If you have a daughter approaching that 10-15 year age range, then the time is near for you to prepare her for her first period and the realities of puberty. Next to teaching a child how to drive, this can be one of the more nerve-wracking tasks for a parent. But it may be easier than you think.
It’s good to start talking with your child before she has her first period, so she can be as prepared as possible, both emotionally and with a practical plan for dealing with her first period. If your child approaches you, you should be ready to talk.
So, to help you be ready, Vanessa Foster, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist at OSF HealthCare – and a mother of teenage girls – has some simple tips to guide you.
Know your stuff beforehand. Research common questions and answers. The more confident you are in your knowledge of the subject, the easier it may be to project comfort and understanding.
“I would tell a young woman what to expect as her body changes and her body develops. They need to know about their menstrual cycle and daily discharge and what that means – what is normal and abnormal.
And odors change and the color of things change. The texture of hair even changes.”
Don’t know an answer? Don’t make something up.
“Tweens and teens are smarter than we think,” Dr. Foster said. “Always be frank and honest, because they know when we’re not.”
Instead, offer to look it up together on trusted websites. This can provide you an opportunity to share websites on the topic that provide useful information, and discuss how to avoid all the rumors, myths and lies online.
Approach early, talk often
First thing is the approach. If your child is approaching puberty, has friends experiencing it or is in the early stages of puberty but hasn’t approached you with questions, yet, you should initiate the conversation.
Try gauging at first what her knowledge level is of puberty and menstruation, so you know what topics to discuss and don’t go too far too soon.
Plan to have more than one talk, so you aren’t overwhelming her with too much information right away. This also allows her time to process the new information and come up with questions she may even bring to you on her own. This is a good sign that she is interested in learning about the topic and trusts she can come to you with questions.
“I think open dialogue fosters further open dialogue as your relationship changes and progresses with your daughter,” Dr. Foster said.
An open avenue of communication with your child is a great way to help her deal with what can be a challenging and stressful time in her life.
Have your game face ready
Creating and maintaining an open line of communication with your child is an important part of a healthy relationship. It grows trust and comfort and can help you stay active in their life as they grow more independent. But maintaining that communication is not always easy.
If your child feels comfortable coming to you with questions and concerns, you may receive a bit of shock when it hits you that she is growing up and becoming curious about sexuality.
If possible, however, try to keep any shock or surprise hidden. You don’t want her to feel ashamed about bringing questions and problems to you.
“They are going to ask you stuff you haven’t thought about, so you have to have your poker face on,” Dr. Foster said.
Be approachable and proactive
Don’t leave your child to learn on their own. Be a source of support and understanding. It may feel a little uncomfortable at first to have these conversations, but it beats the alternative.
“Kids get their needs met, and as a parent you want them to get their needs met at home, not out in the streets,” Dr. Foster said. “You want to be the one who helps guide and inform them as they mature, or else they will turn solely to their friends for information.”
You can also talk to your child’s pediatrician for helpful ideas, tips and resources. They have a lot of experience and knowledge for helping children deal with health-related topics.