ASK LINDA, PSYCHOTHERAPIST & CHOICE MOM:
My daughter is 10 years old and many of her friends are getting their periods. I’m terrified of speaking with her about it. I have no idea what to say. No idea where to start. How does a father speak to his daughter about something he’s never experienced? Please help.
Dads and periods may not seem to mix, but this is a fantastic opportunity for you to create open dialogue with your daughter, and possibly to make it easier for her to talk to a male partner about important sexual issues in the future. You’ve got this!
Ideally, you have been speaking to your daughter about her body since she was a baby, teaching her that her body is beautiful, including her vulva and vagina. Using accurate terminology, instead of referring to her vagina/vulva as “down there,” “lady bits,” “flower'” or any other euphemism, can be an important way to make sure that she does not become ashamed of her genitals.
“Vulva,” by the way, is the word for the whole female genitalia “package” — labia, clitoris, vagina, and the opening to the urethra (the hole where you urinate out of). Many people use “vagina” to mean “vulva,” but that can create confusion since the vagina is a much more specific area – it is the internal passageway that connects the vulva with the cervix and uterus (womb) inside the body. The vagina is where tampons go, and it’s the body part that’s often renamed “the birth canal” when a baby’s on the way.
If you haven’t started this conversation with your daughter yet, it’s not too late! You can help her understand her body and reproductive system through age-appropriate books and discussions. We’ll list some useful books below.
Your daughter might be frightened by the idea that she will be bleeding from her vagina. She may believe she is somehow wounded. Explain to her what is going to happen. Use diagrams.
Explain that she was born with hundreds of thousands of eggs in her ovaries. Her body is going through a cycle of getting ready to become pregnant. An egg comes down the fallopian tubes into the uterus and if sperm is present, it might fertilize the egg. During this time, the uterus walls thicken to get ready for implantation of the fertilized egg. If there is no fertilized egg, the uterine wall sheds and this is the tissue and blood that come out of a woman’s vagina during her period. The amount will vary and depends on the individual and can change from month to month. Her period will last from 3-7 days. The normal cycle between periods can range from 25-30 days.
Points to discuss with your daughter:
Pads or tampons? Your daughter’s choice. But if your daughter is active in sports, she might want to consider tampons, and if she is a swimmer this will be necessary. You can go through the instructions with her that are on the box for the tampons (the link below has more information). Make sure you get the smallest size at first. Tampons should not be painful to use the first time, or ever. Let your daughter try to insert it herself, but if she can’t get the hang of it, ask a trusted female friend, doctor or school nurse to discuss it with your daughter or help her if needed.
Am I dirty? No, sweetheart, you are not dirty; however you will need to be aware that you should change your tampon or pad as soon as saturated or after 6 hours because you can get a disease called toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Also the pad needs to be changed and kept fresh so it does not start to smell.
Will my period hurt? Some girls and women don’t have cramps, but many do. Ibuprofren is an excellent remedy. Also be aware that mood swings are common, though again, that does not happen to all girls.
Pregnancy and sexual health. It is important to let your daughter know that she can become pregnant when she begins to get her period. You may also want to discuss safer sex. It may seem odd to you to have a safe-sex conversation with a 10 year-old, and you can certainly choose to address this topic a bit later, but the reality is that some kids are having sex at an early age and most are talking about it with friends. Better she knows to use condoms, ideally paired with a backup birth control method, than to contract a sexually transmitted disease or get pregnant. And better to have the information come from you than from the schoolyard! Let your daughter know that she is wonderful, and that if she already has not started to feel sexual attraction at some point it will happen, and that you are here to guide her and talk to her when she is ready. Tell her that her body is special and should be shared only when she wants to share it, not because of peer pressure or anything else. And point her to accurate resources like Planned Parenthood and the books listed below.
Books to help you start the conversation
It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris is a comprehensive, illustrated guide to adolescence and sexuality for ages 10 and up. Some parents blush, but the book has been applauded by child development experts like T. Berry Brazelton MD and Penelope Leach, Ph.D. for its sensitive but honest approach.
The “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Girls by Lynda Madaras, with daughter Area Madaras, is more specifically about female adolescence and menstruation, featuring straight talk about everything from periods to pimples, body hair to boys. It was selected as a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association. (And there’s one for boys, as well.)
For tweens and younger
It’s Not the Stork by Robie H. Harris is a lighthearted, informative guide for 4- to 8-year olds about where babies come from as told by – who else? – a bird and a bee. A kid-friendly mix of cartoons, text and comic-strip word balloons explains everything from body parts to conception to birth and also explores the different configurations of today’s families.
It’s So Amazing by Robie H. Harris also features the enthusiastic bird and reluctant bee, this time covering a wider range of topics – puberty, sex, reproduction, touching very lightly on masturbation, STDs and homosexuality (presented again in terms of different sorts of families) – for boys and girls ages 7 and up. Read it together!
For all ages
Ten Talks Parents Must Have with Their Children About Sex and Character by Pepper Schwartz and Dominic Cappello outlines how to structure your talks about sex and character, starting with outlining your own family’s values and covering safety, ethics, the internet and more.
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