The early months and years with a baby seem so intense and complex (and they are!) Still, somehow those days start to feel simple as your child ages, and big topics like puberty and first periods begin to loom on the horizon. For some mamas, these conversations feel easy, but discussing menstruation can feel intimidating and awkward for others.
Luckily, period talk is much more normalized and accepted now, but there’s still room to grow. Many of us still have a hard time talking about periods and puberty, even though it’s simply a normal part of physiology. The more we are open with our children, the more likely they will continue to come to us with questions and feel less shame or embarrassment about their own bodies.
Here’s how to talk to kids about periods at any age and gender (and why it’s so helpful to start the conversation early.)
Why it’s important to talk about periods with our children
“Talking about periods with your daughter and helping her feel informed and prepared can greatly reduce anxiety and stress around the prickly topics of periods and puberty,” shares Fiona Simmonds and Sana Clegg, the founders of Pinkie, a puberty brand that makes organic period products specifically designed for tweens and teens. Pinkie’s goal isn’t just to create pads that fit younger children but also to open the conversation and increase feelings of empowerment surrounding puberty and periods.
“An impactful way to mitigate the confidence gap in girls reaching puberty is to arm them with truthful, scientific information about a natural human body process such as menstruation and human reproduction,” they continue.
And the conversation is essential for children of all genders, not just girls. The more we talk about it, the less awkward it becomes and your child may even become more comfortable with their own body.
Some parents also wonder how to explain a period to a boy and if it differs from a conversation with a girl.
“We believe the best way to address topics of menstruation and sex is to stick to the scientific terms to address body parts and bodily processes,” the Pinkie founders explain. “This helps to remove any mystery or stigma from these topics.”
When is the right time to talk about periods with children?
It’s easy to avoid the subject if it isn’t coming up naturally in conversation, but not all kids will bring it up. The reality is that most children will hear things from friends or peers that may or may not be accurate and add to the confusion.
So how do you know when to start the discussion? It depends on your child, their environment, and their curiosity. “There is no right age to bring up topics of periods,” say Simmonds and Clegg.
But if and when you’re ready, use these tips to help start the conversation.
How to talk to kids about periods: Preschool and kindergarten
For younger kiddos, environment or individual curiosity matters (mamas with kids who ask all the questions know this!)
“Some very young children know exactly how babies are made if they have a new baby in their family,” share Simmonds and Clegg. “A younger child with older sisters may also be exposed to period products in the bathroom earlier than a first-born child.”
No matter how it comes up, remain calm and stick to the facts. “Answer the questions without a big emotional reaction,” suggest the Pinkie founders. “Always follow the question with a matter-of-fact, truthful answer.”
Depending on your child, sometimes a simple one-sentence answer suffices—”Yes, mama’s body does this every month, and it’s completely normal”—until they are ready for more complexity.
How to talk to kids about periods: Elementary school
The CDC reports menstruation has been starting earlier since 1995 (the average age is now around 11 years old), with some girls’ first period coming as early as 8 or 9, so elementary school is the age for a detailed conversation. “Our rule of thumb with our own daughters has been around the beginning of 4th grade [age 8 to 9 years old],” says Simmonds and Clegg.
US schools typically start education surrounding puberty around 4th or 5th grade, so beginning around the same time (or slightly earlier) could help your child feel less shame or confusion about changes in their body, or it could help them be more supportive of friends or classmates who may already be experiencing puberty.
“We think the same methodology of asking ‘Where they might have heard the information’ and then responding with a truthful, matter-of-fact answer is the best approach,” suggest the Pinkie founders. It’s more appropriate to gauge their source of information at this age so you can identify anything out of the ordinary, and you become your child’s go-to source for accurate information, they say.
How to talk to kids about periods: Middle school and beyond
By middle school, kids are more likely to become even more private and look to friends or social media for information.
“By middle school, we believe that keeping a weekly, open conversation about your child’s personal life is important,” says Simmonds and Clegg. “A genuine interest in their lives with weekly prods on what matters to them and who is important to them is a good way to seem interested without being overly involved.”
Essentially you want to keep the line of communication as open as possible, so they know they can come to you with questions. Providing books and other educational materials can also help kids feel more empowered to learn about their bodies.
It’s also helpful for all parents of all genders to be involved in these conversations. The Pinkie founders believe this open dialogue can help remove some of the gender-based stigmas associated with periods and create a stronger bond between parent and child.
“We believe it is important for both mothers and fathers to remain approachable on information on the topics of periods and period products,” they explain.
Here’s to raising a generation with less stigma and shame about their bodies
Open conversations may feel intimidating initially, but they are a simple way to make a lasting impact. According to the Pinkie founders, “We believe that removing stigma, misconception and misinformation around periods is extremely beneficial to girls, so they don’t feel embarrassed and view their periods as something dirty or, worse, view themselves as inferior.”
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