Like most men (and women) you are probably uncomfortable with the idea of talking about a woman’s periods, and especially uncomfortable talking about your daughter’s period. We are trained to avoid discussions of women’s menstrual cycles unless it is to talk about ‘that time of the month’ or PMS. That training will not help you prepare your daughter for her first period or support her as she adjusts to this change in her body and the others to come throughout puberty.
This is the second post in the e-book Dad Guide: Talking with your daughter about her period and menstruation. The first post covered the basics of how menstruation works so that you have the factual knowledge of the biological process to be able to talk with your daughter about what is happening in her body. The next two posts will cover the dizzying array of feminine hygiene products out there. The third post covers menstrual pads & pantyliners and the fourth covers tampons and menstrual cups. I’ll also look at myths, misconceptions and facts that you need to be aware of to answer questions from your daughter and help her find the options that are best for her.
These four posts are bundled together into an e-book along with content from my previous post on how to talk with your kids about sex and sexual health. The .pdf is exclusively available to newsletter subscribers. If you would like a copy, there is an opportunity to sign up for my monthly newsletter at the end of this post.
Social Stigma and Taboos
We are taught that menstruation is something that only women talk about. For most boys and men it is something of a mystery that we are generally able to pretend doesn’t exist. This is especially true if you don’t grow up with any sisters.
Historically, the fact that women bleed every month has been used as a sign that women are the weaker sex and an indication that women are unclean. This stigma continues to this day to greater and lesser degrees across the world.
More than anything this stigma comes from men not understanding how women’s bodies work. Since men have traditionally held, and continue to hold, the majority of positions of power this stigma continues. We see it in the language used to describe a woman’s period and menstruation products. We talk about a woman’s ‘time of the month’ or sometimes a ‘monthly curse.’ I know there are lots of women out there who think of their periods of a curse because it is a hassle and in some cases they experience significant PMS symptoms. The products that women use to manage their periods are referred to as ‘sanitary napkins’ and ‘feminine hygiene’ products because these are products used to keep women clean. Ads for pads and tampons use some mystical blue liquid (antifreeze maybe) to demonstrate the absorption capacity for these products – lest we find red liquid to icky to view.
Many people are grossed out by blood generally. Throw in social taboos about sex, sexuality, genitals, and States’ efforts to regulate and control women’s bodies and reproduction and you get a pretty solid wall of social pressure and negativity tied to women’s periods. This is what your daughter is stepping into as she approaches puberty, and for the rest of her menstruating life.
How you can support your daughter
While we can all play a part in working to break down the social taboos around sexual health and menstruation, we are up against thousands of years of cultural and religious norms. It is not something that you as an individual can solve for your daughter in the short term.
You can, however, help shape her self image and perspective on her period and her body.
Check Your Perceptions
How do you feel about menstruation?
Your daughter will be able to tell if you have a negative view of menstruation. If she tells you that she has her period and your face and body language say ‘that is gross, don’t talk to me about it,’ she is not going to come to you for help again. In fact, you may find that she doesn’t come to you to talk about anything to do with sexual health or sexuality if she thinks you are repelled by how her body works.
Your opinion matters. It is in your daughter’s best interests and the best interests of your relationship that you be able to talk about menstruation positively and supportively. Think about how amazing a woman’s reproductive system is and all that it can accomplish. Your daughter’s period is an outward sign of what her body is capable of doing. You might not be ready to cheer the fact that she can now get pregnant and have children. You can however celebrate this rite of passage.
There are many social taboos related to menstruation. This guide helps dads support their daughters.Click To Tweet
Lay the Foundation
Help to ensure that your daughter knows about the changes that are coming in her life and her body and why they are happening. Start the sexual health conversation early. Don’t wait until she has her first period to have ‘the talk’ with her.
- Teach your daughter the correct names for her sexual body parts at the same time you are teaching her about the names for her arms and legs. Giving her the correct language helps you to have an ongoing conversation. Teaching her the correct vocabulary helps her to tell you when her vulva is itchy, when it hurts to pee or when her breasts are sore.
