Do you remember starting your period? Because we do, and it wasn't ... great. Sure, we had the very basic sex ed during 4th grade, and we knew knew (roughly) what was going to happen and (roundabouts) when we could expect it to happen. But then it did happen, and it was so much more to deal with than we anticipated! Puberty and menstruation is a fact of life, and at some point, we're going to have to deal with it when our own kids are getting to that age. As uncomfortable as it might make you to talk about it with your kids, it's so important to help them be as prepared as possible when the time comes. It's not an easy transition, but with your help and support, your kid's first period doesn't have to suck (as much).
Start the conversation sooner rather than later
It's a pretty wide age range, but kids generally enter puberty between the ages of 8 and 13, with menstruation starting as early as 10 for some kids. But it's not uncommon for kids to get their first period as late as 15. The age at which you started your period can give you an idea of when to start talking about it.
Start with the basics: explain what a period is, and why some people get them while others don't. You can keep the initial conversations very simple - explain that periods come once a month, but can be irregular for the first year or so, that the blood can be different colors ranging from bright red to brown or even blackish, and that personal hygiene during menstruation is very important (make sure your child knows they'll need to change their pad or tampon every 4-6 hours). Make sure they know that having a period doesn't mean they need to limit their activity or change anything about their lifestyle, too. A lot of kids are concerned that getting their period means they won't be able to swim or play sports, so it's important to take some of the mystery out of it.
Be honest, but check some of your own feelings about periods
It's important that kids know what's going to happen, and what it will feel like, and for how long. After all, they'll experience this roughly once a month for the next 40ish years! But it's equally as important that we don't scare our kids when it comes to periods. Yes, they may experience cramps, bloating, back pain, and other PMS symptoms. But if you focus on all the most negative aspects right away, it can have a negative impact. It's a good idea to address symptoms as they come up; in other words, don't lay out a list of all the terrible things they may experience right up front. Give them an idea of what they can expect (explain PMS and what symptoms can look like), and handle specific issues as they arise.
And even if you hate your own period, try not to let that color how you talk about your child's first period with them. Again, we don't want to scar or intimidate them. The goal is help, not hinder.
Explore period products, and make a period kit
One of the things that a lot of kids worry about is that they'll start their period when they're away from home and be unprepared or not know what to use. So go on a little shopping trip and explore different kinds of period products like maxi pads and tampons and period panties. Explain what they are, how they work, the different absorbency levels.
Remember, this is THEIR period, so they should be involved in the logistics of getting ready for it! Don't assume you know what's best or what they would prefer. In regards to tampons, there's no physical reason your child can't use them from the get-go. But most experts agree that tampons require a level of emotional development that kids in that age range don't have yet, so it might be a good idea to wait a few months to use them. But be prepared to demonstrate how to insert a tampon when the time comes.
To prepare your kid for getting their first period away from home, put together a little period kit that they can keep in their backpack or locker at school. Find a cute zippered pouch and put a few pads or tampons in their, along with a pair of clean underwear. At home, give your child their own little cubby or shelf in the bathroom with all the supplies they'll need. At home, you can include a small bottle of Motrin for cramps, and maybe a heating pad.
Give them a support system to lean on
No one likes to talk about periods, we get it! But when you first start, it can feel very isolating, especially if your child is the first among their friends. Make sure they understand that periods are normal and nothing to be ashamed of. Pick a family friend or trusted teacher to be their backup if they start at school or when you're away. But most of all, make sure your child knows that just because they started their period, doesn't mean they are different or can't continue doing all of the things they love to do.