ASK A MOM: Girl talk, boy behavior, and superhero moms
WBTV's Molly Grantham tackles your parenting questions in this ongoing series
Q: My 8-year-old granddaughter lives with us full time, and she seems to be developing early. She has a 19-year-old sister to talk to, but I feel like I should be the one to take to her about puberty. How does a Nana do this without embarrassing her?—Linda
A: To not only help raise young children full-time, but to also care enough to take time to ask this question out of a desire to be sensitive about how a conversation might come off to your granddaughter, makes you one amazing Nana. Kudos to you.
Before we get into what to say, a few facts: According to multiple medical websites, the average age a girl gets her period now is 12 to 13, though it can be as young as 9 or as late as 16. When it happens for each child differs. No child is “weird” or “different” for starting their cycle on the early or late side of that wide range. All girls develop at their own unique pace.
As for exact words, I went to my all-time favorite OB-GYN nurse. Wanda Miles is a straight shot. She helped me through all three of my pregnancies and never minced words. She has since retired from Charlotte’s Bradford Clinic, but to this day takes my texts and calls.
She suggested having your talk away from the house.
“I say that because the child might be wondering who could be listening, or who might just pop into the area when they’re talking,” Miles says. “Once you’re into it, the conversation should first acknowledge how beautiful she is, and how precious she is, and that all people—male and female—have bodily changes as they get older. Ask her if she has noticed if any of her friends are changing, or if her friends have had a ‘girl talk’ about their bodies. She’s only 8, so she may not process it well, but give her enough so she can understand that it’s normal, ask her feeling about shopping for cute bras, and bring up the process of starting her menstrual cycle early.”
For additional overarching advice, Johns Hopkins Medical Center gives this five-pronged approach:
1) Answer questions openly and honestly.
2) Start the talk early. (It recommends by the age of 8, a girl should know bodily changes are ahead.)
3) Talk about menstruation before she gets her period.
4) Make it practical.
5) Offer reassurance.
Find more information here.
Finally, if you’d rather set your granddaughter up with a one-on-one conversation and then give her a book to read, there are plenty of options on the market. A Girl’s Guide to Puberty & Period by Marni Sommer is written in a “pre-teen” voice, has good reviews on Amazon, and is only $8.
Q: My best friend has a daughter the same age as mine (11), and they’ve been very close for years and they’re in the same class this year. My friend’s daughter is the class troublemaker and my kid is not, so her teacher called and suggested my daughter get some space from her BFF. I want my kid to do well in school and obey her teacher, but I feel like this is more about my friend’s child. How do I handle this?—Name withheld
A: Female relationships can be difficult. COVID didn’t help, as our daughters have had more time online with varying levels of social media and less actual interaction with other kids.
In this situation, there seems to be a clear bottom line: A teacher took time to CALL YOU. That teacher gave a recommendation based on what he or she sees six to seven hours a day in school. I’d believe the teacher. That’s a good educator. Sounds like they are trying to help you because your eyes don’t see what they see.
For a more professional take, I took this question to a veteran school counselor who works with elementary school-aged kids, including 10-to-12-year-olds. She reiterated the teacher reaching out is a good sign, and probably means it’s a real issue.
“I would encourage this mom to encourage her daughter to distance herself to a degree from her best friend, at least at school,” says Susan Campbell, who has been a school counselor for 25 years. “Maybe outside of the school ask her to try to be a good influence on the friend. It’s good to be honest with your daughter—even if not fully saying everything to her the teacher relayed, or which teacher relayed it—but letting her know there is concern about how others feel about the best friend, and how the best friend might be making other people uncomfortable.”
Campbell also suggested the mom in this situation probe into how her daughter feels.
“Even though they are best friends, as kids age they sometimes have to distance themselves from people who aren’t good influences on their lives,” Campbell says. “Different roads can emerge. Good childhood friends don’t have to be good friends throughout life. In the end, we all have to do what’s best for us. Ask her, does she feel pressure to hang out with the longtime bestie? Is she afraid NOT to? Does she see the BFF as the class troublemaker? Get her thoughts on it. And remember to tell her, it’s okay if some relationships evolve and change as they grow.”
Q: My tween son is super shy and doesn’t know how to find a friend group at school. He hates sports and clubs so we have him enrolled in karate classes, but none of his classmates go there. How can he make some friends at school so he’s not a total loner in high school?—Name withheld
A: I’m sure you already know this, but I’m going to say it anyway: It’s OK for a boy to not want to kick a ball, bat a ball, throw a ball, or put a ball in a tall basket with a net. It is absolutely, unequivocally OK.
My oldest son isn’t into traditional sports in the same way most of my friends’ sons are, and I agree with you that it can be a struggle to find things for his unique, quirky, fantastic mind. We, too, tried karate. That wasn’t as much of a fit for us, but rock climbing, swimming, and virtual chess club through his school (which turned into in-person chess tournaments) have been successful. As other ideas for you, we’ve also tried cooking classes, music lessons, and art class.
We can’t force things on our tween-aged kids or curate play dates like we did when they were younger, says licensed therapist Juliet Kuehnle, owner of Sun Counseling and Wellness. (Find her on Instagram at @yepigototherapy)
“Knowing that, I want to first affirm to this parent how helpless that can feel,” Kuehnle says. “Both moms and dads can get upset over social relationships for our kids, but one thing I’d want to know from this parent is if it even actually bothers their son. Sometimes we project our own ‘stuff’ or middle or high school experiences on our children, when our feelings and past realities aren’t their reality at all. I’d have a conversation with him, asking open-ended questions, to get a sense of his narrative around friends and belonging. If he gives insight that he’s lonely or bothered, I’d brainstorm and collaborate WITH him. That way there’s buy-in. The buy-in will give a better chance of him following through with whatever is decided.”
Kuehnle also says he may need some coaching on social skills, as they don’t come naturally to everyone. “To make a friend we have to be a friend. If he’s unlikely to take that coaching from you (don’t be surprised by this!), a therapist can help. Role-play can be really great in practicing how to start a conversation and keep it going.”
Q: Molly, I saw you had a workshop on working mom’s struggles. Do you have more scheduled?—Name Withheld
A: I love to speak with groups—especially groups of working women—on juggling, wellness for women in the workplace (hellllllloooooo, mental health!) and, quite simply, to connect with others and help all of us remember that we’re not alone. We’re Superheroes. My 21-month-old son made this known earlier this month when he dressed up like a “working mom” for his preschool “Superhero Day.”
Head to www.mollygrantham.com to put in a request for your group.
MOLLY GRANTHAM is an anchor, author, and mom of three. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram, or catch her on WBTV News at 5:00 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and 11 p.m.