If you have a daughter, someday you’ll have to discuss the concept and inevitability of menstruation. So when should you have the first period talk? Trends now suggest discussing it on the early side. Even as young as age seven or eight.
Signs of Precocious Puberty
The average age girls get their periods is at 12.5 years. Notice that’s the average, which means a good percentage of girls get it earlier. Precocious puberty, meaning signs of puberty and the start of menstruation on the extremely early end of the spectrum, happens to about 15% of girls.
How will you know if your daughter’s developing early? The signs are just like those for regular puberty: breast buds, body odor, body hair and mood swings. These are often followed by an extremely early period.
If you notice these changes and don’t get ahead of the puberty clock, your daughter might be caught by surprise. Per Stanford Children’s Health website, early puberty can lead to self-consciousness and a sense of being different from one’s peers.
“Your child may feel uncomfortable about his or her sexual changes,” Standford Children’s Health website states. “Helping your child cope with teasing from his or her peers, treating your child appropriately for his or her age, and boosting your child’s self-esteem are important steps to help your child adjust more appropriately.”
Therapist Sherry Nafeh, LMFC, tells Parentology early intervention is best. “Talk about menstruation before she gets her period,” she advises. “Girls are now getting their period as early as eight years old, or as late as 13 or 14.”
What can happen if they’re caught by surprise? Nafeh says the sight and location of blood can frighten them. To avoid this, “Be honest and schedule time to talk. Discussing puberty can bring up concerns or insecurities about their bodily and emotional changes. Creating mindfulness about monthly fluctuations can create empathy and a sense of security. And if she has questions or concerns you can’t answer, it’s okay to say ‘I don’t know,’ but we’ll figure this out together.”
How to Approach The First Period Talk and Beyond
It’s important to treat menstruation as a normal, healthy aspect of a female’s life. This is where the role of mothers, or another primary female, becomes so important.
“Mothers are an incredibly important part of their daughters’ journey in understanding themselves and their bodies,” said Dr. Carissa Pokorny-Golden, associate dean of education at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania tells Parentology. “Any time mothers talk to their daughters about their bodies, they should do so in a positive, realistic, age-appropriate way. Demystifying fact from fiction about menstruation may seem like a struggle for many mothers, but there are wonderful resources to make it easier to discuss menstruation. “
Pokorny-Golden is the author of a study entitled The Censoring of Menstruation in Adolescent Literature: A Growing Problem in the Journal of Women’s Reproductive Health. In it, she examines the ongoing censorship of menstruation, even in classic books.
“While other ‘sensitive’ topics of the past aren’t being censored in schools today, menstruation still is in many cases,” the study states. “For instance, one of the most widely-read books in middle schools today, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, is often censored, not for its descriptions of the Holocaust, but because of the author’s discussion of menstruation. Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has been censored for the same discussion, and continues to be censored today.”
Uncensored books are an enormous help.
“One excellent resource by Sonya Renee Taylor, Celebrate Your Body (and its changes too!), is written specifically for girls eight and up,” Pokorny-Golden says. “I bought this book for my 10-year-old daughter and it opened the door to many conversations about the changes my daughter was noticing in her body, but was too afraid to ask about.”
Opening this door is key, according to Pokorny-Golden. “Ultimately, the most important part about talking to daughters about menstruation is taking away the shame and fear of the unknown.”
A good online resource is Kids Health, which covers myriad aspects of menstruation, from basic facts to emotions.
For younger girls who enter puberty early, period products can seem overwhelming. Mothers and older sisters in the home can help counter discomfort by openly having the products around, so they’re not a mystery. One good option for younger girls is period underwear by the company Thinx, which features a line of the super absorbent panties for tweens.
And let’s not forget single dads, who aren’t coming from a place of personal experience. Dealing with periods is no time to act squirrelly. The site Single Dad has a good piece laying out relevant information.
It’s a Reality, So Be Positive
No matter when your daughter starts menstruating, it’s important to treat it as a normal part of a female’s life, and as an opportunity to be a receptive resource for women’s health.
How you treat the subject of periods can greatly strengthen your relationship with your daughter, and determine whether she trusts and comes to you with other health questions later on.
Pokorny-Golden says, “By doing so, mothers are creating not only a strong bond with their daughters, but also stronger, more powerful, young women who understand themselves better and the amazing things they can accomplish.”