While all conversations about puberty and bodies are important, talking about periods and what to expect is unique. Periods are the subject of a fair amount of cultural fear, stigma and shame, but as parents what we teach all of our children can have a positive impact overall. Most of these talking points are geared towards all children and tweens, not only those who will have a period.
It’s normal to fumble a little when talking about puberty. You don’t have to get every chat perfectly scripted or started. What matters is that you give your child plenty of opportunities to learn and ask questions. Being honest and direct and respecting what feels sensitive or embarrassing to them is key. Any caregiver can have these conversations. Your child’s openness may surprise you!
Periods don’t have a clear start time. They can start as early as age 8 and as late as 16. We know that periods are going to happen, and talking about them early and often increases comfort and decreases shame. Being aware of the physical changes that happen before periods start can help. Periods usually start about 2 years after the first signs of breast development. You can’t circle an exact date on your calendar, but if you haven’t started talking about periods when breast development starts, it’s definitely a great window to get chatting!
Periods can be scary when kids aren’t prepared. And because a period can start anytime and anywhere, the first one can leave your child feeling very overwhelmed in a public place. As soon as you are aware of breast development, you can start small with some of these intros:
- I was wondering what you’d heard about periods from your friends or books.
- Is there anything you’re worried about later in puberty?
- Does anyone at school get their period yet? I thought we could talk about what that’s like.
- I bought you some period supplies. Is now an okay time to talk about how they work?
- If someone were upset about their period, how could you help?
If you’re having these conversations with a child who won’t get a period, way to go! Half of the population gets a period, so there shouldn’t be any shame or embarrassment about it. But if people don’t understand how cycles work, they might be more likely to tease others or ignore what’s happening.
Learning about periods and cycles
Depending on when your child gets their period, they may be ready to start cycle tracking independently or need some support. You can also teach them in advance how things work by showing how you or a partner/friend track their cycle. Periods can be very irregular for the first two years, but it never hurts to try to be prepared for the next one.
Let your child know that they won’t come like clockwork, and that things like stress, travel, and illness can throw off anyone’s cycle. This can help manage their expectations. It’s a great idea to teach them about the other phases of their cycle too as they might start to notice physical and emotional symptoms.
The Ovia app is a great place to start, set to cycle tracking mode (as opposed to trying to conceive mode). Again, helping them to be prepared for what to expect — how many days of bleeding they might have and how their body and mind will feel — can make all the difference for their confidence.
How to prepare for periods
Ideally you can keep a stock of period supplies at home, and a few key items in a school or activities bag. Once your child knows their preferences, you can bulk order what they like.
- Pads in various absorbencies. These will be the easiest to start with in many cases. Most brands now make slimmer versions that fit a tween’s body better and are less noticeable under clothes and in their school bag.
- Tampons in various absorbencies. Although they may take some time to get the hang of, active tweens may need to use a tampon to participate in certain activities, or some just may feel more comfortable without a pad on.
- Period underwear. A few pairs of period underwear can be a game changer for comfort. It means less risk of a leak through at school, and can be great on the days leading up to an expected period. Modibody and Tomboy have been shown to be PFAS-free.
- Regular full coverage underwear in darker colors. Staining is inevitable, and pads are easier to adhere to full coverage, brief style underwear. (It’s also a great idea to have an extra pair in a school bag just in case.)
- Pain relief, like Ibuprofen and heating pads for cramps or headaches.
Menstrual cups are also an excellent period option, but often better to try once they’ve got the initial hang of things! If they’re interested from the start in using a cup, it’s safe to try and many come in slightly smaller sizes for tweens.
Preparing your child (and yourself) for the start of their period can mean the difference between a scary transition and one that happens with ease. The more you bring it up and normalize the conversation, the more your whole family will feel increased comfort when the time comes.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team