New research has shown that 1 in 4 girls start their periods before they learn about it at school, leading some experts to say that we’re leaving discussions about puberty too late.
The survey of over 2000 young people aged 11-25, conducted by the Sex Education Forum, revealed that 24% of girls start their periods before compulsory sex education classes begin.
Not only are we leaving the topic too late, but then once classes do start, 15% of young people say they are taught nothing about menstruation anyway.
Lucy Emmerson, Coordinator of the Sex Education Forum, said; ‘Leaving education about puberty too late can cause unnecessary fear and confusion, and is a failure to prepare children for adult life.’
So if you want to start talking to your children (boys and girls!) about periods, how is best to go about it?
1. Spread it over lots of smaller conversations
Instead of having one big ‘talk’, which can seem intimidating and leave children with lots of questions that they are embarrassed to ask at a later date, set it up as an ongoing conversation. Talking about how the human body works and changes as we grow up and how we should embrace the changes.
Traci Baxter, Marketing Manager at Bodyform says; ‘Talking about periods as part of an ongoing process, rather than a formalised sit-down talk, is a positive approach to take.’
2. No time is too young to start
Lots of parents are worried that it’s too much information at a young age and they might ‘scare or embarrass’ their child, but with many girls starting periods at the age of nine or 10, it’s important they aren’t caught unprepared.
It will be more traumatic for them to start their period without explanation than to discuss it before it happens. And boys will start hearing things on the grapevine, so you want to make sure they know it’s not something to joke about or make their female friends feel uncomfortable over.
Traci at Bodyform says; ‘Remember that there is no such thing as a typical age for the first period and starting at 9 is just as normal as starting at 16. However, if your daughter is the first or the last to start her period, she may need some extra reassurance from you.’
3. Talk about it in a positive light
In a study conducted by Bodyform UK they found that nearly 50% of girls don’t want to talk to friends and family about periods. Traci reminds parents; ‘We still live in a society where girls hide pads up their sleeves, and where provocative images of period stains are removed from social media. In short, menstruation is still taboo.’ So we need to remove the stigma and talk in a positive light.
Menstruation is about turning into a woman, having a healthy body and being able to have a baby if you choose. Using terms such as ‘the curse’ or painting it as something that will be painful, inconvenient or embarrassing only serves to give your children a negative impression and make it something to be worried about. Speak highly of it (even though you might not always feel like you want to… )
4. Bring it up in the bathroom
When was the last time you had the luxury of going to the toilet by yourself? Exactly. There is bound to be an opportunity when you’re changing a tampon or sanitary product and throughout childhood, kids ask so many questions that every time can be used as an opportunity – this includes in the bathroom. It is more likely to happen organically and seeing as children aren’t embarrassed about bathroom habits, why should we be?
Traci tells parents; ‘Whilst it might seem like a mountainous task bringing up the topic of periods to an unwilling teen, the more awkward you make the experience, the more likely this will rub off on your daughter.’
5. Or break the ice at the supermarket
If you think that the bathroom is a bit much for now, then next time you’re in the supermarket walk down the feminine products aisle and take it as an opportunity to explain to your kids what pads and tampons are used for. It might seem a bit much in public, but if you normalise the conversation in this way it means children aren’t going to worry.
Or perhaps if there is an advert on the television about products (avoid pain relieving medications as this reinforces the idea it will be painful) then try again then.
6. Look for books or good DVDs
If you’re still finding it hard to strike up a conversation then try looking for books or DVDs. There is a huge variety that are widely available online (and don’t cost a lot) and can be a better way to let your child research and find answers without feeling embarrassed about asking you. Be sure to let them know they can still come to you if they have any more questions.
Also give it a quick skim-read before handing it over – sometimes they divulge more about sex lives than you might fancy answering questions about!
7. Ask questions (especially if you think they’re hearing playground rumours)
You don’t have to wait for them to come to you – be up front with them, ask what they’ve heard already and take the time to correct anything that could be damaging their perception or worrying them. Spur a conversation by asking where the information came from originally.
8. Brush up on your basics
Before you go any further make sure you have the answers yourself! Especially to common questions, such as why does my brother not have a period or whether they should be using pads or tampons, do girls have to stop playing sports?
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Traci says some of the most common FAQs that adults forget about are the simple ones – how much blood will be lost? Where should I get rid of the products? What happens if I go to school and forget to take a tampon or pad? So make sure you can discuss and explain fully but in an age appropriate way. And if they catch you out, take it as a moment to learn together and find out the answer.