How do I have the period talk with my daughters?
Q: One of my eight-year-old twin girls has had to start wearing a bra and using deodorant. Just yesterday, I noticed she is also growing pubic hair. I'm pretty sure it's time to have the period talk but I'm a bit unsure as to how to start the conversation. I don't remember what my mom told me. I'm also nervous because this particular child can be a bit dramatic and I'm not sure how she will take it. Any advice or ideas?
A: Talking with girls about menstruation is an important step in helping them understand and feel comfortable with their bodies--but think of it as an ongoing conversation rather than one big talk. Here are some suggestions for getting that conversation started: - Make it one-on-one. Although your girls are twins, they'll probably be more comfortable if you start the conversation separately, so they can ask any questions they might have without worrying about their sister's reaction. Especially if they are developing at different rates, you don't want the more developed child to feel on display as The Example. - Start by asking what she's heard. Kids sometimes hear or mishear inaccurate or even alarming information about puberty. For instance, they may believe that they will "gush" blood or that they can't get pregnant until they've had their period. Asking what your daughter knows about periods or menstruation can help you correct misconceptions. - Get back-up for facts. Reading aloud a simple, friendly, illustrated book about puberty your daughter can be an excellent way to make sure you cover the facts, and it gives you a jumping off point for sharing your opinions and experiences. You can also leave the book with your daughter, so she can look it over later, at her own pace. - Be positive. Avoid complaining about periods or emphasizing their inconvenience. You can mention that women athletes have won gold medals at all stages of their menstrual cycles. You can also talk about how wonderful it is that our bodies have the perfect environment for growing a baby that gets refreshed every month! - Be practical. Show your child sanitary pads and/or tampons and tell her what to do if she gets her first period away from home. For girls who have started developing breasts and pubic hair, it may be a good idea to carry a "just in case" pad in a small attractive cosmetics case that they can keep in their purse or backpack. - Validate feelings. You can help your daughter talk about her concerns and understand that they're normal by making statement like: "Lots of girls worry about X. How about you?" or "Some kids are afraid of Y. How about you?" Many girls worry about developing earlier or later than their peers. Explain to your daughter that just like in first grade, when some kids lost their baby teeth early, and others later, but everyone ended up with a set of adult teeth, everyone will end up going through puberty. On average, girls tend to get their period around 12 or 13 years of age, but first periods can arrive as early as age nine or as late as age 16. So, it's a good idea to talk about puberty by age nine. Many schools have health education programs about puberty in fourth or fifth grade. It will be easier for your daughter if she hears the facts from you, in private, first.
Answered by Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D.