How to support your child through their first period
Remember getting your first period? For many of us, it doesn’t feel like that long ago. But if you cast your mind back to the narrative surrounding it – the ads featuring blue liquid and teens riding horses in white pants – you realise just how much things have changed.
Although there are many cultural differences in how Australians look at menstruation, we’re more aware than ever of the concept of period shaming and period-related inequality.
Many households now discuss periods with teenagers as casually as they would talk about healthy eating.
But this doesn’t mean that starting their first period is an easy milestone for a young person. It’s important to remember that no matter how period-embracing you are, your child is likely to be less enthusiastic about the whole situation.
We talked to parenting coach Rachel Schofield about these period related questions.
When, how and what is a normal first period?
Helping your daughter, non-binary or trans child* with their first period is a rite of passage for everyone involved, and it can raise a lot of questions.
According to Health Direct, it’s normal to get your first period anywhere between 9 and 16 years old. However, most people first get them around 12 to 13 years old.
How long a first period lasts varies from person to person. Some people will only have a slight bleed for the first time, and others may experience four or more days of menstruation.
*The information in this article is broad in nature; if you’re supporting a non-binary or trans child, make sure to reach out for specialist advice.
How to prepare your child for their first period
A great way to prepare your child for their first period is to create a positive culture around period conversations.
“Ideally, you should start the conversation from a really young age so it’s not a taboo topic,” says Rachel Schofield, Parent Coach.
Make sure that all parents in the home are involved, not just the ones who bleed. Sure, it can be awkward, but we teach our children how to look after their hair, nails and teeth – this is really no different.
Leading up to it – signs their first period is coming
Your child will likely start their menarche (first period) two years after their breasts start developing. Puberty looks different for every child, so it’s important to be aware and prepared any time after 9 years old.
Physical signs and symptoms to look out for before their first period are:
- vaginal discharge
- pubic hair
- going up a size in pants (this can happen as the hips widen)
- nipple changes
Every uterus is different though, and these changes can happen in any order. If you have concerns, jot down anything you become aware of in a diary or planner so you have a timeline for medical purposes.
Stocking up – period products have changed
Even if you think your child is unlikely to start their first period soon, being prepared with products is a good idea – both practically and culturally.
Presumably, you also have visitors in your home who bleed. Create a stash of period products that are easily locatable in the bathroom for your child, their friends or anyone else who may need them.
There are many single-use period products on offer. While the reusable market is currently leading the charge in terms of advancements, disposable products also continue to evolve.
- liners and pads
- small-sized tampons
- disposable sanitary bags
Keep in mind that a tween is probably not going to want to deal with many reusable products. Menstrual cups especially are better suited for people with a bit more period experience.
Consider looking into:
- period underwear (many brands make tween sizes)
- reusable pads
Technology can also contribute to your child’s period-preparedness.
- Period tracking apps
There are a lot of great ones on the market, but some have features that aren’t appropriate for tweens. We recommend you spend some time researching and using the app before giving your child access. Be aware of community chat functions and anything else you may not want your child exposed to.
- Online explainer videos
We love Amaze.org for age-appropriate, clear and engaging content - but like anything online, make sure to watch them first and check you’re comfortable with the narrative.
- eBooks for your child to read
Again, it’s always a good idea to read anything you are planning to give them first. Girl Stuff is a great general guide and Piper gets her first period is a great resource for children with autism.
Create a schoolbag period pack
It’s also a good idea to create a period pack for your child’s schoolbag so they will be prepared for getting their period at school.
What to include
- liners or pads
- a change of underwear
- disposable sanitary bags
- wet wipes
- a note to say congratulations (if that’s how you want to roll)
If you have a shy or neuro-divergent child, it may be a good idea to include a note they can give you when their first period arrives.
Celebrating with a first-period pack
Although your child may not want to celebrate, you may choose to put together a gift to mark the occasion.
What to include
- sanitary products
- a heat pack
- pain killers
- dark coloured underwear, pyjamas or track pants
- chocolate or herbal tea
- a note to say congratulations (again, if that’s your style)
But remember, says Rachel, “The purpose of a celebration should be supporting and validating your child. Don’t organise anything that would embarrass them.”
You’ve got this!
Whether your child gets their period at 9 or 15 years old, preparedness will make the experience as smooth as possible.
If you’re worried about the age your child started their period – or perhaps that they still haven’t started yet – reach out to your GP.
And always take severe period pain, flooding and other issues seriously. If there’s a problem, consult a doctor.
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Rachel Schofield is a Parent Coach who uses her proven and practical tools to help parents compassionately and confidently navigate the challenges of raising children so they can build close and rewarding relationships with their children.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board June 2021