Parenting is never easy. Every age and time in your child’s life is full of seemingly endless changes. Once kids hit the age of 10 or so, you can see it coming…the dreaded phase…puberty.
When my daughter was in 5th grade I saw puberty coming straight for our family like a locomotive on the loose. I was determined to make this phase in her life feel different from my own entry into puberty and all that came with it. I wanted my daughter to know what was happening, for her to understand the changes she was experiencing are not only OK but totally normal. Knowing most of her questions would center around her period, I made sure I was ready ahead of time.
Here are 5 things I did to help my daughter and our family through this important transition.
Preparing for Puberty
Look for signs
Many experts, including Johns Hopkins Medicine, state that signs of puberty can begin as early as age 8. You can read more about that here. I knew as I was watching my daughter begin to develop in the 4th grade that I needed to start planning for the inevitable.
The first step for us was taking my daughter bra shopping. I wanted her to feel confident in her body and her clothes. She has always been athletic, so she chose sports bra styles. I was intentional in not pointing her in that direction, but I was glad when she chose them on her own. She could have the autonomy of not only selecting what she wore, but sports bras were something she could easily put on by herself.
As she continued to develop and grow physically I knew we were on the countdown to her period starting. I thought I probably had a good year or so before it started, but I knew I wanted to talk to her ahead of time so she was not surprised.
Fast forward about a year. I saw additional changes in my daughter physically and emotionally and I knew I couldn’t prolong the conversation any longer. There are tons of books that help adults and girls approach the topic of puberty. I selected this book because I appreciate not only the content but the representation of girls presented throughout the book. It was written using correct terminology (which we have always used in our family) and had a refreshingly honest take on the pluses and minuses that come with puberty. I read the book first, just to make sure I knew the content and that it would be something my daughter could look at on her own if she had questions.
Additionally, I wanted to get her something that would honor this occasion in her life. Some families have “Period Parties” or celebrate in other ways. I purchased a first-period kit from the company Ruby Love, makers of period underwear. It contained a pair of period underwear and a bunch of other fun things. I tucked it away in my closet ready to give it to her when the time came.
The day I sat down to talk to my daughter about puberty and specifically her was just a normal day at home. I asked her if she had a few minutes to talk with me and we headed up to her room with my book in hand. I started by asking her what she knew about puberty. She was able to fill in some details. Then I asked her what she knew about when a girl got her period. She was a little confused because most of her classmates had not yet had their first period.
Keep in mind she was in the fifth grade when we had this conversation. But I knew it couldn’t wait any longer. Using some of the diagrams and pictures in the book I talk with her about the things that were already happening to her body. We also talked about why. That all led up to our conversation about her menstrual cycle, what it was, why it was happening, and what it could be like for her.
To say it was embarrassing would be an understatement. To say my daughter was momentarily terrified about what was going to happen to her body would be a more accurate statement. I told her of my experiences with my period. Then I showed her the different period products available as I had some on hand. She felt most comfortable having additional conversations about how to use pads. I showed her how to wear pads in underwear with a pair of her clean underwear. I was very open about the fact that she might want to use other products as she grew older.
One thing I didn’t do was sugarcoat the negative things that come with being a menstruating person. I talked about cramps. And irritability. I talked about needing to carry extra underwear in case of a leak. I made sure she understood that she needed the necessary supplies in her backpack once her cycle started. Then I shared with her some of the things that help me when I have my period like ibuprofen, heating pads, and sometimes just being by myself.
Let her process on her own
On the day of our big talk, I did a lot of talking and she listened. I asked her at the end one question she had. I reinforced that it was normal to have a lot of questions and to be unsure about things. Then I gave her some time to process all of this new learning. I also showed her more of the book I had purchased for her. A few hours later she came down from her room and we had a nice conversation that was led by her questions, concerns, and comments. I felt as though she was as ready as she could have been for this monumental change in her life.
My daughter came home from school one day a few months later and casually informed me she had started her period at school. She was happy she had her bag (a small make-up bag works well for this) with what she needed. That night, I shared with her the first-period kit I had purchased.
And then we went about our lives. One thing my husband and I try to do is normalize having your period. We have supplies in each of our bathrooms. I will ask my daughter frequently if she needs more pads. It’s not a secret in our house, as her dad also asks her if she needs anything or if she needs to restock her school kit.
It is important for us as parents to make sure our daughter didn’t feel embarrassment or shame around something half the population goes through for most of their life. My daughter makes sure she always has extra pads and tampons in her supply bag for her classmates at school and they know that she always has them.
Overall, I think the way we tackled this issue was right for our family.
I would love for you to share things you did for the girls in your life as they approached puberty. The more advice we can share with each other the better.