Talking about periods at home
How to approach the period conversation and help your child feel safe, healthy and supported.
Periods are a fact of life, but not every parent feels comfortable talking about it with their children.
Not knowing what to expect during their first period may leave girls feeling anxious or scared and with a lot of unanswered questions. Girls need to know that menstruation is normal and that they can rely on you and other trusted adults for information and support.
Talking about periods need not be an awkward conversation. With some basic knowledge and a willingness to engage, you can help your daughter navigate her periods feeling safe, healthy and supported.
Why you should talk about periods
Discussing periods can help your child feel comfortable with her body and enable her to look after her health.
It can make navigating periods easier by helping her manage any physical or emotional symptoms and prevent feelings of shame or embarrassment.
Discussing periods can also help you build a stronger bond with your daughter.
Starting the conversation
Ask your child if they already know about periods and how they feel about it. Have any of her friends started having periods and talked about it? This is a good opportunity to correct any inaccurate information she may have heard.
Stick to the facts
Use clear language when describing periods. Focusing on the physiology will help you reinforce that this is a natural, biological process of the body. You could explain menstruation by saying:
As you grow into a woman, your body is becoming ready to have a baby. Every month or so, your ovaries start releasing hormones that cause the lining of your uterus (or womb that holds the baby) to build up because it is ready for a fertilized egg. When there is no egg, the lining breaks down and you bleed from your vagina. Each month blood and other material is discharged from the lining of the uterus. This is a period – a part of the menstrual cycle.
Emphasize it is natural
Reassure her that menstruation is a normal part of growing up and a natural process that happens to girls once they reach puberty – usually somewhere between the ages of 8 and 16.
Talk about the experience
Girls experience many changes leading up to the time they get their first period. Breasts and body hair start growing and hips widen. Hormones can affect girls’ emotions and moods. Tell her there is no reason to be scared or ashamed of any of these changes.
Exercising, deep breathing and stretching are all ways to better manage mood swings during the menstrual cycle.
Sometimes periods can cause abdominal pain. It can differ each month and for every girl. Short walks, regular sleep, drinking lots of water and some gentle pain medicine prescribed by a doctor can help bring relief.
Encourage activity and a nutritious diet
Provide reassurance that she can continue doing all the things she would usually do.
Regular exercise and a nutritious diet are all important for your daughter’s physical and mental well-being. Gentle exercise like a walk can help relieve period pain and prevent cramps.
Your daughter can continue eating and drinking anything that’s part of a well-balanced diet during her periods. It’s important to make sure that she has enough foods rich in iron and folic acid, as a lack can lead to difficulties concentrating, tiredness and depression.
Introduce menstrual hygiene products
Disposable sanitary pads, reusable pads, tampons, cloths, menstrual cups and discs or period underwear are all safe and clean ways to manage a period. The choice of product is very personal, so see which one your daughter is comfortable with that is available where you live.
Help her understand and to follow instructions for safe use of the different menstrual products. Girls may need more support in the beginning to try out products such as tampons and menstrual cups that have to be inserted into the vagina.
Remind her that all menstrual products need to be changed regularly, depending on the product and the menstrual flow. Tampons need to be changed often – between every 4-8 hours. If she is using reusable pads, cloth or period underwear at school, she should carry the used one home in a bag to wash.
It can be a good idea for your daughter to carry menstrual products in her school bag so she’s ready if her period suddenly starts or if a friend needs help.
Remember to keep a supply of her preferred menstrual hygiene products at home for her.
Answer their questions
Your daughter may have already started asking questions about periods. Try to provide simple answers that are appropriate for her age. Here are some common questions and answers you could provide:
- When will my periods start? It’s different for every girl but you'll start your periods about 2 years after your breasts start growing or when you’ve reached puberty. When you start growing underarm or pubic hair, it’s a sign that your periods are coming.
- How long will it last? Your first period might not last very long, as it can take your body some months to get into a pattern. Once that happens, you'll have a period every 23 to 38 days and it will last 2 to 8 days.
