If you’re like me, having ‘the talk’ with your kids is not on your list of top things you look forward to as a parent. It’s tempting to put it off as long as you can, keep it as brief as possible, and pray your child never brings it up again. Though we may feel this way, I think most of us will admit we recognize this isn’t the best way to educate our kids about sex. There are lots of brilliant articles and useful advice out there about how and when to talk to your kids about the birds and the bees, so I’m not going to do that. I want to focus specifically on periods.
What’s the point of talking to kids about periods? Well, there are many benefits to discussing this topic with your children. Here are just a few.
1. Help your daughters to be prepared
The average age of menarche, or a girls first period, is around age 12 in the US. This means some girls get theirs even younger – and this is not something she’d want to have be a surprise! Having calm, open discussions about what she can expect as she grows will help her to more confident, more prepared, and less embarrassed when her first period arrives. Periods will probably be part of her life for several decades. Her first cycle should be cause for celebration! Setting the tone and helping your daughter have a positive view of menstruation could affect her relationship with her body for years to come.
2. Help your daughters and your sons to be more courteous and understanding.
Kids can be cruel, especially in middle school when many girls are in the full swing of puberty. All of us, but especially children, may have a tendency to react to confusing or uncomfortable issues by ridiculing them. Puberty and all the awkwardness that goes with it makes an easy target.
If we introduce kids (especially boys!) to the idea of periods while they’re still young, it becomes a normal, mundane bodily function rather than a ‘weird’ or ‘gross’ new concept to be made fun of. By observing their mother’s experiences, they can cultivate compassion and understanding about the female body. Then, instead of teasing the girl who had an accident at school, our kids could be the ones to step up and offer their sweatshirt for her to wear. Changing the culture around periods can start one kid at a time.
3. Help your daughters to be healthier, physically and emotionally
Periods will be part of your daughter’s life for a long time. Helping her to be comfortable about discussing them can help her to be healthier and happier in the long run. Is she willing to come to you with questions? Would she be too shy to tell her doctor if she thought something wasn’t right? Boosting her confidence about periods will not only enable her to talk about them freely, but educating her (and yourself!) about cycle health can help you both to be advocates for her health. For example, did you know that irregular periods are actually a typical part of teens’ bodies maturing, and medication to ‘regulate’ them is unnecessary? Or did you know that while common, period pain isn’t actually normal?
Learning about cycles and discussing your experiences together can help set up a lifetime of body literacy and self-advocacy. Self-care, and the understanding of family and friends, is vital when navigating the mood and energy changes that naturally occur throughout the cycle.
Not sure how to begin? Well every family and every girl has different needs, but there are some general tips to help you start these conversations.
- Don’t just have ‘the Talk’, but have many open-ended conversations. Start a little at a time, no need to overwhelm both of you with a comprehensive explanation of all female sexual development. Let your kids know it’s okay to ask questions.
- Period education can happen naturally in daily life. Instead of hiding your menstrual care products, sneaking around, or pretending you feel great when you really want to crash on the couch with a hot water bottle, let your kids observe how periods are part of your life. You don’t have to make a bit deal about it or turn every circumstance into a teachable moment, but simply allowing your children to observe how life happens can go a long way.
- You don’t have to know everything. Depending on our own memories, experiences, and wounds regarding this topic, we may have varying levels of trepidation. That’s okay. It’s also okay not to have the first clue how to talk to your kids about periods. Examine your feelings, talk with your girlfriends, read some articles or books. Ask for advice. Mess up and start again. Your authenticity and good intentions will speak volumes to your children.
So what are your feelings about telling kids about periods? Have you done it? How did it go? Share your stories below!
Written by Rebecca Menning of Wellspring Fertility