In addition to making sure our daughters have healthy options for their bodies, we all want to give them healthy ideas for their mental well-being too. As the founders of an organic tampon company, and director of self-esteem programs for girls, we’ve spent years talking to adolescents and parents about menstruation, or the “moon” cycle. Although everyone is unique, the curiosity of girls and the anxiety of parents associated this conversation is pretty universal, so here are a few suggestions.
When should I talk to her?Simple. 1) Before she gets her first period, and 2) as soon as she asks. 50 percent of girls get their first period (menarche) around age 12. But 10 or 11 is not uncommon and even younger is possible, so 9 is a good target age for making sure your daughter is informed. And keep in mind she’ll get the wonderful health talk (eye roll) in 4th or 5th grade, so you may want to use that time to ask if she has any other questions.
But don’t wait to have a BIG talk. Instead, make menstruation a matter-of-fact topic at an early age, so it’s comfortable for her to ask questions later. If you already feel positive about your cycle, congrats! You’re a step ahead of most of us. If not, check in with yourself about why it’s become an embarrassing topic. When you realize how amazing your menstrual cycle is (and it’s capacity to create life) it’s easier to resist the ridiculous stigma associated with menstruation. Challenge yourself to embrace it and be empowered by it.
Then, when your three-year-old pulls a pad or tampon out of your purse and asks what it is, you’ll be less likely to make up something untrue, ignore it, or tell her it’s a secret. An honest answer can be simple and age-appropriate, “That’s called a tampon (or pad). Mommy uses those to catch the blood from her period.” The important thing to remember is to keep your reaction calm and positive. If your response makes her feel that she’s asked a bad question, she’ll get the message that menstruation is a bad thing.What should I tell her? That elementary school talk explains what happens during puberty . . . ovaries, egg, uterus, vagina, endometrial lining, etc. But there’s so much more to our menstrual cycle than just the “period.” Our three major hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone) shift little by little every single day, which create four distinct phases. The dominance of different hormones each has a benefit like creativity, verbal articulation, pain tolerance, faster metabolism and more. Here are the highlights:
Week 1: The Menstrual phase. This is the “period.” Your estrogen will begin to rise within the first few hours of bleeding and you’ll feel improved energy and mood with each passing day. (Tip: on day seven, your breast tissue is optimal for a self-breast exam.)
Week 2: The Estrogen phase. This is the week your energy and mood will be at their highest, and your brain clarity and verbal skill are also sharpest.
Week 3: The Progesterone phase. You’ve just ovulated and now your hormones (and sometimes your energy) are on the downswing. But this is a good time to keep up your exercise routine since you burn 30 percent more calories at the beginning of this week than the rest of the month.
Week 4: The Pre-menstrual phase. All of your hormones will be at their lowest point by the end of this week. You’re lower on energy, and probably feeling less social, but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The right hemisphere of the brain is more active now. That means your creativity is on fire, so it’s a great time to stay home and write or paint! We like to tell girls that not only is menstrual blood a sign that they’re entering adulthood, and is what will enable them to become a mom (if they choose to) some day, but it’s quite literally magic!
Menstrual blood is the most beneficial type of stem cell blood, and is being studied for possible cures for Alzheimer’s, stroke and certain cancers. How can anyone feel icky about that?
How should I bring it up? If we could wave a magic wand, we’d make every girl and woman believe that her menstrual cycle is wonderful . . . that the physical system that makes her fundamentally female is awesome, instead of icky. We don’t have a magic wand . . . but you do! You have the power to give your daughter the gift of pride in her awesome female body, which will ultimately translate into higher self-esteem. It’s equally important that dads show comfort around this subject, so we don’t perpetuate messages of shame. Tell your daughter that you’ll have a celebration when she gets her first period—anything from a quiet dinner to a big party that she can participate in planning. This is your opportunity to create a rite of passage into adulthood for her that will be memorable in a positive and empowering way. It’s essential that no matter what or when you talk about menstruation, you do so without embarrassment or negativity. Studies show a correlation between mental attitude and physical symptoms of the menstrual cycle. So our first step as parents is to trade in our PMS, for a little PMA (positive menstrual attitude)!
Shelli Wright spent much of her career launching products as an advertising copywriter and creative director. After meeting Anea Bogue in 2006 (of REALgirl Empowerment Programs), she was inspired to turn her creative attention to the issues of girls and women, and the two women co-founded TrueMoon. Shelli is dedicated to providing self-esteem building products and lives in LA with her son and daughter.