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When and how to explain menstruation to girls — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My daughter is only 9, but I’m hearing about some of her friends having already started to have periods. Since I didn’t start mine until age 14, I was kind of hoping I wouldn’t have to have our “chat” for quite a while.

When is a good age to start the conversation (assuming her timetable will be close to mine), and what are key concepts and terms to cover?

Looking Ahead

Don’s miss last week’s column Busy working mom seeks help getting everything done — Good Parenting

Dear LA,

A good time to begin this conversation is ahead of time. Hopefully you and your daughter have a comfortable relationship in which she can trust you for good information and to respect her feelings. The main thing is for YOU to get comfortable with the whole topic.

Good Information

The science of biological maturation is pretty much the same as it has always been — just as baby teeth are pushed out by permanent teeth that better fit the growing head, hormonal changes are in nature’s schedule for turning girls into women. The point of all this, from nature’s perspective, is to keep the species going. Simply put, an egg ripens about every four weeks during which time a nice supply of rich blood has been building up in the uterus. If there is no fertilization (male body produces sperm…), the unneeded blood is shed.

In addition to the facts of the matter, be sure to address her particular concerns about sports, overnights away from home and privacy. There may also be cultural/ religious information or family traditions that you want to share with her. Pamphlets, books , and websites can supplement your discussion, but try to follow your daughter’s lead as to how much and what information she is looking for. She may be more comfortable with reading on her own after you’ve broached the subject. There could be several ongoing conversations as she takes it all in. For example, you may not want to start out discussing toxic shock syndrome, family planning or date rape, but at some point be sure she understands how to reduce her risks. Starter discussions center on immediate concerns – laundry, cramps and peer standing.


The starting age for menstruation can fluctuate with each generation, but seems to be getting earlier for all girls. Currently the average age is 12 with a “normal” range of 8 to 15. Precursors to a monthly blood flow will be the start of breast development and pubic hair growth. So before these signs appear, or at least as soon as you notice or your daughter has questions or comments about her friends, prepare yourself to be a knowledgeable source of information.

One of the frustrating aspects of this deal is that she has no control over her body’s maturation, nor can her peers control the timing of their bodies’ changes. It may bother her that she is earlier or later at starting puberty than her friends or that breast sizes cannot be preferentially ordered. And as the body adjusts, emotions often are out of control making girlfriend relationships and family relationships a bit rocky. (Hint: start talking before she is flooded with hormones!)


The topic of menstruation is related to reproduction, sexuality, privacy as well as health. Important stuff but also very personal. This is a great time to impart messages about taking responsibility for her body and its health, choosing whom to share “period” news with, and how to reduce some of the monthly inconveniences so she can take it all in stride.

Tampons and pads come in discreet packages that can be stored in a purse or backpack. Tips for cramps such as stretches, reducing caffeine and active movement can also be tucked away for future use. Tell her what works for you. As with many important topics, our children pay close attention to the body language and inflections we use when talking about them. So you may want to think about the messages you want her to get from you about these subjects. Sooner or later she has to make decisions for herself. Your wise and caring influence will be with her long after she completes the transformation. Sometimes it’s tough to accept the speed at which our children grow up, but part of our responsibility as parents is to prepare them for the turns ahead, including puberty, and eventual adulthood.


Half the planet is female. Your daughter may already have girl friends with whom she has shared questions and feelings about this business of menstruation. Or there may be a special aunt, teacher, health care provider, coach or Girl Scout leader in her life who is more than ready to start a conversation or address a concern. You probably have your own circle of confidantes with whom you are comfortable sharing embarrassing moments, “period” jokes and ordinary complaints known only to females. Your buddies might share their memories of conversations with their own mothers, good advice, missteps and words of encouragement for you at this special time.

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 Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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