I am feeling old. Not because the kids at school are finally getting to me but because my granddaughter is at menstruation age.
Over the weekend her mother – my second daughter – asked me for some advice on what to say to her. After four children (including three daughters), my daughter has finally realised I might know something about this motherhood lark. Today, I’m feeling like a walking motherpedia!
This is what I said to her.
Start talking early. The earlier you begin to talk to your daughter about the changes she can expect in her body, the better. It’s not a single discussion but one you can have over many months or even years. In ‘my day’ we generally didn’t start till we were 14, but girls start menstruating earlier now, so once your daughter is capable of some basic understanding and, importantly, is capable of looking it up on the internet herself, you should start talking.
Keep it factual. Talk about menstruation in the context of various health issues. Find out what she knows, or think she knows, already and make sure you clear up any misinformation she might have from the internet or well-meaning friends. If your daughter has health lessons or sex education at school, time some of your talks to coincide. And if she doesn’t want to talk about it, just gently insist you do so: she may think she knows everything, or she might just be really shy, but either way she needs to hear from you. If you can open up these conversations, and help deal with anxiety, it can also lay the groundwork to talk in the future – hopefully a long way off! – about dating and sex.
My three daughters were all different. The first one wanted to know everything. The second one was shy and embarrassed and I had to approach it very differently from the first. And the third - well she thought she knew everything by the time she was five years age!
Be practical. The day I got my period the first time I was home after school and the only other person at home was one of my older brother’s. I saw blood in the toilet bowl and screamed. I thought I was going to die. To his eternal credit, he checked-up on me but he was absolutely mortified. What made it worse was when my mother got home, and dealt with an hysterical 14 year old girl, she drew me a picture of two ovaries and told me how my life was forever changed. What? I just wanted to know if I was going to live, whether I’d have to study for my maths exam in three days time and what was I supposed to do now that my life was ruined?
It shouldn’t be like that! What your daughter really wants to know is:
- When will it happen?
- How will I feel?
- Will anyone else know?
- What if I ‘show’?
- What do I need to do?
- What do I need to use? (It may be worthwhile going to the chemist or supermarket together to talk about the options).
- How do I use it?
- How long do I have to put up with this? (Actually, you might want to avoid this one!).
- How long will it last each month?
- Can I still play sport?
- Does it hurt?
- What if I’m at school and I don’t have anything?
Keep it private.This is between you and your daughter. (OK, you might want to let your husband know but you do that privately also). It’s not a matter for discussion around the dinner table. Your daughter needs to trust you on this, and also be able to talk with you in private about it. But it is a significant milestone in her life, so you might also want to have a special, private celebration with her – such as an outing to the cinema or a special meal.
It’s okay to feel apprehensive. Is there any girl in the world who hasn’t felt apprehensive about menstruating? I doubt it. Don’t tell her ‘not to be silly’; but just reassure her what a normal part of life it is.
And, in case you’ve forgotten some of the basics yourself, this is when you need to take your daughter to a GP.
- Her periods last more than seven days
- She has menstrual cramps that aren't relieved by over-the-counter medications
- She's bleeding between periods
- She's bleeding more heavily than usual or using more than one pad or tampon every one to two hours
- She's missing school or other activities because of painful or heavy periods
- She goes three months without a period after beginning menstruation or suspects she might be pregnant
- Her periods become irregular after having been regular
- She hasn't started menstruating by age 15 or within three years of the start of breast growth
- She gets a fever and feels sick after using a tampon.