emotional, physical or sexual abuse, or who may be showing early signs of mental health concerns, such as bipolar disorder.
These are the girls who deserve our compassion, not our scorn. The most important thing is to have conversations that help her learn how to evaluate her feelings, options, and the quality of her relationships at important junctures. Listen, and talk together. I abide by that great Nike campaign: As a therapist who works with women of all ages, I can assure you your daughter could be in her fifties and still benefit from hearing you say that.
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