Growing up, talking about periods wasn’t really a thing. My mother and I didn’t discuss menstruation. In fact, I learned the basics from a combination of resources. My preteen friends and I shared what we knew. The female gym teacher gave the dreadful 20-minute lecture in health class. And I read Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
The first time I got my period, I used toilet paper for two days before I worked up the nerve to tell my mother. The next day, a box of maxi pads and tampons appeared underneath my sink, and that was that.
Today, young girls have more resources than ever to help explain puberty, including extensive sex education in schools, numerous book options, and even YouTube videos. Still, it’s a daunting conversation for some parents and girls.
When to Have the Conversation about Menstruation:
Dr. Jennifer Blount, a Chicago-area pediatrician, suggests regularly discussing health and wellness issues with your daughter. Start from the time she is very young, but specifically prepare her for menstruation once her breast buds start developing. That is one of the signs of the first period coming soon.
“Many parents think there is a specific age at which they have to have ‘the talk,’” Blount says. But it’s much more important to identify where your daughter is in her pubertal development. Pubic and underarm hair has more to do with testosterone. Breast development is due to estrogen, which is an indicator of impending menstruation.”
How to Have the Conversation:
1. Recognize that your daughter will be uncomfortable.
Most parents have a more open dialogue with their daughters about puberty than previous generations. Still, some girls are just not receptive to talking about periods. In fact, some girls even actively avoid it.
“Embarrassment is often an endpoint for conversations. You know you have pushed the subject far enough when your daughter is beet red or slightly horrified,” says Dr. Cara Natterson, a pediatrician and collaborator on the bestselling book, The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls. “Let her know that it’s okay to feel embarrassed. But remind her that it’s all a part of life. And you want her to learn about puberty from a trusted resource.”
2. Make it easy on her.
Dr. Natterson also suggests giving your reluctant daughter a few ways to communicate with you to make discussions more bearable. Try holding conversations in the car instead of face to face. You can also take turns writing in a Q&A journal to exchange information. or talking at bedtime in the dark.
“The point is to try to communicate in a way that works for your daughter,” she adds.
3. Share your own experiences.
Another tip is to use your own experiences as a starting point. The most common answer young girls provide when asked if they have any questions is, “I don’t know.” So have personal anecdotes handy can keep it casual. You can help your daughter by saying things like, “When I was your age, it terrified me that I could get mine at school,” or “I worried that it would hurt.” Your stories might even get her talking.
Follow your daughter’s lead.
Remember to take your cues from your daughter. If she is struggling to communicate with you, perhaps throwing an elaborate “Period Party” to celebrate her womanhood may not be the way to go. Instead, consider making a fun date to get your nails done or providing a basket filled with comfort items such as new pajamas, sweet treats, and your favorite book when you were her age.
Keep in mind, the kindest thing may be just to give her some space to process what is going on with her body. Despite a parent’s best efforts in creating an open dialogue, some girls still don’t know how to tell their mother that Aunt Flo has visited. Remember it’s not about you, even though your feelings may be hurt. If your daughter struggles to talk to you, reiterate that you are always there to talk and listen when she is ready.
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