Having periods is completely normal and the first periods are the beginning of the beautiful journey of growing up. And even though the beginning of the menstrual cycle is a major event in a girl’s life, how many of us had a confident and stress-free first period back in the day? Majority of us were taken by surprise and had little idea about periods and what they meant before the first periods arrived. It is, therefore, important to bring a positive outlook and teach our daughters to own up to their periods without shying away.
Why do you need to have a period talk with your children?
Most girls have their first periods early during their 6th or 7th grade. This time is particularly confusing for them as they navigate adolescence and the changes that their body is going through. Most children learn about menstruation, and everything related to the process from their peers and that, understandably, is not a trustworthy source.
Biology lessons at school too, come much later – around 8th or 9th grade, meaning around 71% of the girls have no idea about what’s happening when they get their first period. Therefore, a preparatory talk about puberty and periods coming from their mothers can not only address any doubts that they have but also remove the fear and stigma around periods.
When should I talk about periods?
Girls rarely have their first periods with their mother sitting next to them. Imagine your daughter at school or out somewhere having a typical day and suddenly noticing blood from her vagina with no idea of what it is. It is a scary scenario for her as well as you, having no one around her to help. Thus, having a period talk beforehand is critical.
When you notice that your child is being grumpy or crying often due to mood swings, sleeping for abnormally prolonged hours, or if she has started budding or experiencing sore breasts, along with the growth of pubic hair, know that her puberty has started1. You may find a white or colourless discharge on her panties meaning that her menstrual cycle is about to start soon. Usually, menarche or first period starts within 3 to 12 months of having this white or colourless discharge. So, this is a good time to start bringing up periods in normal conversations. This can be any time after she is over 8 to 9 years old.
Resources to help you with this conversation
The menstrual cycle is a long and critical concept that cannot be necessarily understood in a single big chat. Knowing about the changes that their body is going through and how to be prepared for it is a huge concept to understand. Don’t try to wait for the “perfect” moment to have this conversation. Your child may get overwhelmed trying to process the information, all at once. Instead, make sure to bring up these topics naturally from time to time to help them understand. Period normalisation is important so that children understand that it is a regular biological process of growing up
You can talk about your first period experience or start involving them in conversations about your menstrual cycle days. Take her along when you are out buying your sanitary napkins to show that it is nothing to be ashamed of. Teach them that buying sanitary pads is as normal as buying groceries and that it doesn’t need to be done secretly.
Talk to your child about the changes that she is experiencing are all normal and a part of puberty. Discuss the possible symptoms of a menstrual cycle that she may face such as period pain- cramps and backache, pimples, sore breasts, mood swings and lethargy, etc. Explain how light exercises during the menstrual cycle days can help ease the pain, however, not being able to exercise during periods is okay as well.
You can also read informative articles about first periods and how to manage them on the internet with her. This way, if she has any doubts, you can clear them right then. Having a period survival kit with the pads for first periods such as Stayfree® Secure Dry or Cottony Regular, an extra set of panties and a bunch of tissues can also be immensely helpful for your daughter. Keep one at home and one in her school bag. It is also crucial that you teach her how to wear a pad on her own and how to change it and dispose of it safely with an emphasis on maintaining period hygiene.
Should you discuss it with your sons as well?
Not talking about periods with our sons and brothers is one of the biggest reasons behind the long-standing stigma. Having periods is a part of growing up as a woman and normalising it is necessary. By discussing periods with your son, you are teaching them to become empathetic brothers and friends right now and understanding partners, husbands and dads in the future.
While school teaches them the biology behind menstruation, it is important to teach them to be kind, patient, attentive and helpful to girls especially during menstruation.
Should fathers be included?
Yes! A father’s role can be of immense help to children during this time. Fathers, like mothers, are the pillars holding the child’s emotional development and well-being. As mothers can speak from their experience, fathers can play a big role in normalising periods. While mothers can teach and physically prepare their daughters for their first period by sharing their own experiences, fathers can help them normalize the period conversation by breaking gender parenting roles.
An average menstrual cycle is between 28-32 days, in which the average number of days that a girl bleeds is 5 to 7 days. This means that a girl has her menstrual discharge for 1 week every month. When having a period is that regular and normal, why should talking about it be treated as taboo?
Having a period talk with our children makes sure that we create an understanding and non-toxic environment that is free of shame. Period talks with teens not only help in normalising periods, but they can also boost their confidence during their growing years. Helping your children understand their bodies will enable them to make the best decisions about their health.