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Seven Tips for Talking to a Girl About Her First Period continued...

5. Use your own experience to spark discussion about hers. “It’s perfectly fine to say, ‘Do you have any questions?’ And somewhere on the planet there may be a kid who says, ‘Yes, I have several questions and here they are.’ But most won’t,” says Lynda Madaras, co-author of a series of popular books on health, childcare, and parenting. Instead, take a more casual approach: “You know, when I was your age, I was really worried about getting my first period because I thought it would hurt a lot. Are you worried about that?”

6. Know that “I don’t know,” is a perfectly acceptable answer. Sometimes children ask questions that we aren’t prepared for. Madaras recalls the mother whose 5-year-old asked, “Who was on top the night I was conceived?” At a time like this, it’s fine to say, “That’s a good question. I’m going to think about it and get back to you.” (But do get back to her. Don’t pretend you forgot in the hope that she will too.)

7. Don’t just hand your daughter a book or video. You can use a book or video as a jumping-off point to discuss menstruation, but don’t just hand your daughter a book and assume your job is done. Watch it or read it with her, and talk about it with her afterward. (Madaras’s What’s Happening to My Body? books are good choices, as is her My Body, My Self, which has spaces for journal notes and Q&As tailored to parents talking to their daughters about menstruation and puberty.)

What Does a Girl Want to Know About Her First Period?

As puberty draws near, a girl is likely to be excited at the prospect of leaving childhood behind and “becoming a woman,” but she’ll probably also have more specific thoughts, worries, and fears about menstruation and the way her body is beginning to change. Here are some of the types of questions may she be asking herself:

  • Will I get my first period at school? That’s a big fear for a lot of girls, says Madaras. “Strategize with your daughter about what she can do -- carrying something in her purse, going to the school nurse or, even as an emergency measure, putting toilet paper in her underpants,” she says. “But she’s probably most worried that she’s just going to gush blood, so you should reassure her that that doesn’t happen.”
  • I don’t have my period yet, but there’s this white stuff in my underpants. What is that? This is another big worry for many girls, who may imagine they have a disease or that they’ve injured themselves by masturbating. “Give them the physiological facts -- that vaginal discharge is just a way of keeping the vagina clean, and it’s perfectly normal,” Madaras says.
  • How do I use tampons? Sanitary pads are pretty self-explanatory, but tampons can be intimidating. You may want to suggest that your daughter wait until she’s a little more comfortable with her period before using tampons. Today’s pads are much more sports-friendly and easier to hide than the bulky ones of yesteryear. Some tips for when she starts trying tampons: Use a smaller size first to judge what is most comfortable for her body. Change tampons every four to eight hours. Be sure she washes her hands before and after insertion.
  • Am I normal? Whether a girl gets her first period early or late, or right at the “average” age, she will probably worry that there’s something wrong with her. “Emotional swings are part of adolescence, and we all figure that everybody else is developing normally and we’re not,” says Zager. “Reassure your daughter that she will eventually develop -- or that the other girls will catch up with her, if she’s developing early.”

Girl to Woman: Your Changing Body

Teen girls: See how your body changes during puberty.
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