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Period Positivity for Teens + 8 Tips to Support Your Child

Period Positivity for Teens + 8 Tips to Support Your Child

“With the creative seeds of the ovaries and the gestational ability of the womb, the female body contains unlimited creative potential.”- Tami Lynn Kent

 

A menstrual cycle is a normal, healthy part of living in a woman’s body. And yet, many of us know the experience of being at war with our bodies.

 

A quick browse through period-related social media posts will tell you everything you need to know about the general attitude towards periods: that they’re a burden and inconvenience, a “curse” or a “royal pain”.

 

For female-bodied teens first learning about their periods, it’s easy for them to get the idea that periods are painful, scary, a hassle, overwhelming, a sign of weakness, embarrassing, shameful or something to endure.

 

Starting a period marks an important transition in a young woman’s life. And how we approach it can impact their relationship with their body and themselves as they mature.

 

So how could we create a positive approach that encourages love and pride for their bodies instead of warring with them?

 

Preparing your child for this transition can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. It can even be a special time of openness and connection.

 

Below are eight tips to help you support them and make the most of this time.

 

1. Reframe the narrative

 

To encourage body positivity and self-confidence in teens, we need to be willing to recognise the incredible value of the menstrual cycle. To do this, we need to check our feelings about our menses.

 

Be aware of the language you use when referring to periods. Although none of us can ignore the inconvenience or even pain at times, your child will absorb your attitude like a sponge (or a pad… excuse the pun.)

 

Encourage body positivity, self-confidence and strength by embracing the topic openly and the value of this unique process. Help your tween or teen appreciate that our bodies mirror the cycles of nature and experience spring, summer, autumn and winter all in one cycle as our energy waxes and wanes. Our bodies link to the lunar cycle (a simple fact that never ceases to astound me.)

 

Marvel at this process with them; the body’s innate wisdom, power to create and potential for intuition. These are some of the things we can focus on when discussing the menstrual cycle.

 

In addition, by paying attention to signs and symptoms without fighting them, teens can learn how to support their body’s needs without being at war with them, promoting a greater sense of pride and self-acceptance.

 

(Tip: avoid scaring them with negative symptoms they may not have. Instead, address them in context as they arise, explain the symptoms and offer ways to deal with them.)

 

Lastly, adding some humour giving their period an affectionate nickname can be a fun way of talking about it. “A visit from Aunt Flo” is a common one. Some others are “Surfing the Crimson Wave”, “The Red Badge of Courage”, “Red Wedding”, or my personal favourite, “Shark Week”!

 

What’s a menstrual cycle, you may ask?

 

2. Take your lead from them

 

People approach first periods in a range of ways, from being indifferent to throwing full-on period parties complete with red velvet cupcakes, red roses and a brand new red dress.

 

Depending on how open your child is, mark this transition in a meaningful way. Doing this will help them cultivate an attitude of acceptance and empowerment instead of the “it’s a giant curse” narrative.

 

How ‘hands-on’ you are will also be determined by their and your comfort level. Experts recommend being in the room with them when inserting their first tampon or showing them how to secure a pad, for example. This will signal to them, “this isn’t something to hide or be ashamed of”.

 

However, many teens can be highly private regarding their changing bodies. Respect their space and tell them you’re there if they need you.

(If your child is entirely resistant, consider getting them a fun book to teach them about their cycle.)

 

3. Demystify the details

 

Clarify the details and dispel fears, so they’re better mentally prepared.

 

For example, many young girls are terrified by the concept of bleeding freely for days at a time.

 

For starters, explain that the uterus is about the size of a closed fist, and just inside the uterus is a layer of cells that we shed and replace each month. This process is critical for our ability to fall pregnant. So it isn’t like any form of bleeding they’ve had before.

 

In reality, we only lose about 3 tbsp of blood per cycle. You can go as far as to physically demonstrate this by putting 3 tbsp of liquid in a glass so they can see it’s not that much (and not the same as gushing from an open wound.)