- Answer her questions honestly as they come up. If she asks where babies come from, tell her the truth.
- Answer the questions she asks. If you daughter asks where babies come from, it doesn’t mean you need to explain sexual intercourse to her; she might just want to know that they grow in mummies’ tummies. As she gets older you can add layers to that story. Sperm and egg, intercourse, menstruation, birth control and puberty – they are all part of the same conversation that will help your daughter understand the changes happening in her body and how her body works generally.
- Speak positively about menstruation, if her mother or other women in her life need pads or tampons, go and buy them willingly instead of trying to avoid it. Don’t complain about a woman by saying she is PMS’ing or say that it must be ‘that time of the month.’
- Read books with your daughter about sexual health or puberty before her body starts changing. Help her to understand that the weight gain and hair growth, cramping and her period are normal and that she is experiencing the same changes as women have throughout human history.
- Show her the products in the feminine hygiene aisle before she needs them. Help her choose a couple of options to try when she gets her period. The next two posts in this series will cover the different products out there, and the pros and cons of each, so that you can speak knowledgeably about them and not just get overwhelmed by the variety and choice.
Help your daughter prepare for her first period
On average girls in North America experience their first period between the ages of 12 and 13. Of course, as I noted in the Dad Guide: Menstruation – every woman is different. There will likely be other indications that your daughter has entered puberty before she has her first period. She will likely experience weight gain – in preparation for vertical growth, breast development, and pubic hair growth before her period starts. This means you have time to prepare yourself and her.
Your daughter will likely be worried about when her period will occur, especially if she has friends who have already started theirs. Some of this anxiety comes from the unknown. She will wonder what it will feel like, how much blood there will be, how long it will last, etc. She will also be concerned about her period starting when she is in a public place such as school. She will be worried about leaking and about being unprepared. Fortunately this is something that you can help her with.
As you see signs of puberty and see her body starting to change you can talk with her about her period – she will be embarrassed and curious. Help her put together a kit that she can carry with her for when her period starts. She can keep the kit with her at all times and it should contain a few menstrual pads (teen-sized) and a pair of clean underwear. You can also keep a couple of pads on hand in the event that you are with her when it starts. If needed she can throw away the underwear she is wearing when it starts and put on the clean pair in the kit. It may also be a good idea to identify a few people that she can call on if she needs support when her period starts. Encourage her and her friends to support one another as they go through this phase.
Celebrate your daughter’s period
A girl’s first period is a mark of a transition into womanhood. Like it or not, your little girl is becoming a young woman. She is moving into and through puberty. We all know that puberty is a challenging period of time in all of our lives. Why not take the opportunity to celebrate the changes that are happening.
In some cultures marking this rite of passage involves a community celebration. If a community or family celebration isn’t something you want to do, you could take her out for lunch and share stories with her of your own teen years or talk to her about her hopes and dreams for the coming years. You could collect words of advice from women in your life and compile them into a book for her and give it to her to mark the occasion. There are many examples online of first-period celebrations.
The next two posts in this series focus on the different menstrual products out there to help you know what is available and what factors to consider when advising your daughter on her choices. The first of these provides information on factors to consider related to pads & pantyliners. The final post provides information about tampons and menstrual cups. This series is not sponsored by any companies, so you can be certain that there will be no bias in favour of certain products or brands.
Please let me know if you have any questions or topics you would like to see addressed in this series and the e-book. Submit them in the comments below or by email to dadgoesround (at) gmail.com.
Tips for dads to help prepare yourself and your daughter for her first period. Click To Tweet
Get the Dad Guide: Your Daughter and Her Period e-book
Sign up now for my monthly newsletter and get a copy of the e-book. It and other upcoming Dad Guide e-books will only be available to newsletter subscribers. In addition to the content about menstruation and how to talk with your daughter, there is information about all the different feminine hygiene products and options available so that you can help your daughter make decisions about which of the dizzying array of choices are right for her.
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