Christmas is a big deal. Children spend the whole year watching, waiting, and planning what they will place on their very special yearly request list for games, toys, and gifts. When my daughter was 7 years old, she gave me a list I will never forget. It read: Barbie, skates, clothes, easy bake oven, and panty liners. What?? Panty Liners??? Imagine my surprise!
I said to myself, and then to my daughter, "Why on earth would you want panty liners for Christmas!?" She said " I always see them in your bathroom and I want to keep my panties clean." Two thoughts struck me: (1) my daughter watches my hygiene and (2) she is concerned about her hygiene.
Suddenly my concern regarding her request became a learning opportunity. I had already found out through parenting my older, young adult child that everything children say or don't say; do or don't do, "speaks" and that you can learn so much in the most shocking moments of motherhood if you stay calm and seize the opportunity. Here are my tips to help you do just that.
1. Listen for What You Don't Hear
My 7-year-old was speaking through her panty liner request and it was up to me to listen for what I didn't hear. Immediately I knew it was time to have the "menstrual cycle conversation" because when little girls become concerned about panty appearance, they may be experiencing discharge but are not sure what it is or how to tell you. Also, something could have happened privately that you need to be aware of. Never ignore odd requests that come from your child. There is usually an underlying reason for even the most abstract questions.
My second thought was a common one for a mother - is she too young for this conversation or is it me that's just not ready for this conversation? Either way, I knew it was time to have the BIG P (the period) talk. At 7 years old I found myself discussing the menstrual cycle with my daughter: what is it, why we need it, how it feels when you get it, why it is important to be educated about it, what happens when you don't get it, and all the other questions she had. I proceeded to Google videos, images, and kid friendly websites about starting your period. I wanted her to know and be comfortable with how normal it was. I wanted her to be able to articulate this natural process that all girls experience. Here hygiene question became the catalyst for a serious conversation because I remained calm, and read between the lines. In today's society our children are exposed to so much information that's out of our control. It's never too soon to prepare them for what's to come to ensure that they hear it directly from you first.
After this conversation at age 7, my daughter resumed her daily activities but with a new piece of knowledge - growing up is normal but she didn't need to rush it either! Although my daughter didn't get her cycle at 7, this was a good age for me to introduce the talk.
2. Watch For The Signs
Fast forward to age 10. I was noticing rapid development in her body. Normal changes, I'm sure, but quite aggressive. I made an appointment with the pediatrician who confirmed that my daughter was in premature puberty. Like many moms, I wanted to know if it was normal for a 10 year old to have aggressive body development and what to expect next. I approached our family physician and asked the big question - when should we expect the BIG P? The doctor said that girls typically receive their periods between 9-11 years old, within 2 years after the breast bumps appear and around the time the mother first got her period. What a learning experience! The age at which a girl will experience her first menstruation is influenced by genetics.
3. Follow Your Gut
Take action when you have the "not sure this is normal feeling" and schedule wellness exams yearly. The doctor told me that my daughter was developing rapidly and suggested a developmental bone study. This is not required for every girl unless she is experiencing rapid body development. A bone study is a simple x-ray taken of the palm of the hand used to determine the age or stage of the body NOT the age of the CHILD. My daughter's bone study confirmed that her body was as developed as if she were a 12 year-old although she had just turned 10. The doctor said that in accordance with the test exam we could expect her period within 6 months. I took great comfort in the fact that, thanks to our conversation, she has been prepared since age 7.
4. Prepare your Child for the Inevitable
Ready or Not it's coming! We left our appointment and went shopping for the "Menstrual Cycle Emergency Kit" including body spray, panty liners, pads, a small pouch, black panties, flushable wipes, a calendar and children's advil. We revisited the menstrual conversation but this time with visual aides to talk about it. We purchased different panty liner and maxi pad styles so that she could get the feel of a good fit for her body. She began wearing panty liners the day after the appointment because I wanted her to feel "hygiene protected" while anticipating her period and one month before my daughter's 11th birthday, just as the doctor predicted, she received her period. The beautiful part about the experience is that she wasn't afraid. She was empowered to grow with her body and allow it to do what it was designed to do naturally without fear, embarrassment, or ignorance.
I suggest keeping your daughter at home the day of her first period because this is new for the both of you. You will have to learn how her body responds; How heavy is her flow? How does she feel physically? Does she need assistance discarding the pads? Does she have hands on questions? This is also the day to practice the frequency of changing the pad so that she is comfortable and you are comfortable knowing she can manage herself by herself. Finally, this is the day to celebrate her next level of maturity. Go get ice cream or get your nails painted. Whatever your bonding moments are, have one! I don't refer to getting the menstrual as the day girls become women, but rather the day they are welcomed by a womanly process which will serve as the basis of reproduction in the earth. Always allow your children to ask questions on their level in order to give them answers on a level they can understand and regergitate. Offer assistance by educating the school (nurse or teachers) on what's happened and to allow her extra bathroom breaks to freshen up. Talk to other girlfriends who have daughters to gather tips. You will be surprised by the diversity of information that is available in your community and circle of friends.
5. Protect your baby at all cost
She may have a little anxiety, change in temperament or feel a bit tired suddenly. Learn who she is at the new level. She's growing and changing and may not have a clue that you experience the same feelings monthly as well. Ready or not, it's coming!
Tisha Grant, wife to Franklin Grant for 20 years and a mother of two beautiful children Kyare 19, and Shania 11. In 2015 Curtisha Grant was crowned Forth Worth Texas Military Spouse of the Year and was honored with the prestigious award, Yellow Rose of Texas.
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