How to Make Periods Normal for Kids (Boys Too)

Jun 21, 2017 at 4:00 p.m. ET
Image: David Jakle/ImageSource/Getty Images

This month, I found myself completely unprepared for my monthly "gift." I ran out to the store to grab supplies, and when I returned home, my toddler asked me what I had bought. He searched my drugstore plastic bag hoping for exciting surprises. He was disappointed when I let him know, "those are things Mommy needs to take care of her body." That was the end of the conversation, and he walked away to find something more interesting to hold his attention.

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It might have been easy to hide the boxes or distract him from the questions, but that’s usually not the case with my kids. The more I avoid their questions, the more questions they have. When I answer simply and honestly, they’re not only satisfied with my response, but they trust me that I will give them a straight answer any time they do have questions. This applies to everything from food to technology, poop to periods.

I grew up discretely passing tampons to friends in the hallway, tucking them into my shirt sleeves or quickly slipping them into a pocket lest someone know what I was doing or experiencing. Even though I remember learning about periods at a young age (thanks, Mom!), that didn’t take away the feelings of embarrassment or shame.

I don’t want my daughter to feel embarrassed about her body and the things that it does. I don’t want my son feeling weird when he walks past the tampon aisle in the grocery store. Here’s how I teach my kids that periods are normal and nothing to be ashamed of.

Answer their questions

Kids are naturally curious and want to know every single invasive and intimate detail, right? But bodies are personal, and it’s easy to feel uncomfortable in these situations. Sometimes, it helps to pretend to answer them the same way I would if my kids were asking about animals. I can detach my personal feelings about it and talk about what some bodies with vaginas do instead of focusing so much on my own personal vagina.

The older they get, the more they will ask, so be ready to bust out diagrams of the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes. If they’re developmentally ready to learn about other internal organs, reproductive organs are fair game.

Start with the basics

I, like most moms, rarely get to enjoy a solo trip to the bathroom. When my daughter first noticed me wiping red, she had questions. I struggled to find the words to explain what was happening in a way that would make sense to such a young toddler, especially one who equated the sight of blood on her own scraped knee with the absolute end of the world.

I used this explanation for the last four years, both for my daughter and now my son: "Every month, my body gets ready for a baby to grow. Right now, we don’t have a plan to grow another baby, so all the things the baby needs come out of my body. It looks like blood, but I’m not hurt."

If it does hurt, don’t feel like the need to shelter your kids from that. Cramps can range from uncomfortable to debilitating. It’s important that we are honest with our children. Let them know what’s happening and if there’s anything they can do to help.

"My body wants to get all the things a baby would need out of my body. It’s squeezing and squeezing to get it out, just like we do with toothpaste. It hurts momma’s belly, but I will be OK. I can take medicine and rest. If you want to help me, you can bring me the heating pad from the closet."

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Use proper language

I teach my children medical terminology for body parts. I tell my kids what is coming out of my vagina. I don’t ever want them to think that blood comes out of someone’s eyes or her "wherever."

I show them the tools that I use to take care of my period. Just like they wore diapers when they were babies to keep their clothes clean, I wear pads. When I use a tampon or a menstrual cup, I explain that I will put a tool in my body to help catch the menstrual blood. I am very careful to explain that this is something that people can put into their vaginas only for catching menstrual blood. I also ask for privacy during insertion.

Don’t be afraid if the questions lead to “the talk”

The hardest part about talking periods for some people is not what periods signify, but what a stopped period can signify. My kids know that when I have my period, I don’t have a baby in my body.

So far, my children know that Daddy and I make a plan when we want a baby to grow in my body. As they get older, we will explain the plan, but for now this language is both honest and enough to satisfy their curiosity.

Soon, they’ll want to know more about that plan. When they do, I’ll be ready to answer their questions honestly. It helps to be prepared to talk about sex before the questions come.

My husband buys my feminine hygiene products

This one is a huge step to normalizing periods. When I need pads or tampons from the store, I add them to the list. Whoever goes shopping buys everything on the list. My husband knows which packages to look for and adds them to the cart, just like any other grocery item. Having periods is nothing to be embarrassed about, so why should my husband be embarrassed to buy the things that I need for them?

Get over it

Inevitably, my children will share their knowledge of my period in public. They take pride in every new thing they have learned. So when my child shouts to a stranger, "My mom doesn’t have a baby growing in her belly and is menstruating from her vagina!" I am determined to smile as my face turns (period) red. The more we talk about periods with pride, the more we can normalize this completely normal thing that happens to some bodies that are not growing babies.

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Own it

If you’re someone who menstruates, I’m not saying that you should wave a red flag every month — unless you want to, of course! Feel free to own it. Are you a proud menstrual cup owner? Do you prefer tampons with an applicator or without? Do you let it flow out into menstrual pads or mama cloth? Are you horribly crampy and in desperate need of some pain relief? Are you feeling completely unfazed by this phase in your cycle? Are you exhausted or experiencing brain fog? Is your tolerance for bullshit running low? You can lay claim to whatever your period brings your way. Remember, you’re paving the way for the next generation to respect the bodies of women and all that they can do!