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How To Talk To Your Child About Periods

by Saskia Boujo, Relationship and Sex Educator

It is so utterly normal to want to shield our children from the sight of blood. Their perception of blood is that it’s what we see when we are hurt. We’ve all seen their reactions go from calm to overwhelming-screeching horror, when they see the blood trickling down their knee after a fall. As parents and carers (P&C), we are naturally protective, and our instinct is not to expose them to anything remotely bloody and messy.

These are all completely natural feelings for any parent or carer. However, the impact of not talking about periods will continue to feed into what is a very negative narrative around menstruation, that has existed for generations. P&Cs have a good opportunity to reframe periods and begin to normalise the conversation around menstruation. Because there is no bad blood when it comes to our monthly bleed. It is a perfectly healthy bodily function.

Why should you discuss periods with your child/teen?

As P&Cs we are ultimately trying to prepare our children for coping with life independently. Ideally, this means that it is our responsibility to prepare them for a natural and inevitable part of puberty. Ideally, children are informed and prepared for menstruation before it begins. As we know, this huge chapter is brought on by hormones which are likely to trigger all kinds of confusing changes, so it is hugely comforting, amongst this confusion, to empower them with the knowledge that this is as it should be.

By initiating the conversation with them, we are showing them that we are open to discussing periods and that we are the approachable, honest and trusted adult they can seek support from.

But let’s be honest. Periods are a bloody mess! We know first-hand that even with the best intentions, we get caught off guard: we bleed, we stain, we leak, and we feel shame. Young people need to take comfort in, and support in the fact that they are not alone in experiencing this. We know just how embarrassing it can be to leak through our clothes in public, and by opening up an honest dialogue we are showing them that this is very common indeed and as the saying goes:  “that shame dies when you expose it to the light”.

When do I begin talking about periods with my child?

I’m often asked how early one begins to talk about periods with our children. My honest answer is that it’s never too early. The earlier your children get used to seeing blood, tampons in the bathroom cupboard, menstrual cups and reusable pads hanging on the washing line, the sooner periods will be normalised and openly discussed in your household. After all, periods are part of the reason that your children exist! They are a very healthy and huge part of their journey towards adulthood and they will inevitably have to learn to manage them at some stage, so why deprive them of their best teachers (you!) showing them the ropes? Modelling is our most powerful tool.

By keeping periods behind closed doors, we are reinforcing a stigma that periods are shameful and dirty, when in fact they are the most natural part of a young person’s changing adolescent body, as well as a sign of fertility and health overall.

In my experience, children are naturally curious from a young age, and fascinated by all the beautiful designs on reusable pads nowadays, and the shape and texture of menstrual cups… so why not leave yours lying around and get that conversation started?!

How do I begin?

How does one begin to explain periods to young people and even young children? Before embarking on any conversation around what periods are, it goes without saying that there needs to be some existing understanding of a few things which aren’t limited to: proper names of our external and internal reproductive organs e.g. vulva, vagina, anus, womb, ovaries…, and some understanding of what puberty is and what to expect from it. Ideally there is already a well-established foundation for having open and safe conversations in the home around anatomy and bodily autonomy.

If you’re sweating at the thought of mentioning the word vagina, then you might need to take a few steps back, breathe, find your brave space and seek some support. Thankfully, nowadays there are a wealth of resources to help anxious parents when it comes to any discussion around bodies and puberty. Find a few good books and let the book do the talking.

Take comfort in the knowledge that periods are fact. They are science. There is no debate around the fact that they exist and how our cycle works. Yes, we are unique, and we will all experience menstruation differently, but the essence of the monthly bleed is the clearest sign of our reproductive system being in good working order. I do believe it’s something to celebrate!

It’s so complicated! How do I explain menstruation?

A nice analogy when it comes to explaining the monthly cycle to children is to use the image of the womb as a nest. Throughout the month, the nest builds up, adding layer upon layer of sticks and twigs and leaves, preparing for the potential arrival of an egg. Should an egg arrive in the nest, the egg will nestle in there and perhaps one day become a chick. If the egg falls away and doesn’t settle in the nest, the nest eventually collapses. And that breaking away of the leaves and sticks and twigs, is the lining of the womb shedding. And that is a period.

The nest rebuilds every month which is why it’s called the menstrual cycle. Discuss other life cycles around you such as the seasons and the moon.

With this imagery we can also begin to introduce the idea of the 4 phases, and above all to highlight that all these changes bring about emotional changes in us.

Periods are complicated, and they are a huge part of our lives. If we can begin reclaiming them, giving them context and purpose, we have a chance at seeing all this blood in a more positive light. The average menstruator will have, in a lifetime, between 400 and 500, and that’s got to be worth some attention.

Head to Saskia’s website to purchase her wonderful guide book on all things young people and periods. We have recently received a copy and we thoroughly recommend it!

Saskia is also offering 10% off her book ‘this period in my life’ on our Parents Club offers page.

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