What is a period?
Puberty is an important developmental stage during which your child’s body goes through a series of changes to become an adult’s body, capable of reproduction. For boys, it usually happens during the ages of 9-14. For girls, it can be anytime between 8-13 years old.
One of the milestones in a girl’s puberty is her menstruation, also known as having her period. It’s important to help our kids—both girls and boys—to understand more about periods as a normal part of a woman’s life.
It is important to start talking to your daughter about her first period before it happens, so that she can be better prepared for it. The average age that a girl experiences her first menstruation is 11-12 years old. A good gauge as to when to introduce this topic to her is around the time her body experiences physical changes, such as when her breasts are beginning to develop, which is typically two years before she starts having her period. She may also experience emotional changes, like sudden and strong emotional outbursts, which could also be signs of the oncoming pubertal changes. Therefore, you may aim to broach the subject of menstruation somewhere between the time when she is 8 to 9 years old.
There are a number of ways you can begin this conversation, but remember that it is not a one-off monologue where you offload all the information you know and your kid does not hear from you about it again. Think of it as a series of dialogues that build on one another in talking to your children about sex and sexuality.
One way to begin is to talk about menstruation in simple, factual terms. Find out what your child already knows about periods, then clarify and add on as necessary. For example, you can explain that in a few years’ time, a girl’s body will start to change, so that she is able to give birth to children and be a mother one day. One sign of this is when she starts having her period every month.
Another way could be to seize on teaching moments and to enter into such chats naturally, say, when a sanitary pad advertisement comes on when you and your kid are watching television. Ask them if they know what that is, and explain to them what it is for. This can lead into a conversation about menstruation.
It is good to convey positivity and excitement—and not fear, anxiety or shame—about this huge milestone, and to dispel any misconceptions about it. Help your child to understand that it is not a taboo, but a natural process in a woman’s body.
This also applies also to your boys. Explain to them that this is a normal part of a girl’s life when she is older, and is not something that is disgusting or to make fun of girls about. Help them to understand that just as their bodies go through several changes during puberty, girls’ bodies go through puberty, too, and menstruation is one of those changes that happens for them.
At this age, you may want to share more information with your daughter, such as practical things she can do when she has her first period, what to expect, what kinds of sanitary pads or tampons to use, what to do if it happens when she is outside the home, how long it will last for, etc. Assure her that she is not injured just because there is blood, so she does not have to be alarmed or worried. And share with her what are some symptoms she might experience during her periods, like the intensity of menstrual cramps, so she knows what else she can look out for
Teach her how to identify and predict the patterns of her menstrual cycles, with tools like a calendar or period tracking app, and how to tell if her period is regular or irregular. This can help your daughter to have some sense of control over her life, during a time when she might be feeling like she’s not so much in control over her own body and emotions.
You can also think about ways to mark this exciting moment with her, for example, by taking her out to a nice dinner to celebrate this milestone in her life. Another idea could be to prepare a gift basket of the essential items she will need or a pouch she can bring to school when she has her period.
This rite-of-passage moment into adulthood also serves as a good opportunity to talk to her about your family values about womanhood. What does being a woman mean? What traits would she like to see in herself as a woman? What values matter to your family in this area?
In addition to guiding your daughter about the physical side of menstruation, you can also be a coach to her about monitoring and managing its emotional aspects. Talk to her about the emotional changes she is experiencing during this time and ask how she is coping with them. Share some effective ways you have learnt to better identify and manage your own emotions and emotional responses to others, and encourage her to try these methods out.
Continue to build on the conversations you already are having with your child about womanhood, sexuality, and relationships. How can she deal with her growing interest in the opposite sex—and their interest in her? What marks healthy friendships and dating relationships? What kind of wife and mother would she like to be? In relation to that, what kind of father would she want her future husband to be? How does that affect her dating choices now?
Talking about periods with your child does not have to be awkward or daunting, but can serve up many wonderful opportunities to discuss with them their hopes and dreams for themselves and the important relationships in their life.
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Check out the Talk about Sex series for more essential conversations with your children.