When she's little, it can feel like you're a lifetime away from having "the talk" with your daughter. Who has time to worry about the onset of puberty when you're in the thick of potty training, tantrums, and sleep issues? However, you've probably heard Gretchen Rubin's quote: "the days are long but the years are short." Before you know it, it's time to think about ways to talk to your daughter about periods. According to WebMD, "most girls start developing breast buds sometime between age 9 and 10" and the onset of menstruation occurs about two years later.
Recently I attended a party where "the period talk" came up in conversation. I listened raptly as mothers whose girls are older than mine discussed a close call with a first period on vacation. We also talked about what to tell younger girls when they want to know what that box of tampons or pads under the sink is for. The bottom line is that we all want to be honest, but not before our daughters are ready to hear about it, and we want to discuss menstruation in as non-embarrassing and non-awkward a way as possible. Whether this conversation is still a few years off for you and your daughter, or needs to happen tomorrow, Romper talks to three pediatricians about the best, and not at all awkward, ways to broach the topic.
Kansas City, Missouri Pediatrician Natasha Burgert, MD, FAAP, tells Romper, "I want my families and my patients to know that talking about how our bodies change is normal, healthy conversation. I usually bring up the topic at the 8 or 9-year-old visit. We talk about what to expect as we grow, including healthy food choices, good sleep, personal hygiene, friendships, media, and time with family. These topics naturally lead into questions about future changes, like the first period."
Pediatrician Catherine Gritchen, M.D., of Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital in Long Beach, California, tells Romper she usually brings up menstruation at the 11-year-old visit unless parents ask for an earlier conversation or the patient's development necessitates it. She starts with questions like, “You are at the age where some girls are starting to notice some body changes. Have you noticed any body changes? Do you have any questions about puberty or body changes?"
When you bundle menstruation with other health topics, you present it as a normal part of growing up instead of something embarrassing or shameful.
This is another way to normalize periods for your daughter. Make your trip to the store a fun outing to stock up on sanitary napkins, tampons, Advil, a heating pad — whatever supplies you want your daughter to use when the time comes. Instead of being embarrassed to bring period supplies to the cash register, you can show her it's not a bigger deal than buying shampoo or anything else at the drugstore.
Burgert says the most common question she hears from parents about their daughter's first period is "When?" She adds that "it's the anxiety of not knowing exactly when the first period will start that troubles most families. Every person's body gives clues, but I can't promise they won't get their first period at school, or at a friend's house." Regardless of where or when it happens, your daughter will be prepared with the supplies she needs.
For the next best thing to a crystal ball, Pediatrician Gina Posner, M.D., of Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, adds that the age when Mom started menstruating can be a clue to the timing of her daughter's first period.
Instead of having one big talk, Burgert advises parents to "talk frequently and often in small chunks. Don't overwhelm. Most importantly, honestly answer the question asked." Burgert says you can also make the first move with questions by using media such as tampon commercials to find out what your daughter already knows, as well as any misinformation she might be getting from friends or the internet. Ensuring that your daughter understands her body will make the topic of periods less awkward for both of you.
It's also helpful to accentuate the positive, says Posner, who tells parents not to "just talk about all the bad things — cramping, bleeding, but also the exciting things — developing into a woman, the fact that you can have children in the future, etc."
"Body development and puberty is an entirely different subject than sexuality," says Burgert. "Often parents shy away from body changes because they are not ready for the 'sex talk.'" However, "most young girls are not interested in sexuality until puberty changes have come and gone," she notes, so "don't be fearful to introduce this subject with confidence."
Gritchen suggests that some girls may be most comfortable learning at a self-guided pace and asking questions as they arise. This can relieve some embarrassment for both parent and daughter. Gritchen says, "I encourage them [parents] to get their child a general resource book and some menstrual supplies that they can review at their own pace. No matter how open of a relationship they may have, sometimes the girls may be more comfortable learning on their own. I also suggest the idea of a shared mother-daughter journal to pass back and forth with questions or comments. Sometimes this is easier than talking directly, especially in a very busy household, or if mom or daughter is very shy."
Gritchen suggests that "it can also be helpful to identify together other 'safe' adult women that the child can talk to if mother is not available at the moment, or your daughter simply prefers to talk with someone else. An older sister, auntie, grandma, stepmom, or friend’s mom may be a good resource. This is especially helpful in divorced families, single father families, or in grandparent-led families."
Learning about puberty from a book is a classic approach, whether you read it with your daughter or let her read it on her own and follow up with questions. The internet also has great resources — just make sure you screen them yourself first before sharing them with your daughter. Here are the pediatricians' favorites:
Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:
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