Whilst there is still a long way to go in our culture in learning to appreciate periods and the menstrual cycle, conversation is more open and we as parents can play a big part in changing the narrative for our children.
We can teach them early on the difference between privacy and secrecy, and foster pride rather than shame. And we can play a really active role in preparing them for puberty and periods so they feel supported, held and as ready as possible for the changes ahead.
This is the second article in a three part series looking at how we can prepare ourselves and our kids to traverse the bumpy terrain of puberty and starting periods. Part one looked at preparing ourselves, and in this article we’ll look at how we can prepare our kids for starting periods.
Step One: Get talking!
There’s a golden rule when it comes to talking with kids about puberty, periods, sex and all that stuff we can tend to want to avoid – talk soon & talk often! Teaching young children as early as possible about all their body parts including genitals (using the correct terms rather than euphemisms) builds resilience and body acceptance, and talking openly about periods in your home makes it a normal part of life, not something that has to be hidden away.
Some children will ask about puberty and some never will, so don’t wait until they start asking!
Books are a great way to start the conversation and there are lots appropriate from very young. If your child is already right in puberty, books can be easier for them to ease into than a sudden and possibly overwhelming conversation.
- Talk about how amazing the body is, foster an attitude of wonder – this is definitely easier if you start young but is great at any time – even if it elicits eye rolls – it all goes in.
- Help your child understand what puberty is all about and what changes they’re going through and why, teach them of all the different body parts and what they do
- Reassure them about how awkward and strange it can feel, everyone feels embarrassed and they are changing, which can feel confusing at times
- Tell them about your own experience. If your memories of starting periods are still emotionally charged, talk about how it was generally at that time – how people spoke about periods, what you used (tales of the massive pads we used to use always bring a giggle)
- Start talking about your own period and how you look after yourself – for example, “I feel really tired this evening, it’s the first day of my period and I’m feeling really slow. I’m going to go and have a bath and get an early night, it always helps”.
Step Two: Get prepared
As they start getting closer to starting periods, spend some time with your child looking at period products together. Encourage them to try some on (external only!), talk about how they’re made and how they work. A trip to town to buy a trainer bra or some period products is much more attractive if it includes a special cake and hot chocolate date and one on one time with you.
Encourage them to carry around some pads wherever they go, both for themselves and to help out a friend in need.
- When looking at products together, get some tampons and dip them in water – it’s funny and is a good way to talk about different products, how they work, how much blood comes out and what having a period is actually like
- Talk about what kinds of products they want to use, look up information about all different types of products including reusables
- Speak to school about their period policies, where do they keep products and who is available to help?
Step Three: Reassure
Puberty is a daunting prospect for most kids, and if periods are also on the agenda they may have extra fears and misgivings. Periods are mostly portrayed in a negative light in the media so it’s normal to be nervous about pain, leaking and feeling awful. How you talk about periods and look after yourself is a powerful model.
We don’t need to sugar coat the experience and pretend they’re all sweetness and light – it’s much more helpful to be realistic about the challenges we face experiencing menstruation in a world that’s always trying to cover it up.
Being honest that having your period at school or work is not fun, but that a hot bath in the evening and some self-kindness goes a long way.
- Look at books together about looking after yourself on your period, or about how other cultures celebrate menstruation
- Check out Hey Girls’ My Period cards – they’re a good resource to have in the home and are great conversation starters (we developed them with Hey Girls in 2018 for schools, community groups and families).
- Talk about how you look after yourself, either in the moment or afterwards. For example ‘I have a bit of a crampy belly today because of my period, I’m going to make a hot water bottle and do some stretching’.
We’re excited to share that we have collaborated with Red School to produce a ‘Mothering your daughter through Menarche’ online course! Dive deeper into preparing yourself and your child for menarche, with support and lots of practical advice and resources so you don’t have to do it alone.
Many thanks to S&B Vonlanthen for the wonderful image.