- What will it look like? Periods can look very different. The colour of menstrual flow often changes during your period – from being pinkish, red and runny at first to more brown, thick and lumpy towards the end of the period.
- How much will I bleed? You may not bleed a lot during your first period, but once your cycle settles, you might bleed about 1 to 5 tablespoons.
When should you start the conversation about periods?
While most girls get their first period at about 12 years of age, some girls will start menstruating as young as eight. It is best to start the conversation early and have an ongoing, open dialogue about physical and mental changes related to periods.
Starting the conversation about menstruation before her first period is the best way to make sure she is prepared, understands that the period is a natural process and not something to be feared or feel ashamed about. When girls are well prepared for their periods, they can go about their daily life and activities as usual.
Instead of giving too much information all at once, try looking for moments to talk about it, such as:
- When they ask about puberty or changes in their body
- If they ask where babies come from
- If you're shopping for menstrual hygiene products; or
- If you yourself have your period and it becomes natural to talk about
Healthy habits and hygiene
Practising good menstrual health and hygiene during periods can prevent infections, reduce odours and help your daughter stay comfortable. Here are some things you can tell her:
- Wash normally during periods to avoid the risk of infections.
- Keep the genital area clean by washing outside the vagina and bottom everyday.
- Use water only to rinse the vulva – the vagina is a self-cleaning organ.
- Always wash your hands with soap after using the toilet or before changing menstrual products.
- Place used disposable menstrual products properly in a waste bin and never down flushing toilets as it may block the toilet.
- Wear lightweight, breathable clothing like cotton underwear. Tight fabrics can trap moisture and heat and allow germs to thrive.
- Drink a lot of liquids to stay hydrated and prevent reproductive tract infections.
Tracking and monitoring your period could give you valuable insights about your overall health and help prepare for your period days. You can track your period on a calendar or with a period tracker such as the Oky App (designed with and for girls).
When to seek help
If periods are affecting your daughter’s daily life or she is experiencing unexpected changes in her period, it may be a sign that she needs to get help. You should seek professional medical support if:
- her period is so painful that she can’t stand or walk
- she bleeds more than usual
- she stops bleeding for a long time
- she bleeds between periods
If her periods are delayed, it could because she is underweight or exercising excessively, or due to stress or a hormone imbalance. If her periods have not started by age 16, you should seek advice from a general physician or your family doctor. You may be referred to a gynaecologist – a specialist in women's health – to find out what's causing delayed periods and discuss treatments that might help.
Explain to your daughter that if something feels wrong, then it’s important to see a doctor who can help her feel better.
Engaging with others
Part of addressing period shame is normalizing girls’ health. Talking to others who are close to your daughter or are part of her daily life can help them support her when she needs it most.
Talk to boys
Many boys are left out of period knowledge and don’t know how to support their female friends and siblings during menstruation. Some might even make jokes and bully them.
It’s important to talk to your sons and other male figures about periods to:
- Correct misconceptions: Open dialogue can help correct any misconceptions or myths boys might have, promote accurate knowledge and tackle stigma around menstruation.
- Normalize menstruation: Period conversations with boys can help them understand it’s natural, encourage then to seek further information and foster empathy.
Talk to the school
Girls may avoid attending school during their period due to fear of bullying and inadequate toilet facilities. Physical discomfort and menstrual pain can lead to poor concentration, and poor hygiene can cause infections and affect the well-being of students.
Talk to your child’s school about how they support menstrual health and hygiene – in terms of education and facilities. A parent-teacher association meeting might be a good place to start. Some questions you can ask are:
- Does your school have menstrual hygiene products that girls can ask for; how can they access these products?
- Are there enough toilets with ample space and doors that can be closed and locked?
- Do toilets have enough water, disposal bins with lids for used pads and places for girls to keep their clothes clean and dry while they change their menstrual hygiene product?
- Is there someone responsible for cleaning the toilet and how often do they get cleaned?
- Do handwashing facilities have soap?
- Are teachers trained to teach menstrual and personal hygiene?