When should mums and daughters talk about periods, what advice should we give them and how can we do this effectively?
How do mums feel?
How you go about talking to your daughters about “periods of women” and other bodily functions of puberty will be largely affected by how menstruation was approached by your own parents, teachers and significant adults.
There is certainly no right or wrong answer. Often people will very much think that their own approach is right – because it has worked for them. Others will know that they need advice on this, because they feel embarrassed and do not want to convey this to their children.
How do daughters feel?
Well I should think there’s a different answer for each girl. As a mother of three daughters I know I’ll need to take three slightly different approaches, to take into account their personalities and where they are in the family. There certainly won’t be much point in trying to keep any secrets from the youngest!
Open and honest
As a mum, a midwife and a nurse my gut feeling is to be open and honest from the start. If your children grow up in a house where naked bodies and bodily functions are a fact of life, you may find that you never need to actually ‘tell’ your daughters about menstruation. They will have had all their questions answered as they go along, on a need to know basis. As they have seen you purchase sanitary towels or tampons they will have queried what they are for. When you have had your period they will have seen you using and disposing sanitary products and asked about the ‘blood loss’, whether it hurts, etc..
However, even if your daughter has been drip fed all the information that she needs to cope with periods and understand what they are all about, it is still worth keeping an ‘open door’ to allow opportunity to ask questions, or to have information repeated in language that is more fitting for a 10 year old for instance, than an 8 year old.
When should I tell my daughter about periods?
If you have had an open policy about answering questions as they arise and answering them factually, then there will never be a right age at which you have the ‘big talk’.
As girls come towards the end of primary school (age 10-11), some of them will begin menstruation (this is called the menarche) and this will put a whole new light on the issue! Suddenly it will be something that is happening to her, or her peers, not just an issue for Mums. The school may talk to the children, or just the girls, at this stage. It is certainly worth backing this up with information sharing at home – normalising it and keeping the door open.
If you are embarrassed your child will soon pick up on it. Here are some tips:
- So go slowly, don’t launch in with all the information at once.
- Use a TV show, or buying sanitary products, to open up the conversation.
- Keep it impersonal until you are both ready to branch off further.
- Admit to your daughter that your mum did not discuss this with you, if that’s the case, so you are treading into the unknown.
- Use our fact sheet on periods as an ‘ice breaker’ and to back up information you have given her.
How shall I explain periods?
It’s certainly worth doing a bit of prep for this, unless you are feeling very confident about it.
Have a think about the language you are going to use and make sure you are comfortable using it. If you have always used the ‘correct’ terms for vagina, uterus etc then carry on – that’s great. If you have never used that language and have used ‘pet’ names for reproductive body parts, then it is going to seem strange if you go completely medical all of a sudden! Possibly a mix would then be more appropriate. Use a diagram from the tampon pack, to introduce those new words and help you feel more comfortable using them. (If it is any consolation as a new student midwife I found it very hard to say ‘vagina’ out loud, without feeling uncomfortable!)
Remember there are aids out there to help you –
Fact sheets, such as our Kiwi Families Fact Sheet on Periods.
What if the conversation moves on to sex and reproduction?
It is worth being prepared for that, so have a good think about the language you will use and questions you think your children may ask.
Finally, don’t forget the boys. They need to know about periods too.
For a question and answer Fact Sheet on Periods, click here.
To understand Cervical Smears visit our Kiwi Families article