Young girls reach the age of menarche, first menstruation, at an average age of 12 to 13 years old. This age is an average, which means some girls will have their first period much sooner, sometimes before they are ten, and others will be in their late teens prior to beginning menstruation. Even if your daughter is likely to be one of the later starters, and this isn’t always predictable, it’s still important to try to explain menstruation long before puberty begins. The changes that will be happening to your daughter’s body can be frightening if they aren’t understood.
If there is a female parent or primary caretaker, there’s no reason why when you explain menstruation, it can’t arise naturally out of the fact that you get a monthly period. Daughters, and sons for that matter, are likely to notice things like sanitary pads, mom retiring to bed with cramps, and the like. If you’re a dad singly raising a daughter, you don’t have this natural point of departure to explain menstruation. However, there’s no reason you can’t do this important parenting work well and with compassion. You can also enlist female relatives or friends to help in the explanation problem, since some girls do feel squeamish about discussing something so “personal” with a father.
The main goal though, is to make sure you get to be the first to explain menstruation. As young girls enter even second or third grade there may be considerable speculation in conversations with peers that will include lots of misinformation. If a girl who is getting lots of peer information doesn’t understand the basic mechanics of a woman’s cycle, she’s likely to feel worried, nervous, or just confused about the big changes her body will undergo.
On the other hand, if you explain menstruation at too young an age, a girl may very likely forget the explanation because it may be several years before it’s discussed openly with friends. It may be wise to look at this topic as something that should be gradually introduced, that may begin when a child first wants to know how babies are made, and grows in more depth as the child ages and is capable of understanding more. Most experts agree that when you begin the explanation, you should always start by correctly naming the genitals and reproductive system, and not make a child feel that these names need to be spoken in some kind of code. Give a girl age appropriate information in early years, and build on that information as she reaches an age when she could begin menstruation.
It’s amazing how difficult it is for some parents to explain menstruation, given that about half the world’s population menstruates for a large portion of their lives, but there are plenty of resources to help you. In particular, books and pictures written for children are an excellent way to explain the mechanics. They also help dispel a few urban legends, such as the fact that a girl is not bleeding to death when she has her period.
Children often associate the sight of blood with injury, so it’s important to help a girl understand this is a very different type of bleeding. Be open to lots of questions. Also you may want to begin, especially when girls are about eight or nine by asking your daughter to explain menstruation to you. This will help you correct any peer misinformation she may have received.
Though each parent must make the decision as to when and how to explain menstruation, it does seem important not to wait until after it has begun. There are plenty of autobiographies and personal essays addressing the issue of young girls who suddenly got their periods and were terrified. Since you clearly don’t want this experience for your daughter, start before this occurs, generally when a girl is about seven or eight at the latest, and keep this topic open for discussion in the years before and after puberty begins.