Tips for Talking About Periods

pplm-menstruation.jpgToday, PPLM Parent Education Program Manager Amy Cody shares tips for talking to daughters about menstruation, including advice especially for dads:

“If your daughter is approaching menstruation, you can make the whole process easier and more comfortable for her (and you) by talking to her openly about what it means to have your "period." It's very important to begin to teach girls about the changes their bodies will go through during puberty - and especially menstruation - before they get their first period. But it is never too late to start!
Girls often begin to menstruate between the ages of 9 and 16, with the average age being around 12. You can help your daughter understand what is happening before it happens. While it's important to know about the biology behind menstruation, don't let that be the only thing you talk about. Use language that your daughter can relate to and remember that many girls have concerns about all the little details such as: Will I still be able to swim and do sports? Will it hurt? What do I do about the blood? Why haven't I gotten my period yet when all my friends have it? As well as how starting their period might change their lives and their relationships.

To get you started with your conversations, here are some tips to keep in mind:

Start early. We often think of blood as a sign of something awful. So if your daughter doesn't know what to expect, her first period could be a very frightening experience. Start talking about the changes that take place in a woman's body (using language that is age appropriate) as she matures as normal and healthy.

Take care of the basics. Teach her about what menstruation is and how it fits into the reproductive cycle. You can start with simple concepts (many children are already familiar with the concept of a cycle - such as the water cycle, the cycle of the seasons, a butterfly). Then you can add more information as your daughter grows and asks questions.

Be concrete. While girls need to know why their bodies are changing and what to expect, talking about menstruation as "a passage into womanhood" may be a bit too abstract. Mothers can model what it is like having your period by talking about it when they have theirs (while respecting privacy). Give concrete tips. Your daughter will want to know how to get rid of used pads, how often to change a pad or tampon, what to do if her period comes when she is at school, what to do if she has cramps and how to take care of her clothes if she has a leak. Make sure she understands the importance of changing her tampon or pad regularly. It is also an important time to stress cleanliness and personal hygiene.

Be positive. Menstruation is a part of being a woman. Your positive values and attitude towards menstruation as a normal bodily function can affect her own feelings about getting her period. If your daughter knows that you think it is an important step in growing up, she will have a more positive attitude towards menstruation and will probably be more willing to talk to you about any problems or questions she has. In addition, educating our sons about menstruation can help to develop their positive attitudes about the natural and normal reproductive cycle as well as to let them know that you are a good resource for information about sexual health.

Listen. Your daughter may have some of her facts wrong. There are a lot of myths and negative ideas out there about menstruation. If you listen to what your daughter is telling you, and ask her what she has already learned from her peers, you can help her separate fact from fiction. Peers are an important influence during adolescence. If she gets her period ahead of her peers, or if most of her peers get their periods before her, she may need reassurance that she is fine, that everyone is different and that her time will come.

Help her listen to her body. Your daughter may have a different experience than you did with her period. You can teach her to notice the signs that mean her period is coming and how to deal with any pain or discomfort. You can also help her keep track of her cycle (while you track your own) on the calendar.

Just For Dads

Dads, don't despair! You have an important role to play as well, either as a single dad and the primary parent, or as a partner in guiding your daughter through puberty and adolescence. Menstruation is not just women's business! Whether you like it or not, it's your business too!

  • Read and find out about puberty and menstruation. Get comfortable with what is going to happen. Be ready to answer questions or bring the topic up, if she is comfortable discussing it with you. Your attitude can either open or close doors.

  • If you are a single dad or the primary caregiver, it might be helpful to find some woman that your daughter trusts and is comfortable with to talk with her about puberty and menstruation. It might also help you to have a backup if you have any questions of your own.

  • Check your behavior and your actions. Don't use humor at your daughter's expense. Be respectful - both towards the process of menstruation and your daughter's comfort level in talking with you.

    Source: Sexuality and U: Your Link to Sexual Well-Being: The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada. For more information about menstruation and talking to your daughter about her period, check out these website resources:

    Sweet Secrets. A Girl's Guide to Periods: Everything You Need to Know About Menstruation - Canadian Women's Health Network

    A Guide to Using Your First Tampon - Children's Hospital Boston, Center for Young Women's Health

    A Guide to Puberty and Menstrual Cycles - Children's Hospital Boston, Center for Young Women's Health