While periods often arrive in the pre-teen/early teenage stage of life, children as young as 8 can get their period. While it is difficult to imagine an 8 year old going through this, it is a reality that periods can come at this age. Therefore it is so important that children are aware of what a period is, what it does and who experiences them. Despite periods being a fact of life for millions of people across the UK, there is still an element of shame and secrecy when it comes to menstruating, with some young people being unsure about who to talk to about them.
Lack of awareness of periods can potentially lead to several issues, from trivial to more serious concerns. As a child, one of our committee thought that people used sanitary towels because they inexplicably wet themselves regularly. They also thought that they were applied sticky side up (see, silly). On a more serious note, if a child suddenly experiences their period without warning or without any knowledge of this inevitable part of puberty, this could genuinely frighten them. One of our committee thought that when they got their period at age 9, that they were going to die because they were bleeding so much. As they were so young, no one had thought to have the chat with them about periods.
If we want to remove the stigma around menstrual health, we must ensure that our children are educated about their bodies from an early age. Of course, every parent must choose to do this at an age and stage that is appropriate for their child, as well as considering the language they use. When it comes to periods, it is possible to discuss them in an age appropriate way without censoring what menstruation is. For many years, tampon and sanitary towel adverts have shown the liquid absorbed as blue, censoring audiences from what a lot of us already know. This however, does nothing to prepare a child for what is to come, and begs the question; what is so shameful about accepting that millions of those who menstruate worldwide bleed once a month? In 2017, Bodyform became the first brand in the UK to feature sanitary pads stained with red liquid, rather than blue in its adverts (BBC News). This was welcomed by up to 74% of those surveyed, however others described the change from blue to red as “disgusting” and “explicit”. We need to question why this is, and how these attitudes can be addressed and tackled.
Often, schools are the place where children first learn about menstrual health and well-being but, for some, this can happen after they have their first period and this can lead to unnecessary anxiety.
It’s also important that you explain the possibility that they may experience discomfort/pain when they have a period and that they can ask for pain relief if this becomes necessary. This doesn’t necessarily mean paracetamol; it could be a hot water bottle or a tens machine – it’s important to find out what works for your child. Children should also know that while mild discomfort is sometimes to be expected when experiencing a period, it is not normal for pain to be debilitating. It would be useful for parents/guardians to be aware of the warning signs that other factors, such as endometriosis or PCOS could be playing a role in how their child experiences menstruation.
For many parents, having these conversations with your child will be easy and relaxed. But some parents may not feel confident enough and may feel they need to ask someone else for support. The important thing is that your child has the information so maybe there is another appropriate adult that can step in to help you, for example, an aunt, a family friend or a pastoral care teacher. You may want to read up on menstrual well-being, period products, symptoms etc, before you speak to your child so you can anticipate questions they may have. Sanitary product websites such as Tampax also offer monthly updates, sharing information relating to periods and the effects they have on the body and mind and of course – this website might be of use for you or your child. You are welcome to contact us regarding any questions you or your child might have.
The discussion around periods should be positive, inclusive and informative, not frightening, shameful and secretive. The discussion should involve all children, regardless of gender. This way, society as a whole, can be more understanding and empathetic of what menstruation entails. It is important for parents and children alike to support and to feel supported, and Bloody Amazing strongly advocates this.
In a practical sense, it’s important to ensure that your child is aware about menstruation, that it involves more than 'having a period' and what they should expect. Anatomically correct language i.e. uterus, vagina, period etc. can be used; there is no shame in using accurate vocabulary when explaining how the human body changes over time. Throughout my life, I have heard many synonyms for period, for example, “the blob” (lovely), “the curse” (on the nose) or “things” (too vague). Of course, no harm is meant by referring to periods in this way, but by skirting around the correct term, this facilitates a layer of secrecy and shame when discussing something that is very natural.
A really good practical and moderately affordable way you can do this is by purchasing a “My first period kit.” You can buy these pre-made online or you can make your own. They usually contain reusable pads and period pants (you might want to get smaller pants or boy shorts depending on how your child presents/the level of femininity that they are comfortable with. The kit also contains wipes and a bag to store all this in. It might also be a good idea to buy a little information booklet – in case the first period comes when your child is away from home or if you know that your child is particularly shy. You might want to include your child’s favourite snack/chocolate and a personal note from you to help them feel reassured.
You can find more information about my first period packs and links to buy them online, below: