We all know that periods are totally natural, and most see them as a normal part of everyday life. However, studies have shown that the subject is viewed rather differently by young women.
According to a study of 1,000 British women run by ActionAid, 54% of girls and women aged between 16-24 shy away from discussing their period.
Similarly, Ovarian Cancer Trust found that 66% of 18-24 year-olds are too embarrassed to speak to their GP about their vagina. 65% of women from a similar study ran by Eve Appeal say they even avoid saying the word entirely, and instead refer to phrases such as ‘down there’.
So, how can we make steps to dispel these taboos and encourage girls not to feel embarrassed about these important bodily changes? As a parent or carer, having the period talk with your children can be a bit daunting – but it doesn’t have to be. At betty for schools, we’ve put together some tips to help you have conversations with your children below.
A lot of parents can find talking about periods with their daughter or son uncomfortable, and it really needn’t be. The more you speak openly and in a relaxed manner, the less intimidated they are likely to feel. It’s totally natural after all, and it’s important that this comes across.
2. Try not to wait until your daughter has started her period
Starting the conversation early will give your daughter time to get used to the idea. The average age for a girl to start her period is 11-13, but some girls start as early as 8 years old, so it’s a good idea to have the chat then or before. Remember to explain that everyone is different – for example, your daughter may be concerned that her body is changing more quickly, or more slowly, than her friends’ bodies. Reassure her and let her know that this is perfectly natural.
3. Avoid one big ‘chat’
Try and introduce them to the topic of periods and hormones casually through everyday life where possible, in order to avoid the daunting, sit-down ‘chat’ which can sometimes be overwhelming. This can place too much importance on something that’s totally normal. If they’re asking questions at a young age, answer them as honestly and frankly as you can – this will help to reduce the stigma of talking about periods from a young age and encourage them to be more body confident.
4. Be open and honest
Let’s face it, nearly all women get a period at some point in their lives and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Being open and honest will make your daughter feel like it’s normal, which it is. If you’re a mum or a female carer, you could tell your daughter about when you first started. Dads and male carers can reassure too – you don’t have to have been through it yourself, just let your daughter know that you are there to talk to.
5. Be prepared
It’s important you have the right information so that you can relay it to your child as best you can. Brush up on the little details that may have become a little hazy over time, such as the length of time you can leave a tampon in and the risks of TSS. It’s a good idea to have a range of different sanitary products in the house too, so your daughter feels she has some control in the situation and can decide what works best for her and her body. Let her know where she can find them when she needs them (a stash by the toilet or in a drawer in her bedroom isn’t a bad idea).
You can find more information about periods on the NHS website here.
6. Talk to boys about periods too
It’s really important that boys understand periods too so they are informed; it will also help them understand what girls go through each month. Talk to them about why girls and women get periods, how they deal with them (i.e. pads and tampons) and how periods can have symptoms such as mood swings and cramps.
7. Be positive
Avoid using euphemisms and phrases to describe your period as some women so often do – steer away from negative language and talk about menstruation in a positive way. Perhaps mention that this signals the start of her becoming a woman, and the reason we have a cycle is so that we can have babies (if you choose to), which is a wonderful thing!
8. Support is key
Starting your period can be a daunting experience for girls, and there’s no doubt your daughter will have lots of questions about the changes her body is going through. Although you are always there to offer advice, there are lots of other resources out there that she can turn to if she has a question. An example is betty.me, a content site which offers a whole range of advice for teen girls, from personal hygiene and periods, to friendships at school.
PS: A great way to break the ice and start the conversation could be to use our new interactive films. The films introduce your kids to Keira and Ben on the day Keira starts her period – uh oh! See how the situation plays out from both Keira and Ben’s perspectives and let your child make their own decisions with our pick-a-path interactive films.
Play the game here: bettyforschools.co.uk/films
betty is a teen brand which aims to break the taboo of talking about periods and challenge societal barriers about these types of teen issues. betty is changing the way we perceive and talk about periods, and instilling body confidence in young women. For more information, check out the rest of the site or follow @bettycollective on all social channels.
Image: Kate Borrill