Skip

Probable precocious puberty. Now what?!
July 28, 2014 5:54 PM   Subscribe

It's more than likely my 5 and a half year old daughter is undergoing precocious puberty. Now what?

She has a doctor's appointment next week for a bone age test and based on that a referral to an endocrinologist. She has all the symptoms: underarm hair (plus the accompanying body odor). Pubic fuzz. Coarse hairy legs. Breast buds. She is big for her age (67lbs) and 4ft 1 inch tall but not at all fat. She is more muscular and is very athletic.
I've done the research about the medical aspect of it - how she can be given medications to counter the estrogen etc etc..my concern is more with the social aspect of it.
Oh, and she has an autism diagnosis (high functioning but significantly socially impaired)
She's totally not aware of what is going on, and probably isn't understanding anything I've been trying to explain to her (because of her diagnosis).
My questions and concerns are all over the place:
1. How can I help her understand what is going on with her body?
2. She's 5. She has underarm hair and BO. I've started using the crystal deodorant on her (to combat the BO) but her underarm hair is quite visible. (it's summer and she's wearing tank tops and taking swimming lessons). I cant imagine shaving a 5 year old! (she's black so the hair is VERY noticeable. The pubic hair is easier to cover since she isn't cavorting around naked.)
3. How do I protect her from those that may take advantage of her? She's 5 in a 12 year old's body trapped in a 3 year old's mind.
Any ideas, resources etc that can set my mind at ease? Also any treatments I should avoid or push for? This is all new to me.
Thanks
posted by ramix to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I use social stories to explain things to the kiddo with autism I do habilitation and respite with, for example, keeping clothes on in a public place. They have pictures and simple language geared toward that population. I know there are ones out there to explain puberty; you could always leave out the parts that are not applicable to her because of her age. I read it every day I work with him to reinforce the message.
posted by lemonwheel at 6:09 PM on July 28


I went through puberty very early. Not five years old, but about 7/8 years old. It was kind of embarrassing to have my third grade teacher pull me aside and tell me to tell my mom to buy me a bra. But tell I did and off we went to buy my first bra, a C-cup no less. The next year, I started menstruating. So I can very much sympathize with what's happening with your daughter.

1. Googling around, I found this book, The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Younger Girls that might help with your first question. It's meant for 9 year olds, but if you read it to your daughter I think it will help her understand some of the changes she's going through. Wish I had had a similar book when I was growing up. My mother avoided discussing the subject with me, or talked about it with other people then told me about those conversations, which embarrassed the hell out of me.

I would keep talking and talking and talking and talking to her about these things. After all, kids learn by repetition, right?

2. This is not necessarily an abnormal state to her. I mean, it is something she's going through, just like any other change that comes with growing up. She is not growing up too soon, she's growing up soon enough. I'd try not to make it about a strange, abnormal thing that needs to be stressed over. (Of course, I am not a doctor and you should absolutely follow the recommendations of your pediatrician because there can be medical issues associated with early-onset puberty and the autism definitely complicates things here.)

3. I can't speak much to the ways in which you can keep her safe. At five years old, she is still pretty much continuously supervised, right? And because of the autism, that state will probably continue for quite a while? Still, I think talking to her about what we all should be talking to kids about--good touch/bad touch, talking about others' appropriate/inappropriate behaviors--is not out of bounds at this, or any, age.

You have a tough row to hoe, but it can be done. Good on you for making learning about this a priority and not burying your head in the sand.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 6:21 PM on July 28 [5 favorites]


Hopefully this will help you feel a bit better: I started going through puberty at around your daughter's age -- started wearing deodorant by six, had full body hair by seven, and by nine was menstruating and wearing a 36B. I was also tall and strong for my age growing up. Your daughter seems like she's on a similar physical timetable. The good news is, by ten I had stopped growing, and eventually the other kids caught up. I'm 5'6, a healthy weight, physically unremarkable to be honest -- the physical maturity and growth didn't go haywire or anything! Hopefully the same will be true of your daughter. It's what I would bet on, based on my experience, for what that's worth.

1. How can I help her understand what is going on with her body?

What does she need to know about? I would just be very up front and concrete with her, and try not to over-explain. When I started wearing deodorant, for example, my parents told me it was to keep me from smelling bad and just insisted I put it on in the morning just like I had to put lotion on my face and put on all the regular clothes. They also told me I had to do X number of strokes of the deodorant on each armpit, and so I just counted out loud. It was not a big deal. Your daughter is probably used to you telling her what and when to eat, when to take a bath, etc. The new parts of the grooming routine (wearing a bra, putting on deodorant) aren't necessarily different or more alarming or more meaningful than any of the old parts of the grooming routine that she's used to.

