By Kristen Daukas

I have no idea when it happened, but one day, several years ago, I turned to look at my oldest daughter and something was just different. Was it her hair? Was she wearing it in a new style? No.. that wasn’t it. Was it makeup? Had she snuck in to the bathroom and started playing America’s Next Supermodel? Nope.. clear there, too. New outfit? Mismatched outfit? Once again, no. But there was something about her outfit that wasn’t right. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks and my head snapped back in a double take.

I looked again to be sure I wasn’t seeing things, but I wasn’t. But actually, in this instance, I was.

Right there, in the middle of her chest where there used to be nothing, was the difference. Two little peaks had suddenly appeared overnight on my daughter’s body.

Holy cow.

Once all of this processed, I knew what had to happen next.It was obvious we would have to lock her in her room for the next 10 years.

Okay.. so that’s not what we did, but if you’re facing this new phase with your tween, I know what you’re going through. Yesterday, you were picking out the cutest matching outfits at Children’s Place and today you’re hoping they have some secret backroom where you can find all the answers and none of the pushup Wonder Bras that are across the way at Victoria’s Secret.

So what DO you do??

Here are some suggestions:

1. Make it a big deal but not that big of a deal. Definitely take her out shopping but please.. leave the entourage behind. This is embarrassing enough for her without her little brother or sister tagging along. Leave the kids with dad or hire a babysitter. This is you and her kind of day.

2. She probably doesn’t need a “training bra” (I hate that term.. exactly what are we training for??) but she will need a cami or tank top. What we’re looking for is a layer between the skin and her shirt. Freshly forming “buds” are really, really sensitive and you’ll want to help her not feel any more uncomfortable than she probably does.

3. If you want to put her mind (and yours) at ease, visit the lingerie department at a store like Belk, Macy’s or really make it a date and head down to Charlotte and hit Nordstrom. These women know what they’re doing and they’re used to first time customers. Plus what little girl doesn’t feel glamorous and special at a department store like Nordstrom?

4. This one may be hard for some of you.. Ask her if she wants you to go in the fitting room with her and if she says “no”, respect her wishes. I’m sorry to tell you but this is the beginning of when she’s going to want to certain things without you right there. And if it involves body parts, she’s going to be modest and want privacy – even if they were nudists as toddlers.

5. On the other hand, if you haven’t approached the topic of other changes that are on the horizon, now may be the perfect opportunity. If the mood is right and you think it would be welcomed, toe the waters and see what happens. Otherwise, wait for a different opportunity. You should know that once a girl’s breasts start to “bud”, menstruation is typically two years away. If you’re uncomfortable with the conversation, American Girl has a great collection of books that explain to girls what’s going on with their bodies in a non-condescending way.

6. Be prepared for Dad’s reaction. This is a tough pill for a dad to swallow the first time and many of them will resort to making jokes about it because they don’t know how else to handle it. They don’t mean to make jokes, it just happens. So you need to pull dad aside and threaten him within an inch of his life that if he teases her about it, he can plan on calling the sofa home for a long, long time. Same goes for siblings.

7. Keep an eye out for her growth spurts. Once your daughter starts wearing a cami or bra, she’ll need new ones pretty frequently to accommodate her ever-changing body. This is one clothing item that you do not want to try and guess. Always take her with you if you think she’s moving up in sizes.

This is an exciting time for both of you and there are a lot of changes ahead for your daughter. The most important thing you can do is to be there for her, answer her questions honestly and remember that when the hormones and mood swings start soon, no matter what she says or how she acts, she really does love you and needs your guidance. Even if it’s from the other room.

Kristen Daukas is the author of Four Hens and A Rooster and also the founder of Ten to Twenty Parenting – a resource for parents of tweens and teens.