How to Talk About Cycles with Your Kids
As a fertility awareness educator, I often hear how women are surprised they never heard answers to simple questions about their menstrual cycles before. They often ask me how they can pass on greater clarity to their children in age-appropriate ways. Let me count the ways.
While in some parts of the world, a woman’s period is something oft-misunderstood and tabooed, I am a believer that the more we learn about the science behind our cycles, the more empowered women can feel about these healthy signs of fertility. Remember that “First Moon Party” commercial where the mom throws a huge bash for her daughter’s first period? So maybe you don’t need the streamers and balloons, but the concept of offering some kind of positive recognition for our kids is something we can all get behind.
Periods and privates can be a weird topic of conversation for kids but talking about cycles with our kids helps young women to open up about questions regarding their cycle health, rather than feel ashamed and uninformed. Thanks to fertility awareness, many young women are finally getting information about previously silent topics like, “what is this clear discharge I get every month?” (it’s a very natural and healthy sign of fertility called cervical mucus) and “how can I lessen PMS symptoms?”—questions that have been around for all time, and that I’m thankful we’re finally giving answers to!
Here are just some ways parents can incorporate fertility awareness education into the different stages of raising kids.
Toddlers are the best because they have no preconceived notions about how bodies should be. If they ask, you can reply! It’s likely they will see menstrual products and ask about them. If you answer with confidence, “It’s a pad.” or “A tampon,” it will help normalize the subject matter. This goes for both young boys and girls! You can say women need them when they get older.
Meanwhile, tell your kids regularly how their body does all of these amazing things for them, lungs breathing, heart beating, brain buzzing, and so on. Cultivate respect and appreciation for the human body at a young age! Some toddlers enjoy light massages after bath time, you can point out the different body parts as you go. “Thank you feet, thank you arms” etc. Of course always ask their permission! This teaches them that they can always say no when it comes to their body.
For school-aged kids:
By grade school, many kids have unfortunately already developed insecurities about their bodies. They may start to feel different than Susie or Jenny. They may feel taller than everyone else, or shorter, or too stocky, or too skinny. The best thing you can do? Love your own body. Ditch the line “I feel fat” (even if you do). Treat yourself well, eat well, prioritize self-care, and keep wellness practices apparent in your household so that your kids see you loving and appreciating your body.
Showing care, love, and respect for your partner tells your kids infinitely more than any lecture about birds and bees. For moms of boys, it’s extra important to teach them that teasing girls they like isn’t the best way to go about expressing feelings.
Older school-aged kids will start to hit puberty at different times and ages, which can widen already existing gaps and feelings of “I’m different.” Do your best to make the topic of puberty as comfortable as possible! Thankfully there are many options for menstrual products theses days. Different options appeal to different pre-teens; some young girls run from tampons like the plague, others have no problem with them. Give them options, let them try them out and most importantly, tell them there is no “right way.” For some girls, pads can feel bulky and uncomfortable. Consider buying some period underwear. It comes in bright and fun colors and is a thousand times more comfortable! They even have period bathing suits and sporting wear now. Nothing like a shopping spree to show your support!
Older teens are often in the peak of uncertainty about body image. Throw in all the extra hormones and feelings of attraction and you’ve got a recipe for drama! It’s totally normal for teens to not want to divulge their entire mindset to you—so don’t expect them to. But it is helpful to suggest an “open door policy,” that is, let them know that they can always come to you.
The most important thing you can do for a teen girl is the simplest. For the love of all that is holy, please, inform her about cervical fluid. Just mention it. Too many women think they have something “wrong down there” when they see a clear discharge no one told them about. Let them download a simple period tracking app that also tracks cervical fluid. They don’t have to be diligent about charting, but just introducing the topic will make the learning curve of using a Fertility Awareness-Based Method (FABM) down the road so much more manageable. Consider signing them up for a “mother-daughter” Teen NFP course. I have taught teen FEMM classes both in person and online. We focus mainly on hormones, cycles, body image, breast health, and wellness.
Teen boys may not need an in-depth class, but they should be briefed at the minimum. My husband learned about Natural Family Planning in a high school class and was the one who enlightened me about it years later. Teen boys are listening!
You may think “But they’re already getting sex-ed in school.” And I find there are two key points in response to that. First off, I can just about guarantee they are not covering the topic of fertility charting in school, much less cervical fluid! And second, I find teens are much more likely to engage in workshops of smaller numbers that aren’t with all of their peers from school. Teens actually want to learn more about their cycle health, and are likely to gain something out of a FABM class that they won’t get anywhere else.
If your daughter experiences extremely painful, long, or heavy periods, it is worth meeting with a Certified Fertility Educator who can work with a doctor to figure out the root of these problems and alleviate the symptoms. Periods are expected to be irregular for up to 7 years after menstruation, so irregular menstruation is less of a concern, unless paired with the aforementioned symptoms. Teen girls are at the highest risk for missed diagnoses of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis because their doctors suggest putting them on the Pill at such young ages. If they are missing days of school for periods, that is not “just how it goes”; it could be a sign of a health condition that could be treated and improved! Don’t make them wait until they are in their 20s or 30s to find out there’s a larger problem at play.
For young twenty somethings:
By the time women enter their early twenties (and are no longer kids!) they are likely to have been menstruating for a decade. Their periods should be regular by this age and hopefully they have found menstrual products that work for them. Young women in their 20s are fully capable of charting their cycles in full and should at least have the knowledge of using a FABM for family planning. Gift them a session with a Fertility Educator in their area or buy them some good literature on charting. Show them that you are proud of the woman they have become!
By talking about bodies and hormonal health, you can be a part of the changing tide as more women accept previously tabooed aspects of our bodies’ healthy functions—which has so many ripple effects for future generations.