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My daughter just turned six and has started to ask a lot of questions after she found my stash of tampons in my purse. I want to start the conversation with her about periods but I don’t know how. Any suggestions?
New Brunswick, NJ
Excellent question. First off, I think it is great you are wanting to discuss menstruation with your daughter at such an early age. The sooner we have these discussions with our daughters, nieces, and all the young girls (and boys) in our lives and the more comfortable we make them with the idea of menstruation, the less confusing or traumatic the experience of menarche will be. It is also important to have these conversations with young girls because it gives us a chance to teach them accurate and positive information about menstruation before they are bombarded with period-negative rhetoric.
The first exposures young girls receive about their periods can set the stage for their reproductive health for the rest of their lives. Girls who learn about their reproductive bodies in a period-positive environment grow up to have a better understanding of their bodies, are more empowered by their bodies, are less likely to objectify themselves, make better reproductive health choices, and can experience less period pain than girls who grow up in a period-negative environment.
To get to your question here is what I would suggest:
- Let conversation flow in a natural manner, try not to appear rehearsed. The great thing about having this conversation with your daughter is that it can help you bond, deepen trust and cement you as a person she can go to when she wants to talk about her reproductive body.
- Use concrete language. A child of her age cannot understand the abstract nature of sexuality and fertility, so leave that for a later talk when she is a bit older. Instead, talk about what she will experience: blood flow, fullness in the uterus, etc.
- Avoid using negative language to describe menstruation: painful, a hassle, inconvenient, messy, etc.
- Let her ask you questions and answer them honestly, even if it makes you uneasy. If she has the awareness to ask a specific question about her body she deserves to know the truth.
- Do not frame menstruation as a hygienic crisis. Talking about menstruation in reference to something that is “messy” and focusing on the need for “cleanliness” only furthers that taboo that periods are dirty — and for the love of all things period, avoid using the word “sanitary” when talking about periods products.
I am a believer that period education comes in phases at different developmental stages in the lives of menstruators, young and grown. Have fun with this conversation and know that you do not have to cover everything in just one session. Whether the “talk” is a few minutes or a few hours long, the important thing is that you are helping her become more confident with her body. Good luck!
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Amy Sutherland is a period-positive advocate and graduate student at the University of Minnesota where she is currently researching and writing her thesis on how menstrual stereotypes and stigmas affect health outcomes in women and girls. Read her full bio here.