“What are these, Mommy?” asked the 7-year-old girl, reaching into her mother’s vanity drawer and pulling out a box of tampons. Caught unprepared to talk about puberty and menstruation, her mother improvised. “Um…they’re windshield wiper cleaners, honey.”
Will you be more ready than that when it’s time to talk to your daughter about her first period? That time may come sooner than you think.
Although a girl’s first period usually occurs at about age 12, some girls experience their first period much earlier. And even before she gets her first period, your daughter will be noticing other changes in her body: Recent studies show that most girls start developing breast buds sometime between age 9 and 10.
When that happens, you’ll know that her first period may not be far off: The development of breast buds usually precedes a girls’ first period by about two years, while pubic and underarm hair usually begins to appear about six months before the onset of menstruation.
“A girl’s first period should actually be a milestone in a series of talks over many years about normal development -- physical changes and psychological changes,” says Karen Zager, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in New York City and co-author of The Inside Story on Teen Girls: Experts Answer Parents’ Questions. “All of that should start when they’re very young, in age-appropriate ways.”
Seven Tips for Talking to a Girl About Her First Period
1. Start talking about periods in general terms from an early age. “Put it in the context of natural functions, and it’s very easy for kids to absorb, says Zager. “You can tell her, ‘You know, someday your body will grow up and look like Mama’s, and you’ll have breasts and hair in certain places. Your body will change in lots of ways as you get ready to be a grown-up woman.”
2. As your daughter gets older, get into specifics. You can talk with her more about what that menstruation means -- such as what her first period will be like and being able to get pregnant if she has sex.
3. Answer questions with simple, factual information that is age appropriate. Don’t feel the need to elaborate or go into extensive explanations because you’re nervous. If your first-grader finds your box of tampons, you can simply say, “Mommy uses those every month when she gets her period,” without going into a two-hour discussion of the menstrual cycle, ovulation, and female anatomy.
4. Take time to understand what your daughter is really asking. Instead of assuming you know what your daughter’s asking, find out what she thinks the question is about. If she asks something about girls bleeding or has heard another girl talk about her first period, ask her, “What have you heard about it?” You might find out that she’s heard something strange or off-base that you’ll need to correct with good information. (And you’ll also buy time to figure out just how you want to answer.)