– BY YAYERI VAN BAARSEN –
When is the right time to talk to your child (no, not just your little girl, also your little boy!) about periods? I hadn’t even thought about menstrual education yet. Our daughter started this conversation herself. It happened during a ‘I-need-to-stick-to-mummy’s-leg-at-all-times’ stage, when she followed me around literally everywhere. I couldn’t even go to the toilet by myself: my daughter insisted on passing me the paper and flushing the loo. Goodbye privacy, the toddler kept a close eye on me 24/7. Also when I was on my period.
‘Mama bleeds from her vagina’ – my daughter to our friends
‘What is that? Blood? Does mama have a vagina ouch?’ And that’s how the vocabulary of my then two-year-old daughter came to include the word ‘menstrual cup’. No, that’s not a toy. That’s only for your mother. That cup collects the menstrual blood. Because mama is on her period. ‘On her period?’ Yes, that means mama bleeds from her vagina. Wow, this super interesting information of course had to be shared with the mailman, the checkout girl and our friends straight away. Kids, very funny indeed…
Immediately, I told my daughter that only menstruating women are allowed to put a cup/tampon into their vagina. I could already see us at the GP along the lines of: ‘My toddler has stuck a bead up her nose’. But then, well, with another object and another body part… The menstrual cup was even more interesting than her dinosaur puzzle. You can squeeze it! And fill it with water! The little cup became my daughter’s favourite toy – at least on the weeks it wasn’t in her mother’s vagina.
Menstrual education for toddlers: idiotic or ideal?
Starting a conversation about menstruation at such a young age. Idiotic or ideal? The second, if you ask me. Now three, my daughter doesn’t feel any taboo or shame about the subject. Uncomfortable? No, interesting. Embarrassing? Not at all. Menstruating isn’t dirty or scary. By talking about it from a young age, she learns that the menstrual cycle is just part of a woman’s body. She asks about information and is – fortunately – distracted pretty soon.
‘Does it hurt?’ (A bit).
‘Do I also get blood from my vagina?’ (Yes, but not now, only when you’re about 14).
‘Does papa bleed from his penis?’ (No).
‘Why not?’ (Men don’t get periods).
‘Why do ladies do?’ (Well, women can get babies. Every month they ovulate and when the egg isn’t fertilised, it gets shed, together with the uterus lining, and that… Hello, are you listening? Nope, apparently not).
‘Can I colour a giraffe?’ (Yes, of course you may).
When do you start talking about periods?
Menstrual education is essential. But how do you teach them about periods? By playing board games with your child? Watching a video about dancing tampons together? Explain all the menstrual ins and outs yourself? Tell your kid to just look it up on Menstrupedia? Or let school deal with it? Options enough. Luckily, nowadays most girls don’t think they’ve got some scary disease when they first find blood stains in their underwear. In the western world at least – things can be a bit different in rural Uganda and Bangladesh.
But if you don’t have an extremely curious toddler, when exactly do you start talking about menstruation with your child? When they’re into colouring books? After they’ve finished watching Moana and Frozen, by showing The Story Of Menstruation, also a Walt Disney movie? Or do you wait until they’re playing video games? When she’s done with kindergarten? Or when she starts secondary school? A bit late, seeing as lots of girls already start menstruating at the age of 11. Or earlier.
Me, I’m happy my daughter started our menstrual conversation so soon. Now questions like ‘Why do you bleed from your vagina’ are followed by other toddler interests like ‘Why can’t snakes walk?’, ‘Why does chocolate melt?’ and ‘Why can’t you feel that you’re growing?’. Equally important: a smart girl is prepared for her menstruation. Not just by carrying a tampon/pad/cup, but also by knowing about it long before she’s experiencing it herself. So she won’t have to learn about it when she’s a cranky adolescent who’s already dealing with raging hormones, falling in love for the first time, feelings of shame and a changing body.
Mum has PMS, ask your dad!
Sometimes (read: especially on day 2 when I’m suffering from cramps and trying to clean a duvet cover with leakage stains – ‘Mama, did you pee in bed? There’s blood in the bed. Is your menstrual cup broken?’) all the questions drive me crazy. I’d love to just tell her to sit on the sofa by herself and read ‘Mooi rood is niet lelijk’ (THE book about periods in The Netherlands). Unfortunately my three-year-old daughter can’t read yet…
There is, however, one big advantage to our menstrual education at very young age. ‘Mama is about to get her period’ is now accepted as a perfectly good reason to leave your mother in peace when she’s curled up in bed with PMS and a bucket of chocolate ice-cream. If mama’s feeling premenstrual, you do not bother her by asking if she wants to read ‘Spot goes to the park’ for the 295th time/put on your shoes/draw a unicorn. Ask your dad! While you’re at it, you can also ask him why he doesn’t bleed from his penis every month.
Period! is an independent, online magazine about all aspects of menstruation. Period! is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you’re suffering from medical complaints, always visit your doctor or GP. Editorial articles can contain affiliate links. Sponsored collaborations can be found in the category Spotlight. Do you have any questions? Check our Contact page.
More guest blogs:
Let’s teach everyone about menstruation, by Maggie di Sanza
Not so divine secrets of the Bullwinkle Sisterhood, by Mary Novaria
A ritual for mothers and daughters, by Tessa Custers
A time for celebration, by Robyn Jones
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Photo: intro picture by Omar Lopez via Unsplash, other pictures belong to the author.