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Buying a Bra for Your Preteen

Tips to Make the First Bra a Good Experience For Your Preteen

Remember adolescence? That phase of your life probably wasn't the easiest – it never is. Growth spurts, hormones and first periods are a lot for anyone to handle, and then there's breasts, the most visible sign of a woman's development.

When your daughter starts showing signs of oncoming curves, you may remember all the awkward moments you experienced with your mom while buying your first bra and wonder how you can make it easier for your own daughter. Consider the following insights and tips from health experts and moms who've been there, done that.

1. When and How to Bring It Up

Most girls develop breast buds between the ages of 9 and 13, but some develop earlier or later. Genetics, body weight and ethnicity all play a role in breast development.

"There is no set time to buy the first bra, but young girls often will want to wear a bra when her friends and members of her peer group start donning lingerie," says Aileen McCabe-Maucher, a licensed psychotherapist and registered nurse who has a private coaching practice and counsels teenagers at a nonprofit agency in Wilmington, Del.

"I think it is vital that parents keep the lines of communication open regarding body image, starting when a child is preverbal," McCabe-Maucher says. "Our culture can overwhelm kids with all kinds of mixed and negative messages about their bodies and parents need to counteract unhealthy images and stereotypes by focusing on a child's strengths and inner beauty from an early age. However, it is never too late to start having open and honest conversations with your child about sexuality and body image."

If your daughter seems uncomfortable when you initiate conversations, try bringing the subject up in a casual setting where eye contact is minimal, such as when you're riding in a car or seated side-by-side at a counter.

2. She May Want It Before She Needs It

"I remember being the last girl in my eighth-grade class to get a bra," says Dr. JJ Levenstein, a pediatrician in private practice in Encino, Calif. "I had no breast development to speak of, and yet socially, it was very important to lose the undershirt and acquire the coveted bra. I'll never forget writing my mom a note to beg her to buy me my first training bra."

Even if your daughter doesn't show any signs of breast development, she may start dropping hints that her friends are wearing bras, or that she is interested in wearing one.

"Acknowledge her desire to fit in by taking her shopping," Dr. Levenstein says. "She'll always thank you for that."

3. Set a Positive Body-image Example

Positive body image is an important foundation of self-esteem, self-respect and health – and body image starts to form early in life. Your daughter will learn a great deal about body image from you, so you should be conscious of how you express your own body image, especially during your daughter's development.

"This is a moment when Mother's body image and relationship with her breasts becomes so clear and modeled to a young girl," says Nili Sachs, a psychotherapist and author of the book Booby-Trapped: How to Feel Normal in a Breast-Obsessed World (Beaver's Pond Press, 2003). "My research shows that there is a general feeling of shame and anxiety in women, a need for perfection about their natural and healthy body, that unnecessary shame and anxiety is now permeating the attitudes of our next generation of young girls, modeling after their moms."

4. R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Understand that the first bra is a rite of passage into womanhood, and it's an important, very private part of your daughter's life. So respect her and her body, and keep in mind that you only get one chance to do this right.

"Don't announce at dinner that you're taking your daughter shopping for her first bra; don't announce it in the carpool lane; and don't let her overhear you telling anyone on the phone," says April Masini, author and advice columnist. "Respect this time in her life by letting her be the one to tell whomever she wants to tell."

5. No Big Deal

Your daughter might be thrilled about needing her first bra, or she might be horrified. And every teen will feel differently about talking to her mother about this subject, so play it safe and don't make it a huge deal. And be perceptive to your daughter's cues that she might be ready.

"My daughter is just 8, but she is already developing a little and I thought she needed some support, so I started talking to her about bras," says Sandra Gordon, a mom from Weston, Conn. "She resisted the idea at first, then mentioned one day that she saw that they had bras for little girls at a store we had visited when shopping for underwear and socks. I took that as a sign she was open to the idea, so I went to the Gap and bought her two sports bras. Later that day, I gave them to her and said, 'These are just to have. You don't need to wear them if you don't want to, but I thought you might like a little support." Her daughter has worn a bra ever since.

6. Fit for a Teen

"Having worked in fashion and as a fit specialist for the swimwear industry, I knew that when it was time to buy my daughter's first bra, I needed to take her to a bra fitter," says Genma Stringer Holmes, a mom from Hermitage, Tenn. "I went to Dillards and made sure she was sized and measured properly."

Too often, nervous moms just grab a bra off the rack and go. But with a developing teenager, proper fit and lifestyle are important factors to consider when shopping for the first bra. For example, if your child is active in sports, make sure she is comfortable and properly supported.

"I avoided all the bells and bejeweled bras, and went for what was practical and age considerate," Holmes says. "An 11-year-old does not need a bra from Victoria's Secret – at least that's what I told my daughter."

7. Enlist Help

If your child is overly uncomfortable with bra shopping with Mom, then you can always call for backup. Nancy Kirk, a mom from Omaha, Neb., had her sister take her daughter shopping for her first bra.

"I know it sounds like a cop-out, but it's often easier and less embarrassing to have another woman, like a favorite aunt, deal with body-sensitive issues," Kirk says. "My daughter was shy about discussing her body development – her period, her need for girl stuff – with me, but she could hear everything she needed to know from my sister."

The same approach can also work for single dads facing their daughter's development. "For single dads, I recommend enlisting the help of a trusted female role model, such as an aunt, grandmother or family friend," McCabe-Maucher says.

Adolescence is never easy – for parents or kids. When you use these tips for approaching your daughter about her development and shopping for her first bra, you can help make her transition into womanhood easier and less awkward for both of you.

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