Body image, sexuality, strength in the face of societal and peer pressure. Raising kids is a tough job. Add the daunting task of fighting against the menstruation taboo to your #parentinggoals and you’ve got your work cut out for you.
Raising period positive kids doesn’t necessarily have to be challenging, however. With the right tools and a positive mindset, teaching your kids to view menstruation as it really is - a healthy, normal part of life - will be far easier than teaching them to drive.
When my daughter was 3, she walked in on me changing my tampon (this was before my days as a champion for reusable menstruation products) and blurted out, "Mommy, why are you bleeding from your butt?". She then proceeded to offer me a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle bandaid. It was then that I knew I had to start being more conscious of the conversations we had and the language I used if I was going to raise a child free from period and body shame.
Instead of shooing her out the door (yes, I know some of us just want to pee alone), I let her know what was happening. She literally did not care at all and promptly proceeded to color on the wall. Moments like these are the perfect time to open up a dialogue, see if they have any questions, and show that there’s no shame in your period game. Though she had no concern with my period at 3, I know that over the span of her childhood there will be times when she has more questions about periods. By not shutting your child down when you’re presented with these sometimes awkward-feeling moments, you let them know that it’s okay to ask questions and talk openly about their bodies.
One of the most effective ways to dismantle the centuries-old stigma placed on menstruation is to take back the conversation about it. By being open about periods - in both a general sense and in a personal sense - you help lift the veil of secrecy on what should be a very normal topic. With less secrecy comes more questions, more teachable moments, and more honesty. Your kids will grow up thinking (correctly) that menstruation is as normal a discussion as what’s for dinner.
Vagina. Uterus. Vulva. Period. The language you use when it comes to period talk matters greatly. If you grew up calling your genitals your "private parts", like I did, it may feel slightly clinical to use the anatomically correct names with your kids. Using the correct terms for body parts and bodily functions shouldn’t feel shameful. In fact, it’s a lot more uncomfortable to try to convince your child that your vagina isn’t part of your butt. Trust me.
Though society often deems words like vagina or penis as unacceptable for public conversation, cutesy and nonsensical nicknames, like cupcake or hoo-ha, can subconsciously create a sense of shame around body parts that are absolutely not shameful. If you use the correct terms from the time your kids start to talk, you’ll find that they don’t experience embarrassment from saying them as they get older.
Using positive words when it comes to menstrual discussions is equally important as using the proper terminology. If your children grow up hearing you complain about "the curse" of your period or bemoaning the aches and pains you experience from PMS, they’re going to view it in a negative light.
But, yes, sometimes periods just plain suck. You don’t have to pretend that your menses is a glorious week that you look forward to each month. Just be honest. If you’re cramping and irritable, tell your kids why and teach them through your actions how to handle the side effects of menstruating. One day, they too may experience the bloating, the cramps, the headaches, and the cravings that often come with menstruation. They’ll look back and remember that, while having a period wasn’t always comfortable for you, you didn’t think of it as a bad thing.
Our bodies do some pretty awesome things - including shedding the uterine lining when an egg isn’t fertilized. The more kids understand these processes, the easier it will be to have frank discussions and the less they will view these bodily functions as shameful, mysterious, or gross.
Despite most health and sex educators best efforts, the funding to cover menstruation in depth is rare in most parts of the United States. This often results in a glossed over approach, leaving kids confused about what their bodies do. Many go into puberty without knowing what is happening to them. This leaves them susceptible to period-shaming which, obviously, is something to avoid if you’re raising period positive kids.
If you have older children with periods, introducing them to apps that help them better understand their period could prove incredibly valuable. San Francisco-based Glow is working to demystify bodies and periods by giving data based information about their user’s menstrual cycles in a fun way. Even though I started using their period tracking app, Eve, as an adult it’s done wonders in helping me better understand what my body is going through at any given time. Giving your kids the tools and education to truly understand menstruation will go a long way in helping them understand periods in a factual, positive light.
If you google "how to explain menstruation to my child" you’ll be met with a full page of results - on how to explain periods to your daughter. Often, our sons are left out of the menstrual conversation which doesn’t do any good for anyone, especially them. Menstruation and reproductive rights affect us all and should be talked about as a human issue, rather than a woman’s issue. One of the reasons I’m so fond of Lunapads is their determination to create a welcoming, inclusive environment for all people with periods.
When I talk to my now 5-year-old about periods, I’m mindful of using inclusive language. Though she may not fully understand the depth of what I’m saying now, teaching kids from a young age will give them a foundation that their understanding of gender and inclusivity will be built on for the rest of their lives.
Raising period positive kids is no light matter and, of course, society will have some impact on the way they perceive their bodies and periods. Starting the conversation at home gives our kids a leg up - and a safe place to explore these sometimes confusing topics. We can build the foundation for a lifetime of body positivity and love by doing our best to have home be the place where they know that their bodies will be accepted for what they are and their questions answered without embarrassment.
Christina Vanvuren is a freelance sex & reproductive health writer living vicariously through herself in Atlanta, GA. When she’s not championing for a world free from period and slut-shaming you can find her drinking copious amounts of coffee, traveling, and nurturing her friendships with badass women around the world. You can connect with her on Facebook, her website, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org