If you want to give her more information on the changes she should still expect to come (such as starting her period) so that she'll know what to tell you about/get help with, then I would try to keep that information very light and abstract/dry. Hearing that you're going to spontaneously start bleeding for days on end is pretty scary and I'm not sure there's really a way to prepare her for that so that it won't be. When does sex ed start in her school? For us, it started in first grade. If you have a good relationship with her teacher(s), it might be good to ask about how that stuff is covered in school.

2. She's 5. She has underarm hair and BO. I've started using the crystal deodorant on her (to combat the BO) but her underarm hair is quite visible. (it's summer and she's wearing tank tops and taking swimming lessons). I cant imagine shaving a 5 year old! (she's black so the hair is VERY noticeable. The pubic hair is easier to cover since she isn't cavorting around naked.)

I don't think there's any reason to shave her. Have the other kids made fun of her or anything? I went unshaved until about sixth grade, am very pale with black hair -- so it was very visible, and it was an issue exactly once. If she *wants* to shave or the other kids are starting to shave (maybe in middle school?) then by all means teach her. If the deodorant doesn't do enough for BO control and you want to try shaving her armpits, then you can just explain it similarly to how you explain starting the deodorant and teach her or shave her armpits for her. I definitely wouldn't shave a child's legs, and I honestly think it would be bizarre for an elementary schooler to have shaved legs in any case.

If you get to the point where other kids are shaving their legs (sixth, seventh grade maybe), and she's not having any of it or can't be relied upon to do it, and you really think it's important for her socially, then there are a ton of options (sugaring, etc) so that she can have hairless legs without either of you having to shave them. That's not something that I personally think is even worth considering as long as she's in elementary school, if ever, so not for years and years at least.

3. How do I protect her from those that may take advantage of her? She's 5 in a 12 year old's body trapped in a 3 year old's mind.

Tell her very explicitly what parts other people may or may not touch. Make sure that she always either has a buddy with her or that the adult responsible for her is with her, when she's in public. Even if she's just with you in a store or some other fairly safe place, keep her near you. Honestly, people *will* see she's vulnerable because she's young, female, and immature, and likely someone *will* come onto her inappropriately. Did you ever follow "girl code" when you were out with friends -- make sure that they never get cornered or distracted by strangers, go to the bathroom in a group, etc? Basically, you have to follow "girl code" with your daughter. That might not be enough, but it *would* have been enough to protect me, and it's a good first step. I guess the important thing is to realize that even though you know that she's not a sexual/mature adult yet*, that's not necessarily how she'll look to others. Not being naive is the most important thing, though, and it sounds like you're already at a good place with that.

*And being physically precocious doesn't necessarily mean that she'll be sexually precocious, even in terms of her desires. In my experience, at least, that tends to track more with how emotionally mature a child is, rather than how physically mature a child is (at least until adolescence/tween- or teenage). So I don't think there's any need to get worried about *her* being too sexually precocious, at least in the absence of any specific signs of that.
posted by rue72 at 6:23 PM on July 28 [6 favorites]


Please do not conflate physical maturation (early onset at that) and 'growing up'. That caused the most issues for me because I knew exactly what grown up meant and violently hated the thought of it (because I was a child). The desire to use euphemisms is understandable but can lead to significant blurring of meaning - such as 'grown up' being used as a marker for ability to do something (like sex and having babies) then being applied without thought to a child going through the extended process of puberty. It lead to a bunch of conflicting issues too - "you're growing up now" and "children aren't allowed to do X".

And on the inside, yes it was 'too soon' because I was not emotionally or intellectually capable of dealing with the way it changed people's perceptions of me. If I'd had a less emotive and more scientific understanding that might have helped, but what I had was mostly drowned out under 'you're a woman now!' rhetoric tinged with grossly inappropriate sexualisation.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:26 PM on July 28 [5 favorites]


We just got a copy of "it's not the stork" which is aimed at 4 year olds. That and "perfectly normal" have good text and illustrations that are cartoony but accurate enough to explain the body and changes of puberty.

I would suggest asking for a referral to a therapist who has had similar clients, not necessarily to go to now but so you can if you need professional help.

