When sex ed was introduced last year in the Grade 5 class attended by one of Nathalie Klein’s two daughters, some of the parents expressed concern. But Klein embraced the opportunity to talk about puberty. “It opened the door for a follow-up conversation at home,” this Winnipeg mom says. “They were very chatty about it.”
Experts say that even children as young as six or eight should begin learning about sexual development. While some girls start menstruating as early as nine, on average a girl gets her first period at around 12. And by then, her body’s been going through changes for about two years already, including breast development and possibly a growth spurt. To prepare your daughter for her period, here is what the experts suggest.
Telling your daughter everything she needs to know about menstrual cycles in a single, overwhelming discussion can be daunting on your part, and possibly scary on hers (especially if you describe it as the “curse” rather than something special that happens to women). Better to talk about periods in bits and pieces over several years. “There are usually plenty of opportunities,” says Dr. Peggy Kleinplatz, certified sex educator and certified sex therapist with the University of Ottawa.
You can also raise the topic casually yourself, when you’re putting away a new box of tampons, for instance. You can even pick up educational pamphlets from your family doctor, or a book about the topic and leave it out for your developing daughter, so when the time comes, she’ll be informed. “For my older daughter, we even put together a little survival kit with pads in it for her locker at school,” says Klein.
Always try to address your daughter’s questions as they come, says Dr. Jorge Pinzon, a Calgary specialist in adolescent medicine. Remember that while your daughter may not have her period yet, her friends may be early bloomers and discussing the topic at length but missing accurate information. Adds Dr. Kleinplatz, “If you answer all questions the first time they come up, then children will keep asking. If your answer is, “I’ll tell you when you get older,’ children will learn not to ask those kinds of questions.”
And if your preteen doesn’t feel comfortable coming to you? Kimberley Chatwood of Smiths Falls, Ont., tells her 10-year-old daughter which of her women friends she can go to with questions, and how to contact them on speed-dial. “She knows she has other sources to call.”
Yes, the female body’s ability to grow life is a beautiful thing. But don’t gloss over some of the harsh realities of having your period. Part of teaching your girl means letting her know about cramping from uterine contractions, irregular cycles and how to use pads or tampons. “It’s helpful to address the fact that there will be feelings of uncertainty, not knowing what is happening. Obviously, children are not accustomed to dealing with blood on a regular basis,” notes Dr. Pinzon. It’s also important to give your girl a heads-up about hormonal and emotional changes so she’ll be better prepared to cope. “My daughter sees that once a month Mommy really gets grumpy,” Chatwood laughs.
Talking about menstruation openly and comfortably will go a long way to helping your daughter handle puberty. “I grew up in a house where it was all secret and taboo,” remembers Chatwood, who had to teach herself to put in a tampon since she hadn’t had that conversation with her mother. “I don’t want my daughter to have to figure things out on her own.” As for her openness, Chatwood’s daughter seems to appreciate it. “She appeared to take it quite seriously, because she understood that, yeah, this is something that mommy’s doing that I will do one day too.”
Toronto freelance writer Lisa Bendall’s nine-year-old daughter knows way more about menstruation than she did at that age.