How to Explain Menstruation: Talking to Your Child About Periods

Are you feeling unsure how to communicate with your child about menstruation (also referred to as a period)? Talking to your child about personal subjects like periods can feel uncomfortable for both of you at first, but providing them with credible information can help them understand their bodies and make good decisions for their health.

Let us guide you through how to talk to your child about periods and how to answer some common questions they might have.

Daughter smiling and speaking to mother

When Should I Talk to My Kids About Periods?

Talking to your kids about periods shouldn’t be a one-time conversation at a specific age. It should be spread out in multiple conversations to slowly build on your child’s understanding. Over the years, you can provide more information as your child is ready.

Most children can understand the basics of periods by the time they are 6 or 7 years old. If your child is not asking questions about periods, try to bring it up in natural moments, such as:

  • When a child asks about puberty or changing bodies.
  • If your child asks where babies come from.
  • If you are buying pads or tampons.

For example, if your younger child sees a tampon and asks what it’s for, you can explain it in basic terms they will understand. You can say, “Most women have a period every month, meaning they bleed from their vagina a little. It’s how the body gets ready for a baby one day, and the tampon catches the blood so it doesn’t go into the underwear.”

Kids should know what’s going to happen to their bodies before reaching puberty. If you are unsure if your child knows about periods, ask them. You can see what information they do know and how to proceed further with additional information. Answer any questions simply and directly.

What Should I Talk About?

mother and young daughter talking and smiling

Deciding what to talk about depends on your child’s age and level of development. Discover what they already know and address any misinformation or questions that they have.

Sharing your own experiences can help break the ice, and make your child feel more comfortable asking questions. If they are having sex education lessons in school, try to talk about what they are learning and if they have any questions about what they have seen so far.

While discussing the process of menstruation, explain what a period is, how long periods last, period symptoms, signs of PMS and choosing between pads and tampons. When discussing these topics, it might be helpful to have a diagram to refer to.

What Is a Period?

A period typically happens about every month and is the process by which the uterus sheds its lining. This is in response to changes in the hormones throughout the body. Hormones (chemical messengers) from the pituitary gland in the brain communicate to the ovaries and the body. This causes the ovaries to release the hormones estrogen and progesterone into this body. Estrogen and progesterone cause the ovaries to mature and release an egg by process called ovulation. Estrogen and progesterone also cause the lining of the uterus to build up in preparation for possible pregnancy.

Once the egg is released from the ovary, it travels down the fallopian tube towards the uterus. If the egg meets a sperm as it travels, it can attach to the lining (commonly called a womb) and will develop into a fetus/pregnancy. If the egg does not meet a sperm, it will travel into the uterus and with more changes in hormone levels, eventually be shed with the lining of the uterus as a period.

This process happens repeatedly and usually takes about a month for the lining to build up again and break down.

Menstruation can be scary and unknown for many girls, but it symbolizes that they are growing up. Make sure to explain very clearly what a period is so your child feels prepared.

When Do Most Girls Get Their First Period?

Every girl’s body has its own schedule, and periods can start at different ages. Most girls get their first period when they are between 10 and 15 years old. The average age is 12. However, there is not one right age to get a period.

There are some physical changes that can symbolize a period starting soon. Usually, a girl gets her period about two years after her breasts begin to develop. Another sign to look for is vaginal discharge fluid (like mucus) that typically begins six months to a year before the first period.

How Long Do Periods Last, and How Much Blood Is There?

Periods usually last about 5-7 days, but for some girls, they can be longer or shorter. Periods flow levels vary and can range from light to moderate or heavy. On average, there will be a total of 2-4 tablespoons of blood.

If a period lasts more than 7 days, needs more than 5 pads per day or has heavy bleeding, talk to your pediatrician about what is causing this.

How Often Do Periods Happen?

For the first couple years after menstruation begins, cycles are often irregular. They can happen every three weeks, six weeks or only a few times a year. About 2-3 years after the first period, it should come around once a month (usually between every 21-45 days).

What Are Symptoms of a Period?

Period symptoms can differ for every girl, as can the strength of each symptom. Some  may not have any symptoms other than bleeding, while others may have many.

Some symptoms include:

  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Tension
  • Bloating
  • Breast tenderness
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Acne
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Lower back pain

What Is PMS?

PMS (premenstrual syndrome) is when someone has emotional and physical symptoms that occur before or during their period. This can include mood swings, sadness, breast tenderness, bloating and acne. These symptoms usually go away in the first few days of a period. Girls typically do not develop PMS symptoms until years after the menstruation cycle starts, and some never do. For those who do experience PMS, rest, exercise and a balanced diet can help with the symptoms.

Pads, Tampons or Menstrual Cups – Which is Best?

When deciding what menstrual hygiene products to use, it’s important that your child feels physically and emotionally comfortable. Many girls start with using pads and transition to tampons or menstrual cups when they are older; however, they do not have to wait to use tampons or menstrual cups. Tampons might feel uncomfortable or unusual at first while the pelvis and vagina are growing.

If your child decides to use tampons, each box comes with instructions, and it can be helpful to read them together. At first, your child may become irritated with tampons, but explain that it gets easier with practice. Start with a slim tampon applicator, as it is easier to insert and can help with the first time.

Menstrual cups can be awkward at first, but as with tampons, they get easier to insert with practice. Your child may be uncomfortable with the process of using a menstrual cup, but once put in correctly, they are able to do everyday activities without any issues with the cup. Many brands of menstrual cups come with instructions in the box or can be found on the website. Going through the directions can help ease your child into using it.

Common Menstruation Questions

Here are some common questions you and your child might have about menstruation.

A girl can get pregnant when her period starts, and even before her first period. This is because a girl’s hormones can be active and can lead to ovulation.
Women will stop having their periods usually between the ages of 45 and 51. Once that happens, it means that women will also not have the ability to become pregnant anymore.
Girls can do everything they normally would do while on their period, as long as they are comfortable. Girls can choose to wear a tampon when they swim while on their period. Many teens and athletes use prescription hormone pills to skip their periods.
Cramps are a main symptom of periods. Most girls do eventually have them, but some never experience them. Usually, girls do not get cramps for the first year or two of their periods. Cramps can range in pain and length of time, but they typically last a few days. You can help relieve the discomfort by using medicine, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, a hot bath, a heating pad or through exercise.
If you feel uncomfortable talking with your kids about periods, there are many ways to help ease the awkwardness. Here are some tips: Use books and/or videos to lay an educational base and open the conversation; prepare your child for a doctor checkup by letting them know the doctor may have questions about periods; Reach out to a school counselor for advice; Ask your child’s teacher if there are any plans for sex education; While shopping for menstruation products, ask your child if they have questions about it; Talk with your family doctor about communication resources for menstruation and puberty; Reach out to a trusted family member to discuss periods with your child.
Most girls do not have any problems with their periods, but call your doctor if your daughter: Is 15 and does not have her period; Started developing breasts more than three years ago and does not have her period; Is more than two years after her first period and her periods still do not come every 3-6 weeks (especially if she misses three or more periods in a row); Has severe cramps not relieved by ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve or Midol); Has very heavy bleeding (bleeding that goes through a pad or tampon faster than every two hours); Has severe PMS that gets in the way of her everyday activities, including school.

Periods: Looking Ahead

Having the talk about periods can be uncomfortable for both you and your child; however, the important thing is that your child has reliable information. Creating an open and safe environment where they can ask their questions is vital. The more that they understand about their bodies, the better they can make healthy choices.

 

If you are looking for a new doctor for your child for this new phase of life, visit our Wellness and Primary Care page to find a pediatrician near you.