Can you switch to short sleeves? Rash guards are usually short sleeved and make cute swim suits paired with bikini bottoms.

If the underarm hair bugs her, I would seriously ask your family doctor about a Valium plus waxing over frequent shaving. But only if it bugs her.

I have friends with kids who for various reasons look much older than they really are. It's expectations from strangers, even teachers for a maturity and understanding that isn't possible so the kid frustrates people by 'acting young' even though it's completely unfair.

They've dealt by emphasizing the child stuff - babyish clothes, bringing kid toys and books along and reminding people how old the kid is. With teachers, talking to them directly that "Sam is six, even though he seems older, and he's not ready for more responsibility in class, etcetera."

And the sexualised part is hard. She will set off creepy radar as a vulnerable child, so your best protection is to trust your gut, supervise her and have her feel comfortable talking to you about her body and people's interest in her.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:05 PM on July 28


I was also tall and strong for my age growing up. Your daughter seems like she's on a similar physical timetable. The good news is, by ten I had stopped growing, and eventually the other kids caught up. I'm 5'6, a healthy weight, physically unremarkable to be honest -- the physical maturity and growth didn't go haywire or anything!

Just wanted to second this. I didn't go through puberty early, but I was always much taller and older-looking than my age group, and it would have meant the world to me if my parents or other adults had reminded and reassured me that the other kids would catch up soon enough.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:21 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Also, you can get tops with shelf bras in them - basically tank tops with soft sports-bra like linings that are comfortable for A-B cups and don't look like a bra, just a regular top - maybe an XS size?
posted by viggorlijah at 8:40 PM on July 28


I once knew a girl who started having periods at 7 years old. Doctors gave her some med and she cleverly kept taking it until she was 17. We were all very jealous - not of the 7 of course, but of the 17. All those years missed!
posted by Cranberry at 10:54 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


It occurs to me that this could actually be a source of pride for her, if you present this right. You can tell her that she's growing up faster than other kids, so she has to do some of the stuff grown-ups do, like wear deodorant. Even that doesn't have to be a shameful, cover-your-stink thing, you can frame it as, "This is something grown-ups always do, to smell nice." If she ever feels like she's falling behind the other kids, you can remind her that she's actually more grown-up than they are, in some ways.

I am not a parent or any kind of expert on kids, and it could be that this is all horrible advice. (I can see it backfiring if, for instance, she thinks her grown-up armpit hair is so cool that she starts taking off her shirt at school to show it off. I mean, she's 5, and 5 is a crazy age.) But I do think there may be ways to present this to her so she thinks it's a nice thing, instead of scary or gross.

I also wonder if there could be some way to give her a choice in some of these decisions. Maybe you could tell her that armpit hair is something grown-ups have but kids usually don't, so it's up to her if she wants to shave it off and look more like other kids, or leave it and look more like a grown-up lady. I would not recommend shaving a kid normally, but if you presented it to her like that and she had a really strong opinion, that could be good to know. If she was like, "In that case, Mother, I want this cockamamie hair off of me now," it could be a good idea to bust out the Remington.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:57 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]


About the shaving:

I went through puberty in the middle of elementary school, and I started getting very noticeable leg and armpit hair. I desperately wanted to shave it because I didn't like looking so different from the other kids (and yes, they commented on it), but my mother wouldn't let me because to her shaving was something older women did to look "sexy," and was therefore inappropriate for young girls.

Her instinct to keep from sexualizing me too young, while it came from a good place, caused me so much unnecessary stress. I just wanted to keep looking like the other kids, but instead I spent a couple of years as the only kid in long pants in extremely hot weather to avoid being teased. I was also literally the only girl or woman I knew with such wildly hairy legs, since the other kids didn't have noticeable leg hair yet and the women I knew all shaved it.

So if your daughter does express desire to remove the hair in the future (even if she's not bothered by it right now, in a few of years she might be), I would encourage you to help her, even if the other kids her age haven't started shaving yet. I definitely wouldn't tell her she NEEDS to shave, but if she becomes interested in doing it on her own I would be supportive. Try to think of it as a non-sexualized grooming activity like getting a haircut. It's ok if she shaves earlier than the other girls because she grew body hair earlier than they did. No big deal.
posted by insoluble uncertainty at 12:22 PM on July 29 [4 favorites]


« Older My dog just had an accident in...   |  I need your job advice... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments



Post