Sex, sexuality, and associated bodily functions have long been taboo subjects. A friend of mine recounted a now hilarious tale about how her father would without fail change the TV station every time a sanitary towels advertisement came on. I mean always which sometimes meant panicking as he looked everywhere for the remote and everyone else pretended to be heavily engrossed by imaginary things happening on the walls and ceiling of their living room.
Refuse to be a grown man in a tizzy because of a sanitary pads ad. It is exceedingly important that you have this conversation with your daughters which is not to dismiss the importance of doing the same with your sons as well. Here are some ways to talk to your child about periods.
Check your own opinions about periods
As has been pointed out, in the history of talking about periods there are all sorts of pejorative words, most notably ‘the curse’. Most people were not lucky enough to be on the receiving end of the conversation you are thinking of having and for that reason internalized negative societal views about women and their bodily functions. Begin by examining your internalized views on menstruation so that you don’t transfer any of that negativity and shame to your child.
This will also help you develop a healthy tone. Tone plays a key role in how your daughter will identify with her body and menstruation. Aim to be positive, yet realistic.
Talk about periods early on and often
Some girls get their periods around 12, others as late as 16, and others as young as 8 years old. For this reason, it is important to talk about it early so that they are informed before it happens. The earlier you start talking about it, the better.
Avoid saving it all for one big chat. Instead, casually introduce the topic of periods and hormones often in everyday life. A big sit-down chat can be overwhelming and tension-filled both for you and them. It can also place too much importance and too much pressure on something that is normal and natural. Talk about it when you see an advertisement or when they ask a question about it. Get in the habit of casually talking about your period yourself. You could say something like, “my period is due that week, I better schedule some time to rest.” Normalize such conversations in front of your child(ren).
Many small conversations help normalize menstruation, remove any awkwardness, and let her know that she can approach you on the subject whenever she wants, no major planning or sit-down required. You can also use this as a starting point for talks on sex, consent, and more.
Tell her what to expect and avoid euphemisms
Aunt Flo. Time of month (TOM). The red scare. Shark week. The curse. Girl flu. Monthly friend. Bad days. Bad times. Code red. On the rag. Untouchable.
All these euphemisms and more exist because we have been taught and conditioned to view menstruation (and by extensions ourselves on our period) as dirty, shameful, and taboo. Avoid all euphemisms. Call it a period. Say it loud and proud so that they do not associate it with any feelings of shame, and uncleanness. The same goes for other body parts. Use the words vagina and uterus instead of any slang phrases or euphemisms.
Tell her it’s normal to feel nervous. Communicate that it is natural and there is nothing to be worried or ashamed about. Clearly explain things like PMS (premenstrual syndrome) and what other women experience, communicating that she may experience all, some, or none of them. PMS affects about 75% of women.
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Symptoms of PMS include
- Bloating and weight gain
- Problems sleeping
- Mood swings
- Appetite changes
- Cramps in the lower belly
- Pimples and acne breakouts
- Tender breasts or swelling
- Vaginal discharge which is usually yellowish or white
- Joint and muscle pain
Letting her know what is normal and to be expected will go a long way in easing her mind as well as making it clear when something is wrong, such as extreme cramps that she can then let you know about. Not knowing could lead to assuming things that are not normal are normal. Try not to focus too much on the negative symptoms.
Show her how to use the different sanitary products
The most common sanitary products are disposable pads and tampons. Others include reusable cloth pads and menstrual cups. Explore different period supplies together, including them in the entire process of selecting and purchasing.
Teach her how to properly use the different sanitary products. Be as hands-on as possible. If they are disposable products, show her how to dispose of them. Talk about how often she might need to change the sanitary product and the importance of doing so.
Also, consider teaching her how to track her periods, to remember signs and dates before her next menstrual cycle begins. This allows her to be mentally and physically prepared.
To track her period, your daughter should make a note of:
- The date she first sees blood each month (this helps tell how long her cycle is)
- How long she bleeds for
- Whether she is in any pain and how bad the pain is
- What other symptoms such as acne or tender breasts appear
- How heavy her flow is
- Whether there are blood clots larger than a quarter (which may indicate the need for a doctor’s visit)
Make a period bag for/with her
Keep some pads or tampons or her preferred product and spare underwear in a small bag which she should carry in her school bag every day. This way if she unexpectedly gets her period, she is prepared and will not be forced to suffer the embarrassment of staining or being forced to wear unclean underwear until she gets home.
Share some hacks for coping with periods
Women have been using various hacks to get through the discomfort and pains of periods including:
- Having a heating pad to ease cramps. 7 Benefits Of Hot Water Bottles
- Carrying a spare pad or tampon at all times when leaving the house.
- Nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium can reduce the severity of pain.
- Avoiding refined carbs and processed sugar during your period instead eating lots of vegetables, protein, and healthy fats.
- Practising good stress management such as meditation.
- Take a pain killer if there is pain or cramping.
- How to make a pad out of toilet paper when you don’t have any supplies at all.
Answer all the questions raised
If you are a mother, you have no doubt had several periods and can speak from experience. Connect your responses to your own personal experience and stories in a relaxed conversational way. Let your child know that there are no stupid questions, and nothing is off-limits. Try to recall how confusing it likely was for you and all the conflicting information she may have picked up from everywhere. Answer them as openly and honestly as you can.
If you are a father, educate yourself on the subject first and be ready to answer her questions. If you feel it would be helpful, call in a female friend or relative who your daughter trusts with her permission to offer answers based on her experience.
Get the men in your family involved
When you talk about puberty with your sons and their changing bodies, talk about girls’ bodies too. Explain what menstruation is in clear, concise language avoiding the use of any euphemisms. Emphasize how normal and natural it is. Encourage empathy and understanding so that your child is not one of those pointing at girls and laughing about blood stains or being derogatory about menstruation. Actively teach them to be gentle, kind, and thoughtful about it. Keep things positive and answer their questions enthusiastically, patiently, and honestly.
Younger children may come across your sanitary supplies and ask questions, this is an opportunity to open the discussion. Answer them honestly, explaining in a way they can understand what periods are and what that tampon they’re holding, or pad is and what it’s used for. This openness when they are young makes them understand that you are open to their questions and that they can come to you and you will be honest with them.
Get the father involved as well. Even if they’ve never had a period, they can share their experience of puberty and its attendant bodily changes for men. They know what it is like to deal with the embarrassing bits of poverty. You also want to create an environment in which your daughter can comfortably speak to her father about period-related things like needing sanitary supplies among others.
Check out Foods to eat and those to avoid during your period
Health: Managing Period Pain