Most parents find it very difficult to start talking to their daughters about menstruation and hence do not even mention it. As a result, many girls do not have any clue about what is happening to them when they have their first periods. This causes extreme fear, anxiety, and loss of confidence in girls. Some girls get to hear about periods from their friends and have a lot of misinformation that causes more harm than good. Research by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that access to good, reliable information and support can help make managing periods easier, healthier, and safer for young girls. Hence it is important to have open conversations with girls to prepare them for their menstruation cycles. Some guidelines on this are captured below.
Get Your Own Facts Right
Before you start educating girls about menstruation, it is very important to check your own views, ideas and thinking about periods. By giving incorrect information and by portraying menstruation in a negative way, one may create more fears in young girls. First educate yourself before attempting to educate young girls about menstruation.
Right Age to Start Conversations
Ascertaining the right age to start conversations with girls around menstruation is not easy and can vary from girl to girl. However, when a girl starts showing signs of entering puberty (increase in height, breast development etc.,) probably around the age of 9 or 10 years, it will help to have casual conversations with her. It is also a good idea to discover what she already knows and address any misinformation or questions that she may have. Encourage her to ask any questions and answer them without any reservation. Keep the discussions light so that she does not avoid these conversations with you. If a younger child (6-7 yrs) asks something after watching her elder sibling or any television advertisement, do not brush it off. Please answer honestly with minimal details as the child may be probably too young to understand the science behind it.
Emphasize That It Is Very Normal Process
When talking to girls, it is important to emphasize that menstruation is a very normal biological process, and all women and girls have periods. She should know that all her female friends will also have periods. There is nothing to be afraid of and nothing to be ashamed of. One of the most important things to mention very clearly is that menstruation does not change anything in life. She can continue doing whatever she loves to do (going to school, playing sports, dancing or going out with friends). This will help alleviate any fears that she may have around periods.
Give Scientific Background
Do give a brief background about what is menstruation cycle and why is it important. She should be told that it is a part of female reproductive system. It may also be a good idea to show her some scientific videos or documentaries on this subject.
Avoid Focusing on Menstrual Discomfort
It is not necessary to talk too much about potential symptoms that the girl might have when she actually has her periods. Since some girls may not have any symptoms at all, it is best to have this conversation as and when they come up. Otherwise, some girls may become too anxious. However, once the girl starts getting periods, it is good to mention that sometimes there can be discomfort like cramps, fatigue etc. and guide them about appropriate diet and exercises to manage these discomforts.
Usage of Menstrual Products
It is important for girls to be prepared about what are the different menstrual products (pads, tampons, period panties) and how to use them. It is essential that parents show these products to girls so that if the girls have their first periods when parents are not around, the girls can take care of themselves confidently.
Once the girl gets her first periods, it is extremely important to talk to her about the importance of menstrual hygiene. She needs to know that regularly washing and changing her period protection can lower the risk of infections, and help avoid leaks.
Conversations with Fathers and Brothers
If fathers, elder brothers, and other male support members (like coaches, physios) also talk openly and positively about periods with girls, the atmosphere will be very comfortable for young girls. They will realize very clearly that menstruation is a routine process and there is nothing to be ashamed of.
The responsibility of making young girls comfortable with menstruation lies with parents, guardians, and teachers. Girls should be made aware from a very early age that menstruation is a very normal process, and they need not hesitate or feel shy to talk about it. They should also be given appropriate guidance on menstrual health and hygiene so that they can take care of themselves well. Giving correct and reliable information will make menstruation easier and safer for young girls and will also help them become more confident in all their activities (schooling, sports, arts etc.).