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The Competent Parent: PMS in the house

Headshot2011Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

PMS is in the House

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I have two high school daughters who seem to be coinciding with each other’s menstrual cycles and with mine. Tensions build, tempers flare, and innocent bystanders have to duck and cover. How do I explain this to their younger brother and sisters? Dad has learned (probably through living with me for twenty years!) to just let it blow over him.

Trying to be Respectful of Mother Nature

Click here to read LAST WEEK’S POST about adoption.

Dear TRMN,

Mother Nature does indeed have a rhythm to her work. And it is true that females who spend a lot of time together tend to synchronize with each other’s hormonal rhythms. While it may be a stretch to call the cascade of PMS at your house a harmonic symphony, the “musicians” as well as the audience members might need some program notes to appreciate what is happening.

You should review the basic information you hopefully received either before or soon after your own menarche – first menstrual period. Premenstrual Syndrome – PMS – is part of the package. Water retention, food cravings, and cramps are cause enough for mood swings, but the hormone fluctuations can wreak emotional havoc all on their own. Mother Nature is readying a young woman for reproduction, signaling the transition from childhood to childbearing. In our culture, we stretch out this phase for finishing education, launching a career, and in some cases, adulthood is enjoyed without ever including pregnancy. Being well-informed about her body will help a woman manage her life.

You can help your daughters best by being a good source of factual information. It doesn’t hurt to also be a role model of managing your own PMS! Womentowomen.com explains how to use menstrual cycles as a barometer of many aspects of a woman’s health, including a satisfying love life.

I suggest a calm conversation with your girls – well-timed to steer clear of “that time of the month” for all of you. Discuss how challenging it is to be extra aware of one another’s needs for understanding when the other two need it during the same week. Talk about some house rules that can reinforce a framework of more harmonious living. Choose issues that tend to make one or more of you erupt, such as not taking care of regular chores; interrupting a phone call; running out of food staples; upsetting the family schedule, etc. The goal is to reduce external causes of tension because the internal causes are stressful enough. Once you’ve tackled reducing everyone’s stress level, add in some new habits for good health which are known to reduce PMS symptoms. These include water, rest, exercise and nutrition. Iron and vitamin B are particularly beneficial. Your discussion could prompt a “Ladies’ Night” activity (maybe a zumba workout?) or perhaps some menu specials each month. My husband and children learned to expect sautéed liver and onions at least once every 28 days, whether or not they needed the iron boost as much as I did. Here are ideas for boosting B vitamins. Review everyone’s suggestions in a month to see if they need any tweaking.

You can tell the unintended “audience” of the cyclic cacophony that big sister is experiencing strong emotions today, and she’ll be back to normal in a few days. Use this explanation for your own explosions, along with an apology, when PMS is to blame. Remind the siblings that they did nothing to provoke this, and that being good at reading someone’s mood, and reacting sensitively, is a good skill to have. Your son may one day have a partner who gets PMS. And soon enough, your other daughters will have their own hormonal blues to contend with.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at [email protected].

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