The day I got my first period is permanently implanted in my brain. As every girl knows, one of the cruel aspects of mother nature is that you never really know when that first period is going to hit. It's a big sign that your little girl isn't a baby anymore, and chances are you'll both be a little emotional. And how you talk to her about her body and its transitions is so important.
"The average age a girl gets her period is around age 12," Dr. Deena Blanchard of Premier Pediatrics tells POPSUGAR. "However, talking about what a period is after she gets one is too late. It's important to talk about puberty before it happens. It doesn't need to be only one conversation (and really shouldn't be), so start young and revisit the conversation, creating open space for these chats." According to Dr. Blanchard, parents should keep the following five things in mind to make that first period an easy transition.
1. Remain Calm
Even though you might be internally freaking out, be as calm as possible. "All change is uncomfortable for both adults and children," Dr. Blanchard tells POPSUGAR. After all, this is the most natural thing a girl can go through. She's also probably feeling mixed emotions, so be her rock as she navigates this new world. "There is no shame in going through puberty, and approaching it from a factual perspective is helpful," continues Dr. Blanchard.
2. Explain What's Happening
"Reassure her that life doesn't need to stop when she gets her period," Dr. Blanchard explains. "She can go out, play sports, swim, etc. Having your period is not a disease; the goal is to empower adolescent girls. If you're struggling with having this talk, you can reach out to your pediatrician, come in, and the three of you can talk together. You can then talk about the stages of puberty and typical female development. Included in this is the explanation of what a period is, and what to expect when you get your period. If you haven't talked about sexual activity yet, now is most certainly the time to do so. Use anatomically correct words like vagina, ovulation, and uterus."
The clinical explanation isn't the only thing to cover. "The first two years after starting your period can be pretty irregular," Dr. Blanchard says. "Let your child know that she may or may not get a period every month and that's her body's way of adjusting. Remind her she can use an app to track her periods and can always check in with you or her pediatrician. Go over logistics and some troubleshooting areas like cramps, leak prevention, and how to dispose of a sanitary pad or tampon."
3. Have a Supply Ready
If you haven't talked with her about her options ahead of this moment, now is the time. Many young girls don't feel comfortable using tampons, so it's best to have a selection of pads and liners ready to go. "In preparation for the first period, it's good for parents to review what maxi pads are and how to use them," Dr. Blanchard advises. "I suggest girls keep a pad in their bag just in case their period comes when they're in school (mine did!). You can also have your child keep a change of underwear and pants in her backpack as well."
"You can decide together which supplies to have on hand. The particular supply one uses can of course change, so explaining to your child that there's a variety of options and she can try and figure out what works best for her is really important. Early on, most girls prefer to use pads, but any choice is fine. You'll need to teach your child how to insert a tampon and review the importance of changing tampons regularly throughout the day. Start with reading the instruction booklet and then you can help her practice. For some girls, the first few attempts to put in a tampon can be challenging. Reassure your daughter this is common and normal. If it continues to be a struggle, it may be best to take a break and try at a different time."
4. Answer Her Questions
These conversations with your daughter also involve a lot of listening. "Be open to and encourage your child to ask questions," Dr. Blanchard says. "Let her know this isn't the end of the conversation, she can always come to you with questions about anything. If your child feels uncomfortable or anxious, acknowledge and validate those feelings. Change is hard for all of us. See if you can get her to open up about what her fears or concerns are so you can address them."
For some parents, the personal approach may work best. "Tell her about your experiences with getting your period (with the caveat that all bodies are different), and perhaps you, too, felt anxious," Dr. Blanchard continues. "What she's feeling is normal. Olympic swimmers, supermodels, and actresses get their periods. It's part of a healthy, female body."
Of course, not every child is anxious to get their period. "She may also feel excited about getting her period and 'becoming a woman.' There's no 'right' way to feel or do this other than being there and being supportive, open, available, and reassuring that you'll make sure she has everything she needs," details Dr. Blanchard.
5. Keep It Period Positive
"It's important to present menstruation from a positive perspective. Try to avoid using phrases like 'the curse' or 'having your period sucks,'" Dr. Blanchard advises. "Some girls are afraid there's going to be tons of blood rushing out of them. Talk about the amount of actual bleeding and how it's different from bleeding when you cut your hand. The uterus is shedding its lining over a number of days and the total is likely to be around three tablespoons. You can be practical and pour that amount of fluid into a cup. It isn't much."