Periods

Preparing your daughter for her menstrual cycle

My older daughter just started her menses last month at the ripe old age of 12. I was 14 when I got mine. Thank you, human growth hormone.

I wanted to make sure she didn't learn about "that time of the month" like I did - by watching Carrie (we all remember the shower scene, don't we?). My mom, as seemingly most mothers of her generation did, practiced the popular military policy of "don't ask, don't tell." I was bound and determined, before I had my own children, that I would be a much more hands-on mom.

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Fast forward several years and two daughters later. Along with preaching about the cons of smoking, drinking and drugs, I frequently brought up the topic of sex and menstruation. Of course, a two-year's old attention span isn't suited to engage in conversation about anything beyond Barney and Dora the Explorer, but it was a start.

Seriously, though, many articles by purported experts in child development say to bring up the topic early and often, and to use words appropriate for your child's maturity level. Many parents worry about how early, how often and how to lessen the embarrassment that undoubtedly will arise.

How early? For my older daughter, who is five years older than her sister, the fact that I was very ill throughout my entire second pregnancy pretty much solidified in her mind the notion that she never wants to have children. This will work for now, but maybe, someday far, far, FAR away, I might embrace the idea of being a (gulp) grandma. In the meantime, I made sure that both girls were familiar with feminine care products at an early age and that we had the proper first-period supplies at both my and their father's house well ahead of time.

How often? I'm not advocating menstruation as appropriate dinner conversation, but every now and then, a little "Do you have any questions about puberty?" lets your children know that the door is always open.

How to avoid embarrassment? Really, if I had the answer to that question, I would be a millionaire and a guest on Oprah. Throughout history, children have been embarrassed by their parents, and they will continue to be. It is inevitable. The key to minimizing it (which is the very least we can do for them because they will give us ample opportunity for embarrassment in the future) is to avoid initiating such conversation in public, via a chat room in which your child is engaged in prepubescent conversation with her friends, or during a slumber party. But, in one-on-one interaction, let the blushing begin.

As each child is different, so is every cycle. Explaining what may or may not happen is proactive. Using matter-of-fact terminology is, as well. Let your daughter know that different women experience their period in different ways and not to worry if there are changes every month or differences between her symptoms and her friends' (you know they will talk). What is imperative is that your child knows that she is normal because, during the tween and teen years, normalcy is everything.

Finally, don't neglect humor. Humor is an ideal way to deal with issues such as these because laughter is often an antidote for embarrassment. I told my daughter that she could get pregnant now, so NO sex, to which she replied, "Eww! Gross, Mom." She then told me that in her Life Skills class this semester, they would be learning about sex. I hope I didn't forget anything.

By Natalie Faulk