“I honestly believed I had some disease and was going to die. I was so sure I even penned down a will,” I shared with friends as I recalled the day I got my first period.
We all laughed and shared anecdotes about how periods were such a taboo when we were growing up and how we were taken by surprise. Sure, it seemed funny now, but those small incidents had been traumatic and scary in more ways than one.
“I remember one of the boys in my class brought a pad to school to wipe up the extra paint in art class. The girls were mortified. He believed it was some sort of ‘super absorbent wipe’ he’d found in his mother’s bathroom. The teacher had to call his mother,” one of my friends shared. “They never let him forget that.”
And while we laughed at our past, we felt bad for the little boys and girls we had been.
How had something so natural turned into such a taboo? Were we partly to blame for the awkward way we talked about periods around our kids? Wasn’t it time we talked to our kids about menstruation?
When I asked these questions out loud, all the mothers agreed. These kids would learn from their friends eventually, and we would prefer that they learn from us rather than the internet.
The importance of the period talk: Why you should initiate one
Many parents recommend talking about periods with your kids, especially young tweens, when they’re between the ages of 7 and 9. Of course, having the “period” talk with your kids can be overwhelming.
What do you say? How do you explain ovaries and the uterus to a 9-year-old?
But it needs to be done, and honestly, these children are smarter than we give them credit for.
It is important for parents to understand the importance of initiating a conversation about periods with their kids: both boys and girls. For one, it helps them grasp the biological and emotional changes they will experience during puberty. Plus, the way you approach the subject will also influence how you feel about it.
If you go in awkward and unsure, your child may feel the same—like it’s something to be ashamed of. If you go in proud and confident, telling them it’s a milestone to be celebrated, they’ll feel happy and proud of it too.
Of course, it is also important to cover a few essential areas, like menstrual hygiene, their cycle, and how to manage symptoms like cramps. This conversation can help them prepare for the transition to adolescence and reduce anxiety and confusion.
What do you say to a tween about their period?
So, where do you start?
First and foremost, it is vital that you inform them that periods are totally normal and there is not a “one size fits all” scheme. When you talk about periods, inform your tween about how periods are different for everyone. Make sure to provide basic information about what to expect, including the length and frequency of a menstrual cycle, how to manage bleeding and discomfort, and the importance of good hygiene practises. You can also address any concerns or questions they may have and assure them that this is a natural part of growing up.
Here are some fun ideas that can be an excellent way to approach the subject without turning it into a presentation. Start by introducing the concept and putting yourself in the spotlight.
Ask them to grab a sanitary napkin or tampon when unloading the groceries. They’d naturally be curious and ask what it’s for, which will be your cue to get the conversation started.
You can also share a fun anecdote from when you were young to make them feel comfortable. Alternatively, there is some great content designed to help young girls learn about periods through short videos like this cute animated one by Jean Hailes for Women’s Health.
Watch it together and once done, let them know that you are here to answer any questions they may have.
Pads, tampons or cup?
The next question to address is what to do when they get their period. The choice between pads, tampons, and a menstrual cup is based on.
Pads are worn outside the body, are suitable for light to heavy flow, and are easier to use, which makes them the perfect menstrual product when someone first gets their period.
With a little more experience, she can transition to tampons, which are worn inside the body and are suitable for moderate to heavy flow. Don’t forget to inform your kids about toxic shock syndrome (TSS) and ensure that they understand that it is important to change pads or tampons every 4-6 hours to maintain proper hygiene and prevent the risk of infection.
“Mum, will it hurt?” Talking about period cramps
Be sure to give your tween a heads up about period cramps, also known as dysmenorrhea, from the get-go. Cramps are common during menstruation and occur because the uterus contracts to shed its lining.
It’s also a good idea to have the usual ammunition stocked such as a tub of ice cream, a heating pad, over-the-counter pain medications (be sure to ask the doctor first), and simple breathing exercises and relaxation techniques.
If your child’s period pain is ever severe or accompanied by other symptoms, such as heavy bleeding, be sure to seek medical attention.
Celebrating the first period
Being a tween going through puberty is like walking through a sticky world of cotton candy. It can be fun, but it’s also icky and messy when the candy ends up in your hair. Celebrate the milestone by taking your tween shopping or making a gift basket full of goodies. These can include things like their favourite snacks, a diary to log their period and simply to vent (hello, hormones), and some supplies.
One mum even added little notes for her daughter on the pads to keep her feeling strong and give her the strength she needed to get through those first few months of bleeding!
With so much change around her, it was just the love she needed to get through.
How to help your tween through their first breakup
Parenting a tween? Here’s how to help their confidence thrive
How positive thinking can help build your tween’s resilience and improve their relationships