From a young age, our children begin to ask us: “Why?” They question us in order to learn and make sense of the world around them. As parents, it is our job to help answer those questions as they come. But of course, questions from young children like: “Why do I have to brush my teeth?” are much simpler to answer than the questions that come as your daughter gets older.
Sex. Drugs. The menstrual cycle.
Talking to your daughter about difficult topics is inevitable. And once it starts, it’ll never stop. The good news is that while it may never get less awkward, it does get easier with age. In the meantime, there are several tips to remember to make hard conversations just a little easier.
The Importance of Talking to your Daughter
When it comes to having these challenging conversations with your daughter, it can be tempting to hope that their school will cover all the topics and save you the discomfort. But the reality is that it is important that information about these big topics comes from you. Teens today have access to more information than ever, but that doesn’t mean that all that information is correct or correlates with your family’s values. At this age, they are able to engage with media independently by reading it and interacting with it through research or social media. We have all seen how quickly viral videos can spread false information or dangerous trends. Teenagers are also at a stage where they are beginning to value their friends’ opinions over their parents’. This is why it is so important to have these conversations with your teen as early as possible.
Many preteen and teen girls may feel nervous about talking to their parents about difficult topics. They may feel ashamed of their questions or fear that they will get in trouble for actions they may have taken in the past. This fear can lead to secret-keeping or seeking out information from other sources. As parents, we want to protect our children and help them make good choices, but sometimes in our efforts to help them make those choices, we can be reactive or judgemental. Create an understanding with your daughter that she can come to you with questions about anything, and you will figure out the answers together. By having open and honest conversations you build a foundation of trust and communication which can help encourage your daughter to come to you when she has big questions instead of Googling and finding answers from questionable sources.
It Happens to Everybody
All girls develop differently. Some may have their first period as early as 9, others as late as 16 – and emotional development is another ballgame altogether. Talking to your daughter about these changes is paramount in providing her with healthy support. When discussing mature topics, it can be useful to:
- Strike preemptively. As frightening as it may be for the parent to bring up private subjects – periods or sex, for instance – it would be infinitely more frightening for your daughter to discover them on her own.
- Laugh about it. The conversation is equally awkward for both parties. By injecting humor into the situation and not taking it too seriously, you let your daughter know that it is okay to approach you with difficult topics down the line.
- Share your values. Let your daughter know where you stand on issues and explain why you hold certain values. If you want her to be respectful of others’ differences, for example, explain why you value tolerance and acceptance.
- Don’t judge. Self-discovery is an inextricable part of growing up. As long as your daughter doesn’t engage in dangerous behavior, you don’t have to micromanage her every action or overreact. Yes, there will be interest in boys, but it’s not the end of the world. Instead, be available for your daughter to reach out to for support.
- Find out what they know. Ask your daughter what they’ve heard, or if their friends at school are talking about something. Answer questions simply and directly, but try not to over-explain in a way that might cause them to be overwhelmed or overly anxious.
- Create a safe space for discussion. Acknowledging that these topics are hard to discuss, even for adults, can help your daughter feel that you are meeting her at her level.
- Listen. As a parent, it may be tempting to constantly provide your opinions when talking to your daughter. However, by interrupting, you might shut your daughter off from being candid.
- Admit when you don’t know something. As kids move into the teen phase, it’s okay for them to see that their parents may not have all the answers. You can tell them, “I don’t know. Let’s try to find out more.”
- Be honest, stay positive, and have fun. While talking to your daughter might not be the simplest task, with a good attitude and loads of compassion, you will make the most out of the situation and your daughter will be all the more grateful for it.
- Get her to consider solutions. Teens can be cynical, but they can also be idealistic. If anything is going to get better, it’s this generation who’s going to do it. Show her that you trust them for the job. Ask, “If you were in charge, what issue would you solve first and why—and how would you do it?”
Addressing the tough stuff makes your daughter feel safer, strengthens your bond, and teaches her about the world. And when you show them how to gather and interpret information, ask questions and cross-check sources, she can become a critical thinker.
While talking with your daughter is important, there might be things you find really difficult to talk about. This could be because of your own background or your cultural and religious values. Or it could be because the tough topic affects you also, like divorce or a traumatic event in your past. In this case, you could consider talking to a mental health professional. A clinician can help you process your feelings around the topic and give you strategies for approaching the topic with your daughter. In some situations, family therapy can be a helpful tool for having difficult discussions.
Family Therapy During Residential Treatment
Asheville Academy provides an opportunity for families to reconnect and come out of the experience stronger than ever before. Each week you’ll take part in a family video conference session with your child and their therapist to discuss their progress and identify potential opportunities for improvement. This will strengthen the positive impact of the therapy on the family dynamic, heal old wounds and build healthier means of communication.
At Asheville Academy, our family systems approach supports families by:
- Removing everyday stressors during your child’s time with us.
- Improving communication with the entire family through your child’s daily therapeutic work and family therapy.
- Bringing the entire family to campus during our quarterly family seminars.
- Offering a flexible visit schedule. Families can pre-arrange visits to campus on our flexible visit schedule to accommodate appropriate dates and times.
Creating growth in the home is important to our students’ successes during and after their time at Asheville Academy. While our students are immersed in the therapeutic environment at AAG, additional family services are in place to help parents and other family members grow alongside their child. The services that are offered include weekly webinars, weekly parent-to-parent support and skill-building calls, and individualized extra support included when the child’s primary therapist identifies this as a need.
We offer these extra services because it is important for our parents to feel supported and prepared for their child to return home, and for our families to develop the skills to support their child. The webinars teach parents a skill that the child is learning at AAG or a specific parenting skill that families can practice on visits or calls with their child. These webinars are followed by a parent support call, where parents work together to practice the skill taught on that week’s webinar and discuss common experiences at Asheville Academy.
Asheville Academy Can Help
Struggles show up differently for many students. The tell-tale signs are children being reserved or isolated in their room and no longer engaging with the family; anger outbursts or engaging inappropriately with family, refusing school, anger outbursts or panic attacks at school, self harm, suicidal ideation in the past (stabilized now), difficulty understanding social situations (losing friends, disinterested in friendship, hyper-aware and anxious about friendships or social situations, loss of interest).
If your daughter is struggling with her self esteem or has started to act out during her tween years, just talking to your daughter probably won’t do the trick. Asheville Academy, a therapeutic boarding school for young girls ages 10-14, can help your daughter get back on the right track.
For more information about Asheville Academy, please call 800.264.8709 today!