First, some good news:
Having one talk one time is a thing of the past. The reality is that kids learn best when we have lots of smaller conversations over time about how and why bodies develop. So, there’s not so much pressure to build up to one, pass or fail, presumably awkward conversation.
Females can start their periods as young as 8 years old (average is 10–14) and they may experience discharge in their underwear up to a year before their first period. Because of this, it’s helpful to normalize conversations about periods in the years leading up to their first period; according to experts, as young as 4-years old.
In many cases, kids will naturally start to ask questions by age 4 or 5. They might pull a pad out of mom’s purse or see an ad for tampons when watching TV with dad. When your child asks, “what’s that?”, it’s an opportunity to share a bit with them about periods. If they don’t ask, you can use moments like this as a prompt for conversation. For example, when you’re dropping a box of pads in the cart at Walmart, you can check in; “Do you know why I buy these for your mom?”.
If they’re familiar with the term ‘period’ and have heard a thing or two, elaborate on what they already know or correct any misinformation. If they don’t know what a period is, try sharing some honest, simple & direct information.
The goal is to use these opportunities to create a small pool of foundational knowledge that you can build on in a developmentally appropriate way as your child grows — rather than trying to pile on information about what periods are, how they happen, why they happen, how to manage them and what other emotional and physical changes happen because of them all at once.
Keep things honest, simple & direct.
You’re not always going to anticipate the timing or context of your child’s questions and, frankly, they can totally catch you off guard. When these moments come, take a deep breath and focus on how to actually answer the question. Meaning, rather than panicking and trying to avoid the question or coming up with a lie, be honest and direct.
Easier said than done. So, here’s one example:
Child: Mom, what’s a pad?
Mom: Well, every month I bleed a little bit from my vagina. It’s a normal healthy part of having a vagina and it doesn’t mean I’m hurt. The pad catches that blood so that it doesn’t go in my underwear.
Child: Uh ok, why?
Mom: Well, it’s called a period and it’s what allows moms to have beautiful kiddos like you! Pretty cool, huh?
Depending on the age of your child, they’ve probably lost interest at this point. If not, just continue the honest, simple and direct mantra.
Keep the tone of these conversations positive.
Between the ages of 8–14, girls’ confidence levels fall an average of 30%. If you, jokingly or not, come up with alternative names for periods (Crimson Tide, Shark Week, Time of the Month), refer to periods as a curse (even your own) or discuss periods in an overbearingly negative way, kids will internalize this information. Believing that a healthy, normal part of your life is something that should be covered up with code names or is something to dread every month makes having a period feel like a really bad thing. That mindset can impact young menstruators’ self esteem and body image. In addition to keeping the mood positive, we can:
Talk about periods with all kids.
Encouraging young boys to have empathy and teaching them not to tease or shame someone for being on their period can help new menstruators feel more comfortable and confident as their bodies change and develop. With boys, it can be particularly helpful to talk about periods in the context of something they can directly relate to.
Hey, you’ll go through physical changes as you grow up too. Your voice will change, you’ll grow hair on your face and body, you’ll definitely need to start wearing deodorant.
At the end of the day, talking about periods with kids is a way to protect them.
All kids need reliable information about periods to understand their bodies & make good, healthy choices. By creating opportunities for them to ask questions and receive trusted info, you’re low-key encouraging other healthy behaviors like giving young menstruators the confidence to go to the bathroom if they need to during class or ask for the period care products they need. You’re also decreasing the likelihood that your child will bully or be bullied because of periods.
All said, you know your child’s maturity level best and have the power to decide how much is too much or how little is too little. If you’re not comfortable talking to your kids about periods, make sure they have another way to get this information such as asking a family member, doctor, school counselor or nurse to talk with your child or by delivering this information through another medium such as a book, comic or video.
For more support on having tough growing-up conversations with your kids, check out maro parents. For help finding quality first-time period products, meet our partner, Marlow. Marlow creates modern period care products that make that first period (and all the ones after) pain-free.
Photo by Trust “Tru” Katsande via Unsplash