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How To Talk To Your Tween About Periods: A Parent's Guide

Empowering our daughters to own their bodies

You don't want to leave it to the gossip she hears at school. Are You There God? It's Me Margaret doesn't quite spin it the way you'd want it presented. And you certainly can't count on school sex ed to do it justice. So how do we parents talk to our daughters about when Aunt Flow comes to town?

What's happening to me?

When I went through this girly right of passage, my mom bought me a great book What's Happening To Me?. My friend Kittie and I would sit on my bed and read this puppy out loud, roaring at the funny pictures -- the flat-chested girl holding up the giant bra, the boy standing on the end of a diving board with his Johnson sticking straight out, the poor kid changing his sheets after his wet dream. We hooted our way through the book, but at the end, we didn't really know that much about what would actually happen when the Judy Blume moment occurred.

So when I got caught unprepared at school, wearing a white skirt without any feminine protection, I found myself scuttling like a crab with my back against the lockers until my friend Jennifer rescued me with a clean pair of gym shorts and a giant maxi pad diapers that left me doing the bow-legged walk of shame. Way to welcome in womanhood. Just call me Big Red. Woo hoo, thank you very much.

That was a long time ago and despite the fact that there is more education out there for girls and women than ever before, my experience is still shared by a lot of preteens even today. There has to be a better way!

My daughter has a little ways to go before I face this issue, but it occurs to me I will have to face it! How might we help our daughters experience this puberty moment without the undue embarrassment many of us faced? Here are a few tips.

12 Tips For Helping Your Daughter Mature Gracefully

  1. Start educating her early. With the proliferation of xenoestrogens, environmental estrogens that are bringing on periods younger and younger, many girls are as young as eight when Aunt Flow arrives. If you're eight years-old and you don't know about periods, this is going to come as a HUGE shock. Don't let your daughter wind up frightened and scared.
  2. Keep it light. If you make talking about puberty too serious, she's gonna tune you out. Laugh, joke, and give her permission to diffuse the embarrassment she may feel with healing humor.
  3. Teach her the clinical names for her girly parts, but give her permission to choose what she wants to call it. You don't want her to feel shy about discussing her vagina just because she hates the word. If she wants to call it her "rose garden", let her.
  4. Take her on a tour of her body. Offer her a hand mirror or buy her a Peek-a-bu mirror specifically designed for pubic viewing, and invite her to take a gander in the privacy of her own room. Give her a book with a diagram so she can see what she's looking at (or print out this page).
  5. Invite her to ask you anything, no matter how silly or embarrassing she might think it is. Give her examples of the kinds of silly questions you might have asked to make her feel at ease.
  6. Give her permission to tell you anything. If she fears your judgment, she's going to go to her misinformed BFF instead of coming to you. Make a pact to keep everything she asks you confidential. Promise you won't tweet it, Facebook it, or tell your Great Aunt Hilda. When she comes to trust you, she'll be more likely to open up to you.
  7. Let her know that she'll usually get a warning before her period first arrives. Brown discharge on her panties usually precedes heavy bright red flow. Remind her to alert you if she sees that tell-tale brown discharge. You can help her be prepared so she doesn't wind up with a big red stain on her white skirt, the way I did.
  8. Let her choose whether she prefers a pad or a tampon. Empowering her to make her own decision, rather than trying to impose your own bias, helps her feel like the woman she is. And yes, tampons for pubescent girls are fine as long as they're comfortable.
  9. Make sure she knows that periods are nothing to be embarrassed about. Every woman has to purchase pads and dispose of bloody feminine hygiene products. If the dog winds up with a bloody mustache after rummaging in the trash can in front of her friends (like mine did!), she'll likely be mortified, but if she knows it's natural, normal, and healthy, she's less likely to freak out and be scarred for life.
  10. Warn her about menstrual cramps. Tell her they're not some curse inflicted upon her for being a woman, but nature's way of keeping you from bleeding too much. Cramps are just the uterus contracting to close down the blood vessels that open up during menses. Ibuprofen or naproxen can help ward them off and offer relief, especially if taken at the first sign of cramping.
  11. Take her on a tour of the feminine hygiene aisle and answer any questions she might have. Let her buy a variety of products so she can take them on a test run and see what she likes best. The last thing you want is for her to be scared of what will help her. Put them in her bathroom cabinet so they're ready when she is.
  12. Let her know that her period is a right/rite of passage to celebrate. Other cultures honor this transition into womanhood. I think we should too! Plan a Red Tent party. Invite her best friends and some of the older women in her life that she loves and respects. Ask each person who comes to bring a gift to give to your daughter, something that will help her grow into a vital, whole, healthy woman. Maybe it's a poem or a journal entry or a significant trinket that means something to the giver. Set up an altar so everyone can put their gifts on the altar. Bless the altar and bless your child. Let her know that becoming a woman is worthy of a party!

Most of all, let your tween know that you're here for her, no matter what, and that being female is a blessing, not a curse. How you model this time in her life will lay the groundwork for how she feels about being a woman. You want her to embrace her femininity, not resent it, so stay positive, demonstrate your own feminine power, and you will raise an empowered daughter who isn't afraid of her period.

Dr. Lissa Rankin is an OB/GYN physician, an author, a nationally-represented professional artist, and the founder of Owning Pink, an online community committed to building authentic community and empowering women to get- and keep- their "mojo". Owning Pink is all about owning all the facets of what makes you whole- your health, your sexuality, your spirituality, your creativity, your career, your relationships, the planet, and YOU. Dr. Rankin is currently redefining women’s health at the Owning Pink Center, her practice in Mill Valley, California. She is the author of What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend (St. Martin's Press, September 2010).