Preparing for periods

KELLY EDEN shares how discussing menstruation with your children can become a normal part of conversation rather than a “special talk”.

When’s the right time to start talking about periods? When I was teaching, the puberty lessons began in Year 7. But with my own girls, I realised that waiting until the tween years was too late. For several reasons, girls are getting their periods earlier now. The average age in New Zealand has dropped to 12 years old, with some girls having their first period at nine. But kids can be reluctant to chat about periods with their parents.

I thought back to how I learnt about menstruation. My dad was a solo parent to three daughters and, as a nurse, he made conversations about bodies as just a natural part of life. He’d take opportunities to answer questions when we asked and he was always brief, informative, and open to more questions. We always had a stack of books about anatomy, including puberty books, around the house. He never had to do a “period talk”, because by the time we were teenagers, we had learnt everything we needed to know.

Adding information here and there in a natural way can start from preschool years. If you answer in a relaxed, factual way, with no embarrassment, they will be much more likely to come to you for answers again.

Getting prepared
Other than plenty of drip-fed information, there are a few ways to prepare your girls for their first period. 

Get a period kit together that they take in their bag to school, sleepovers etc. A couple of pads (remember to show them how to use them), a spare pair of underwear, and a small bag to place soiled underwear in.

Tell them what to expect from a first period and the emotional and physical symptoms they might experience before and during their periods (discharge, spotting, tummy pain, hunger, tiredness, etc).

Facts to discuss once they get their period: 

  • different menstrual blood colours and what they mean
  • smells and good hygiene
  • their cycle and how it will be irregular/lighter at first
  • managing their period: how often to change pads, where to place used pads at home and school, what to do at the pool and night time
  • managing stomach pains and moods
  • start discussing options such as tampons and mooncups
  • provide them with a place to soak stained underwear

Boys need to understand periods, too. Half the population menstruate, and it’s important that periods are not embarrassing or taboo. They are a normal part of life, and our kids need to feel free to ask us questions and get clear answers.

If you need resources, there are many books and YouTube videos available on the topic. Many sanitary companies also have information on their websites.