How to Talk to Your Kids About Periods (Not the Grammar Kind, Either)

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If you have small kids, it’s actually kind of hard to avoid the period talk. Moms don’t pee alone for about 5 years once their kids are born. So they’ve very likely seen some stuff! Or maybe you let your toddlers play with a box of tampons while you did your makeup (it me). Either way, unless you somehow manage to get some bathroom privacy 7-10 every month, periods are probably a pretty common topic of discussion in your house. But answering their questions about blood and the thing you just magically made disappear inside your vagina are one thing. Explaining the bioligical process is a whole different ballgame.

Being open and honest with your kids about menstruation is so important! If you have daughters, that will be their life one day. If you have sons, they’ll very likely have wives or daughters at some point, and they need to know this stuff, too. That’s right: the period talk ISN’T just for girls! Sure, the conversation will go a little bit differently (lucky boys). But everyone, male and female, should be well-versed in the reproductive system. We may have to carry the burden ourselves, but it certainly helps when our partners, brothers, fathers, and sons are supportive and understanding, right? If it’s getting to be about that time, these tips can help make “the period talk” go a lot smoother.

Periods are a part of life, and nearly every young woman will eventually get theirs. Luckily, they’re a bit easier to explain than the whole sex thing.

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The thing that makes the period talk easier is that it’s pretty straight forward. Just basic biology! But, it’s also kind of complicated. So try to avoid making it one very long, detailed conversation. Instead, answer questions as they begin to ask them (even toddlers!). Be as honest as their age permits, and make it all sound like a very normal, everyday part of life. As always, tell the truth and don’t try to glaze over what your daughter will experience. Puberty, periods, breasts, body hair: they need to know what’s coming.

Girls can get their periods anywhere between 9 and 16 nowadays. So while you think you may have plenty of time to put it off, you’d be mistaken.

My own daughter is nearly 8, and we’ve been talking about puberty and periods for a few years. Lately, our talks have gotten more detailed, with descriptions of the reproductive system, ovulation, and the like. Every month, she asks me if I’m ovulating, so that’s fun. But we started out very small! The first time saw blood on the toilet paper while I was going to the bathroom, she about lost her damn mind. It’s important to assuage their fears (no, you won’t bleed forever), while still making sure they understand this is totally normal and a sign of reproductive health.

But, and this is important, the period talk should happen WAY before your daughter actually starts her period. Start introducing the concept of puberty early on, so no part of it is a surprise. Like talking about sex, this should be a constant, evolving conversation, which gets more detailed as your kids get older and can process the information. Puberty and periods are nothing to be ashamed of. We want our girls to be proud of their bodies and all the amazing things they will do! By talking about it early and often, you can help your kids feel more comfortable with the whole thing.

Before you jump right in, it’s probably a good idea to brush up on puberty and menstruation yourself. Sure, we’re QUITE familiar with our periods, but it’s been … some time since I went through puberty and I’ve blocked much of it out.

There are so many resources and books available to parents gearing up for the period talk. I recommend buying a few and reading them first, so you’re better prepared for any questions your kids might have. I’m a big fan of The Care and Keeping of You books by American Girl, and they have an edition for girls 10-12 years old. The Guide, Period by Naama Bloom is honest, empowering, and helps shake the stigma around menstruation. The Period Book: A Girl’s Guide to Growing Up by Karen Gravelle is AMAZING. This one really covers a lot of topics that young girls may be embarrassed to talk about, and would be a great conversation starter.

In addition to the basic biological information, make sure you share your own personal experiences about menstruation with your kids.

They’re going to get this information from somewhere, so you might as well make sure it’s coming from a trusted source: YOU! The books and videos will explain how ovaries work, what happens to an egg during ovulation, how an egg is fertilized, and what menstrual blood is. But you will be the one to answer the harder questions, like how to use a tampon, what she can expect in terms of pain or discomfort, or even comfort your daughter’s fears or embarrassment that she hasn’t started hers yet.

And again, the period talk isn’t just for girls.

Sure, you can probably avoid going into detail about vaginal discharge and period clots with your sons. But they still need to know what female puberty and the reproductive system are. Explaining to your sons that girls and women get periods, and that there is nothing gross or wrong or shameful about that will help them grow up to be kinder, more supportive men to the women in their lives. Also, at some point, they may meet a nice woman and decide to have some kids. Wouldn’t it be nice if they knew the ins and outs of that little process?

It kills me to imagine my sweet baby girls growing up and getting their periods and becoming young women. They’re still MY BABIES. But, we all know babies and kids don’t keep. So while I may be dying on the inside thinking about all this going down in a few short years, I’m going to put my game face on and explain the hell out of that reproductive system.

We owe it to our kids to give them all the information we can to make the insane journey that is puberty just a tiny bit easier.

(Image: iStock / Masanyanka)