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Advice for Dad About Pubescent Daughter
Q: I'm a single father of a ten-year-old girl. Her mother died a few years ago in a car accident. I know it's important for her to see her doctor about those woman things, but when should she go see her doc?
A: Girls in this country go through puberty a little earlier than they did 40 years ago. The average age for starting menstruation is 11, though they can start as early as nine, which means they can start getting breast development at seven-and-a-half or eight years of age. It is recommended that school age children have a check up with their doctor at least every two years, though it probably makes sense to have girls see their physician within the first six months of starting to menstruate. While the doctor is a good place to get some information about puberty, I feel that parents and family are more important in providing guidance during this time. A 20 or 30 minute visit with the doctor is not enough time to discuss the details of puberty and deal with all the questions that may come up.
While most girls tend to talk about this with their mothers, there is no reason why Dad has to be totally excluded from this educational process. It would probably be helpful for you to read a bit about puberty so that you'll understand the stages of development that she is going through, and be able to discuss it if she has questions. It would also be a good idea to identify some female adult that your daughter knows well and is comfortable with, to specifically talk with her about puberty and menstruation. Additionally, the time to do this is now. It is very helpful if a girl knows what is happening to her body before the changes actually start. A lot of fear, anxiety, and misunderstanding can be prevented in this way.
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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.