Your Child's First Period - 6 Tips To Start A Conversation About The Menstrual Cycle With Them
Menstruation is a natural process, and teaching children about the process is crucial to shaping their experience and perspective around it. Here’s what you should teach your children when the time for the first period comes.
Gender inclusivity and equality is an important area of focus globally specifically in developing nations like India. The importance of this is reflected through SDG 5 on Gender Equality which is part of the ambitious SDGs unanimously adopted by the 193 member states of the United Nations. In healthcare, one of the first steps toward gender inclusivity and equality is having equal access to information on menstruation.
As a parent or guardian, it is your responsibility to ensure that your child is aware and informed about this natural process while retaining a positive view.
Menstrual and Sexual Health advocate and educator, Artika Singh (Founder of CSE group @teamtaarini ) shares six tips to help you start a conversation about the menstrual cycle with your children.!
#1 Anatomy without Shame
Before we talk about periods—let’s talk about our bodies and the shame we are often taught to associate with them. Our very first information about our genitals often comes as “private parts,” something to be hidden and something to be shameful about.
Exposure to such limitations regarding body parts and anatomy eventually leads to embodied shame by many individuals. We suggest that parents teach their young ones about anatomy and their body in general as a precursor to period education. Teach them the real names of the body parts. Say vagina, penis instead of pee and shame-shame. Just how you’d call a hand a “hand,” call a vagina what it is—there’s nothing wrong about it.
Teaching about anatomy is also a necessary foundation to lay, one you can build on when the child is old enough to understand more about periods and eventually about sex and sexuality as they advance in age and cognitive development.
#2 Periods are NOT dirty!
Remember when a detergent brand made “daag acche hain!” (stains are nice) a popular slogan? I think it’s time we now take the notion of “periods acche hain” (periods are nice) to each household with the same enthusiasm.
Menses or periods is the portion of a menstrual cycle marked by the expulsion of blood, tissues and other components as a result of the shedding of the uterine lining. Let’s think about the process for a moment: preceding the period, the uterine lining thickens to welcome the lodging of a potential embryo in case of a pregnancy. The lining eventually will form the placenta and be responsible for nourishing the embryo.
In the absence of pregnancy, the SAME lining sheds. Logically, the lining itself is not dirty, it is only shed because it no longer serves a purpose. In fact, the odour associated with period blood results from the chemical reactions that occur as a result of period blood being exposed to atmospheric air.
The verdict: Periods or period blood are not dirty. It is important to reiterate this fact to ensure that shame doesn’t engulf the minds of young menstruators for going through a process that is biologically dictated. It also helps build an unbiased understanding of the process amongst both menstruators and non-menstruators, saving children from being teased, called names and bullied for having their periods.
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#3 Periods are NOT A Disease
The sight of blood can be an overwhelming experience even for many adults, let alone kids. It is logical for children to see blood and associate it with a disease or hurt. Many children thus grow up with the notion that periods are, in fact, an illness and thus something to be scared of.
Early conversations citing the normalcy of a period and biological explanation (even if it’s basic) can help young children understand the phenomenon instead of fearing it.
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#4 Period Lesson for All—not just for the girls
We applaud all the teachers and guardians who make the time to teach their kids about menstruation. It is a self-reported fact by many such adults that their period lessons are specifically meted out to their “daughters”/ “girls.” While this is a welcome first step, we urge all adults in the capacity of a mentor or guardian to create gender-inclusive spaces to talk about menstruation.
Periods don’t have a gender. Gone are the days when gender is only binary, and the only accepted gender is cis. Folks with a uterus and vagina and vulva are likely to have their period irrespective of the gender they wish to identify with. Additionally, for those who are non-menstruators, knowledge about periods is still important.
For non-menstruators, knowledge about periods will help them act from an informed place when it comes to various social life activities, including participation in education or a workforce, understanding dynamics at home, healthcare functions, and so on. It also helps them build and practice empathy when it comes to interactions with other people in their lives, many of whom may be menstruators.
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Emphasis on why menstruators should be fully informed can never be enough. Complete knowledge of one’s own body promotes informed choices regarding one’s self along with also keeping track of one’s health.
#5 Explore period products
Unfortunately, many menstruators (including myself) first come across period products when menstruating for the first time. More often than not, the first-period product for a menstruator is something that another older menstruator in their household or family may be using.
The experience of getting your first period is made that much more overwhelming by adding into the mix a completely new product that needs to be used in the most intimate way. Additionally, a period product that works for one menstruator may not work for another.
There are so many new and healthy period products to try and choose from. As a parent/guardian, it is crucial that you explore these products, even if it’s just through online browsing, so that by the time the first period happens, you’re at least well aware of what kind of products you should get for your child.
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#6 Each period is different and no, it’s not like the ads or movies
It’s also important to have conversations about things that may not be hunky-dory during a period, such as - cramps, heightened emotional responses, bodily changes, etc.
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A person experiencing their period, especially for the first time, must be assured that it is, in fact, absolutely normal to experience all these emotions and physical changes and that they do have support to cope with them.
About the Author:
Artika Singh (she/her) is currently the President of Taarini Foundation and runs projects in the space of SRHR, Sustainable Menstruation, Safer Sex and Healthier Periods in the capacity of an educator. She is also the growth manager for an up and coming fem-tech startup. She graduated with honors in Anthropology and a specialization in Public Health, Gender and Society.