While there is no need for alarm if your child attains puberty earlier than expected, sometimes the child is herself not ready for it. Help her adapt to the changes.
Namya Mahajan, 10, Delhi
Namya Mahajan* got her periods within days of her 10th birthday. The Class 7 student at Daffodils International School in Dwarka was the first girl to do so.
"It was so sudden that even I was not mentally prepared to discuss it with her. She got her periods at school and she came home crying, thinking there was something terribly wrong with her," says her mother Prerna Mahajan, who runs a boutique from their residence in New Delhi's Dwarka Sector 8.
"She was so young that I wasn't sure whether she would even understand the entire thing properly, so I barely broached the topic to pacify her that there was nothing wrong with her," she adds.
The fear of unexpected bleeding was so great that Namya started missing school on days of her monthly cycle. "I feared that I would spoil my clothes and my friends would come to know it. I did not want anyone to come to know. It was as if I was afflicted with some terrible sickness that needed to be hidden," says Namya.
When it started showing in her school performance, her father Anil Mahajan, who supplies surgical equipment to hospitals, took her to psychiatrist. "She literally brought our daughter back from the brink. Namya got her confidence back barely a month after she started interacting with the doctor," says Mahajan.
"Now I realise I should have openly discussed the issue with her. Fortunately for her, another classmate of hers also got her periods the same year that helped her deal with the situation better," she adds.
The good that came with Namya's experience was that she's already discussed the issue threadbare with her 9-year-old sister. "I wasn't prepared, but she must not experience the confusion," says Namya.
- Rhythma Kaul
Misha Mehta, 6, Mumbai
Asha Mehta*, an Andheri-based homemaker, recently noticed that her six-year-old daughter had developed a strong body odour. Concerned, she took the child to a paediatrician.
"He directed me to an endocrinologist," she says. "Through blood tests and bone-age tests, my child was diagnosed with early-onset puberty."
Since she was so young, the doctor recommended a course of hormone injections to delay the onset. "Faced with two disturbing options, we agreed to undertake the expensive procedure," says Mehta.
Misha* now takes an injection worth Rs 14,000 every three months. She will take them till she turns 8. "It's still a small price to pay for her mental well-being," says Mehta.
Over the past five years, however, girls as young as eight have been showing signs of puberty.
"One major cause for this reduction in the age of attaining puberty is the calorie-rich diet and high body-mass index of children today," says Abhishek Kulkarni, an adolescent endocrinologist with Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai. "Not only do these children then face psychological problems such as lack of confidence and taunting by peers, the hormonal imbalance also often leads to stunted height."
"If a girl starts menstruating before the age of eight, it is a medical condition that needs to be tackled with a course of treatment in order to delay the puberty to the appropriate age," says Kulkarni.
* All names have been changed on request