If you think tough conversations with girls don’t start until middle school, think again. 

My 10-year-old daughter, who is in fifth grade, is already curious about puberty, body image, self-esteem, and sex. It used to be that parents broached these subjects in middle school. Not anymore. Girls are physically maturing faster and moms and dads must be ready.

So what can you do when your daughter starts showing signs that she’s not your little girl anymore? 

1. Ask Questions

It’s the first rule of parenting that becomes so important when your child enters the teenage years. Teenagers notoriously don’t talk. That doesn’t mean you should stop trying to get them to open up. Ask open-ended questions to engage them. But remember, there’s a fine line between talking and nagging.

2. Don’t Assume You Know Your Daughter

I was shocked when my daughter said she was overweight. She had never worried about her weight before. Where was this coming from? Your tween daughter is not the same person you walked to kindergarten. She’s likely having thoughts and ideas that might surprise you.

3. Pay Attention to Visual Cues

I noticed my daughter’s ripped fingernails and her dry hands. Those visual clues prompted a conversation that helped me discover some phobias she had about germs (cause of excessive hand washing) and anxieties she was experiencing as a result of school (reasons she was picking her nails). 

4. Don’t Ignore Statements Your Daughter Makes About Herself

When you daughter says she’s fat, not smart, or not well-liked, your first reaction might be to say “don’t be silly.” Because you believe she is perfect, so to you those fears are silly. But to her they are very real. These statements are prime openings to ask questions about why she feels the way she does. 

5. Don’t Hover

Teens crave independence. Your tween daughter is preparing for this when she starts closing her bedroom door or engaging more with friends than parents. Hovering isn’t going to stop the behavior. It could actually encourage it.

6. Show That You Value Her Input

As your tween gets older, look for ways to include her opinion. Whether it’s clothes shopping, chores, or dinner conversations about current events, a great question to ask is, “What do you think?” 

7. Listen

Whether she’s sharing a funny story from school or a frustrating experience, open your ears — and mind — and hear what your daughter has to say. Don’t quickly jump in with solutions. She may just want you to listen.

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