How to Handle Menstruation at a Young Age
For the majority of parents, the average age at which their daughters are likely to get their first periods is about 12 years old. However, in recent years, it is becoming more and more common for the onset of puberty to start as early as 8. One theory for these shifts suggests this could be linked to average childhood weight having increased over time, causing a faster hormonal change in younger children.
Whatever the causes, the fact is that the conversations concerning periods, tampons, and hormones cannot be ignored until children reach secondary school in the hopes that their teachers will tell them everything they need to know. Even for some older elementary-aged girls being introduced to biology lessons for the first time, this information is too little too late.
It is important that both parents and teachers equip themselves with the appropriate tools to address the topic of menstruation with younger girls. This will ensure that young girls will feel safe and confident in coming to school, even while their bodies are going through a significant change.
The Importance of Communication
No parents can really predict when their child is likely to start menstruating for the first time, which is why it is so important to maintain an open line of communication throughout their childhood. The first period may come as a surprise to parents, especially if they have shown no other signs of going through puberty. It is likely that they may feel scared or unsure during their first period. In fact, is it thought that nearly half of girls experiencing a period for the first time have no idea what is happening.
Unfortunately, parents cannot always rely on the school to take care of menstrual education, especially when girls are menstruating earlier than when the curriculum begins to cover these topics. Even if your daughter has not started menstruating until the very end of elementary school, this is no guarantee that she’ll be given adequate information – in England, a shocking 15% of young people reported having not learnt anything regarding menstruation, despite it being on the national curriculum.
Though it may seem strange or inappropriate to some parents to discuss periods with their children at such a young age, the earlier a child is made aware of his or her natural bodily functions, the easier it will be for them to experience them later on. Introducing age-appropriate discussions surrounding menstruation with the help of books, for example, can be a great tool in normalizing periods, which are usually still shrouded in secrecy till they actually occur.
Emotional and Physical Challenges
It is understandable that these conversations can prove challenging for some parents, especially if it’s their first child who is menstruating. For girls who start menstruating very young, it’s possible that parents may find a difficult balance between having the important conversations without referencing topics that they feel may be too explicit for younger children, such as sex and pregnancy.
The most important thing that young children need to be prepared for is what they can expect to feel, both emotionally and physically, so that it does not come as a shock to them. The physical discomfort that can come with menstruation (especially after a few cycles) could be distressing for young children, and it may be necessary to look into appropriate pain relief in some situations.
Mood swings are also a common symptom during menstruation due to hormonal imbalances, and this is something that children should be made aware of to ensure that their mental health is not affected negatively. Of course, for many girls, menstrual symptoms do not become apparent until a few cycles have passed; however, it is important that they be prepared for them nonetheless.
Choosing the Right Products
A vital aspect of the dialogue between parents and their children is what menstrual products are available to them. Practical advice on how individual products work is key; once girls start menstruating, they will need to feel confident enough to use and dispose of menstrual products while at school without assistance. For this reason, certain menstrual products may be better suited for younger children than others.
Tampons, for example, though a very popular menstrual product, may be more suitable for young people that have been menstruating for a while and are more used to the process. Sanitary towels could be a far more “user-friendly” method for younger children, and the health risks (should the product not be changed frequently enough) are far lower than with tampons. By educating young children about the different types of products available to them, parents can rest assured that their children are safe and confident if they are menstruating during school hours.
Though parents can do everything in their power to prepare their children for menstruating at home, there may be times when elementary-aged girls will be in need of some sort of assistance. It is possible that there may be as little as one menstruating child in the entire year if they are going through puberty early, and it is important that teachers are made aware of this should any complications arise.
It may be possible that your child runs out of sanitary products while at school, or has left them at home, in which case a teacher may need to step in to provide them with some. Though many people are in favor of transparency concerning menstruation, if your child is the only one in their class to have a period, she may not feel comfortable having to explain why she needs to leave during class to change a pad or tampon. By communicating this to a teacher beforehand, you can help ensure that extra discretion for your daughter if she needs it.
Navigating Periods with Your Young Daughter
Although the majority of children are not menstruating before their teens, the increased number of elementary-aged children menstruating for the first time calls for a shift in attitude toward menstrual education in elementary schools, as well as conversations at home.
Although menstruation can be a tricky topic to navigate with younger girls, the experience of menstruating for the first time without any prior education or reference can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety, and it’s likely to negatively impact a girl’s relationship with menstruation as she grows into her teens.
By ensuring that both parents and teachers are equipped to educate and answer questions regarding menstruation in an age-appropriate way, children can feel more confident about their bodily functions and more at home in their own skin.