Many young girls feel underprepared for their first period. Although most will have a general idea of what to expect, fear and embarrassment are all too common.
It’s equally important to teach both girls and boys about menstruation. Girls are the ones who will have the experience, but normalising information about the bodies of both genders is an important step in fighting related taboos.
You may remember a day at school when the girls and boys had separate lessons that briefly explained the ins and outs of puberty. For a great number of children, this is the only official information they’ve received about menstruation. Cleary, this is insufficient—and where schooling is lacking, parents and mentors must step in.
Contrary to media portrayal and popular belief, the best way to go about making sure your kids are knowledgeable and prepared about subjects like these is not to sit them down for one serious conversation, never to be mentioned again. This sends the message that talking about menstruation is undesirable, which may discourage children and teenagers from asking for help when they need it.
One shouldn’t avoid the topic until the information is absolutely necessary, either. In fact, no age is too young for learning about menstruation, as long as you incorporate it in an age-appropriate way. You wouldn’t want to terrify your 5-year-old with stories about blood and debilitating pain. Instead, why not play a board game about menstruation, or have a family quiz evening about the body? You might as well have fun being responsible and informative.
If the topic is available, questions will follow. Take your children’s questions seriously and answer to the best of your ability. If you don’t know about something, take the time to look it up together. Learn together. They will remember it.
Not everyone raising a child has experienced a period themselves, or even had a serious conversation about menstruation. There are plenty of single fathers out there that will one day have to buy their daughter’s first sanitary pads, or help her manage her first menstrual cramps. I’m sure they would prefer not to be taken by surprise when the time comes.
Even “period veterans” could probably use some brushing up on their anatomy and the feminine hygiene industry (which has been evolving quickly as of late and now offers safer, cheaper, more environmentally conscious, and more comfortable products) in order to be confident and up-to-date when passing down all the necessary wisdom.
Regardless of whether or not you have incorporated this information into her upbringing, you will need to make sure she is aware of what she is up against when the time comes. If you aren’t comfortable with some of the talking points, or if you are lacking information, you can always turn to a professional or trusted friend to walk her through it. Then have them walk you through it, too.
After talking the talk, it’s time to walk the walk. Make your home period-friendly! Ideally, you and your daughter would do this together. This will both provide ample opportunity to talk through anything that hasn’t been talked through yet, and make it clear that menstruation is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of.
First comes shopping for feminine hygiene products (get a few different options to try out), painkillers, maybe a hot water bottle and a little bag for a travel-sized period kit. Some extra underwear won’t hurt, neither will dark pants or skirts (that will hide any stains in case of a mishap). She will need to track her period—this can be done with an app (like WomanLog 😄) or a physical calendar.
Next, create a dedicated space for all necessary equipment in the bathroom, even if it’s just clearing out a shelf. If you feel like getting creative (and the humor will be appreciated), you can decorate a box, basket, or bag with references of choice.
Ask her if she would like to celebrate her first period in any way. It is, after all, the beginning of a long and arduous journey that comes with being a woman. Perhaps something cozy and comforting, like making a pillow fort and watching a movie, as she probably won’t be feeling very well on the day of.
Emphasise that you are willing to accommodate her needs, but pay attention to her feelings on the matter. She may need time to come to terms with the coming changes and might shy away if she perceives you as being pushy. It’s equally possible that she’ll need emotional support, and will seek confirmation that you are there for her. The first few months can be difficult, but it will get easier with time.
Periods can be quite the harrowing experience, as there are many things to get used to, and these things are, for the most part, unpleasant. This is exacerbated by the taboos surrounding menstruation.
The world isn’t quite as comfortable with periods as we would like. Since menstruation is part of a woman’s reproductive function and is therefore associated with sex, some consider it sinful and dirty: an unfit topic for children to be aware of or to be spoken of in public spaces. For example, in western Nepal, women are sent away every month to do their bleeding in “menstrual huts” away from the rest of the population, as dictated by a tradition called Chhaupadi.
This kind of attitude discourages being informed, encourages shaming, and can have terrible outcomes, such as men and women in power making executive decisions in absolute ignorance of the female reproductive system, and girls and women effectively being punished for their bodies functioning as they should. Far too many chances to live life to the fullest have been snuffed out by a dysfunctional, misogynistic approach to women’s bodies.
The best way to fight this is to represent the behavior we want to see in the world. We are examples, we are role models, and we should carry the responsibility with pride. Don’t feel uncomfortable talking about menstruation with your kids, embrace the fact that you’re helping the world evolve.
You can track your period using WomanLog. Download WomanLog now: