A friend shared a heartwarming story recently about her experience growing up with limited access to period care products. As a child, her family could not afford tampons, pads or other period care products and she would often use toilet paper to catch her period blood.
One day in middle school, this came up in conversation with a close guy friend. He knew enough about periods from his mom and older sister to understand this was probably pretty uncomfortable for her. The next day, he showed up to school with a box of tampons for her courtesy of the menstruators in his life. Rather than tease her or ignore the issue because it’s ‘not his problem’, her friend showed empathy and kindness, replacing an unpleasant experience with a positive memory that sticks with her to this day.
Even though biological males don’t menstruate, they still need to know about menstruation. Since around 50% of the population menstruates at some point in their life, it’s important for everyone to know what’s up so that we avoid bullying, teasing and spreading false information.
But, when should you start talking with your son about periods? What’s the best way to relay the information to them in a way that they’ll understand if they have so little context for what getting a period is like? What details do you leave in and are there some you should leave out?
Here are a few things that are particularly important when it comes to talking with boys about periods:
First, start early.
Yep, this can be intimidating but, as it turns out, experts recommend starting conversations about menstruation as early as 4 years old. The goal is to start small and build on that foundational knowledge in a developmentally appropriate way as your child grows (rather than trying to pile on information about what periods are, how they happen, why they happen, how to manage them and what other emotional and physical changes happen because of them all at once).
Keep things honest, simple & direct.
Your child may naturally ask you about periods if they notice you’re putting tampons in the cart at the grocery store or if they see a commercial for Midol or if another kid at school mentions it. Regardless, you’re not always going to anticipate the timing or context of these questions and, frankly, they can totally catch you off guard. The most important thing to remember: take a deep breath and answer your child’s question in an honest, simple and direct way.
Easier said than done. So, here’s one example:
Child: Dad, what’s a tampon?
Parent: Well, your mom bleeds a little bit from her vagina every month. It’s not because she’s hurt. It’s just a normal healthy part of having a vagina. The tampon catches the blood so that it doesn’t go in her underwear.
Child: Uh, why?
Parent: Well, it’s called a period and it’s what allows moms to have beautiful kiddos like you! Pretty cool, huh?
Depending on the age of your child, it’s likely a moot point by now and they’re off doing their own thing.
Talk about periods within the context of puberty.
With boys, it can be particularly helpful to talk about periods in the context of something they can directly relate to. Try helping them understand that menstruation is a physical part of puberty for females and that they too will experience physical changes of their own as they grow up, like changes to their voice and growing hair on their body and face.
Stay positive & encourage empathy.
This is a big one! Between the ages of 8-14, girls’ confidence levels fall an average of 30%. Encouraging young boys to have empathy and teaching them not to tease or shame someone for being on their period can help new menstruators feel more comfortable and confident as their bodies change and develop.
At the end of the day, you know your child’s maturity level best and have the power to decide how much is too much or how little is too little. If you’re not comfortable talking to your kids about periods, make sure they have another way to get this information such as asking a family member, doctor, school counselor or nurse to talk with your child or by delivering this information through another medium such as a book, comic or video.
For more support on having tough growing-up conversations with your kids, check out maro parents. and for help finding access to free and affordable period care products, reach out to Helping Women, Period.