 

It’s also common to think that having a period will limit their lives. (They may even take full advantage, like the girls in my PhysEd class who “had cramps” every week and needed to sit out. The poor coach was a conservative man who would never call us out.)

 

While their menstrual cycle will have implications for their energy levels, emphasise that it’s not an illness and that you can do almost anything on your period that you would do when you don’t have it. Empowering girls in this way is critical.

 

 

4. Explore period supplies together

 

Explain that there are several options for protecting our clothes and capturing blood, including tampons, menstrual cups, pads or even period-proof underwear, each with its own pros and cons.

 

If your child is resistant to chatting about it, one option is to buy some supplies and leave them in the bathroom. Let them know they can explore them independently and come to you if they have any questions or concerns.

 

Just ensure they know the hygiene do’s and don’ts to prevent bacteria build-up, including always handling supplies with clean hands, storing in clean, dry places and changing appropriately. You can do this by encouraging them to read the inserts.

 

 

5. Empower them to handle logistics

 

We’ve all heard horror stories or potentially even experienced them. Being out in white pants. A period that arrives early.

 

In practice, it’s not often that these things happen. And there’s also the bigger question of why a leak should trigger such fear and embarrassment.

 

Still, with the narrative of shame that lingers, it’s unsurprising that one major stress for young girls is the fear of leaks.

 

So the biggest lesson here is to be prepared.

 

A free period tracking app will do wonders for predicting when their next cycle is about to begin, so they aren’t caught unaware. My favourite is Clue, which is simple to use and run by an all-female team. Others include Flo or Cycles.

 

Even so, a visit from Aunt Flo can surprise the most seasoned menstrual cyclist. Giving them a little pouch to keep in their backpack with an extra pair of undies and a few pads or tampons in case of an emergency can help ease their minds.

 

6. Get the men in your life involved

 

For most of us growing up, boys and girls were separated for Sex Ed, meaning boys often missed out on the period talk. But why should they?

 

I recently chatted with the director of a local period poverty NGO that runs educational workshops on menstruation in underprivileged areas. Intriguingly, it’s often boys that have the most questions regarding periods! The conversation also elicits surprisingly few jokes or giggles.

 

By including fathers and brothers in the conversation and education, we empower not only our daughters to feel comfortable asking a man to buy tampons but also the men in our lives to understand future partners and the women around them.

 

Let’s talk to boys about periods in a way that normalises them.

 

7. Remind them they’re not the only ones

When life gets challenging or scary, it’s natural to feel like we’re the only ones suffering. Shared humanity – knowing that we’re not alone – can put our struggle in perspective.

 

Sharing how you felt about your first period can help normalise your child’s experience and even help them feel connected and strengthen your bond. (As always, take your lead from them on this.)

 

And if you’re a dad, fear not! You can still relate. Even though you may not have a menstrual cycle, we’ve all had the experience of puberty – newly sprouting hairs in funny places, BO, pimples, putting on weight, being viewed differently… as well the embarrassment and confusion that goes along with it.

 

They are now part of the story of millions of people who share the same experience (and all female bodies since the dawn of Homo sapiens – possibly longer), and that’s quite special.

 

8. Teach them to have each others’ backs

Teach your child they’re in the same boat as other tweens and teens who have started menstruating. At some point, we all have leaks or mishaps, so encourage them to do for others what they’d want others to do instead of making fun of them.

 

Keeping a spare tampon or pad for a friend in need is a great way to do this. Or letting someone know if their tampon string is making a guest appearance, or discreetly handing them a sweatshirt to tie around their waist if they have a stain, even if they’re not a good friend.

 

By extending kindness to others, they’ll grow their sense of hope and community that others will have their back, too. It can change the journey from a scary, lonely one to a positive and empowering one.

 

 

 

Wrapping up

 

Getting your period as a teen can be a confusing and even frightening phase. And a lot of this has to do with the narrative around periods being a curse or a burden.

 

By taking a more ‘period positive’ approach, you can empower your teen to feel more in control and proud and empowered by their miraculous body. Doing this can help them be more confident and foster body positivity during challenging years.

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