My last year of primary school was a milestone in more ways than one.
Looking back, I still remember the horror that was Living & Growing. This hour-long telly torture was followed by an educational talk from our incredibly elderly teacher (I say that, she was probably 30). This was how I learned about your first period and reproduction. Mortified.
I don’t think many of us handle puberty with cool, calm confidence, do we?
I started secondary school and everyone was obsessed. Who’s started? Who hasn’t started? Why haven’t I started? OH MY GOD SHE HAS A TAMPAX IN HER BAG.
We used to send off stamped, addressed envelopes to an address we found in Just 17, and a few weeks later you’d get a booklet and 3 free Tampax in the post. I had mine sent to my grandmother’s house just in case my Mum found out. I’m not sure why, but the prospect of my Mum knowing I was dying with curiosity about the whole business was… unthinkable.
I couldn’t WAIT to get a bra. Except when I had to buy one, it was an old lady bra from British Home Stores. My Mum had a BHS loyalty card, and I was too short to shop at Dorothy Perkins, anyway. Then I went to school and all the girls spent the next week ‘pinging’ my bra strap so that everyone would KNOW I had boobs now.
Basically, puberty was horrifying from start to finish.
As a parent in 2016, hopefully, life’s a little easier.
Today I thought I’d share some of my favourite tips and products for pre-teen girls. How do you prepare girls for their first period?
1: Be Available
When I was 11, I could spend all day working up the courage to ask my Mum an embarrassing question. Like could I get a bra, or how did tampons work, or that sort of thing. It was all so… awkward.
Maybe one of the benefits of being a female household is that we’re a bit more open. We’ve long talked about periods, just in passing. “I need to go to the bathroom because I have my period,” or “Please don’t let the dog walk across my breasts right now, it feels like she weighs two tons and my boobs are being crushed alive.”
Certainly, I’ve made a point of telling my daughter she can ask me anything.
Nothing is too embarrassing or weird, and I promise I will always be truthful. Although I warn her if I think the answer might be too old for her – is she sure she wants to know?
I tend to think it’s better to ask me than some kid at school who doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about. And yes, I am still bitter about the girl who gave me entirely the wrong information about pearl necklaces, leading to a highly humiliating conversation with the cool fifth years a few weeks later.
2: Be Positive
It’s tempting to whinge about the unbearable burden of womanhood, isn’t it? PMS, sore boobs, spots, falling-down bra straps, blah blah. But for a pre-teen who can’t WAIT to be all grown-up and get their first period, it’s nice to preserve a bit of positivity.
I’m not going to lie and say it’s the best fun ever to have a period every month for decades on end. But it IS nice to know you’re growing up healthy, and your body is getting ready for having kids and breastfeeding. Because those things are pretty cool.
Sure, hormones might make you moody, but eventually they’ll also make you swoon over cute kids at school, and you’ll really enjoy snogging some of them. So on balance, growing up is a good thing. Does that make me a bad parent? I’m not sure.
3: Laugh about It
About a year ago, I handed over my old diaries to my daughter, and now she mocks me mercilessly. I sort of deserve it, though. 12-year-old me basically talked about school, friends, when could I get a bra, the incredibly long wait for my first period – and why did my Mum do EVERYTHING in the most annoying way possible?
I like to think my diaries reassure her that no matter how bad life might get, at least she will never write love poetry dedicated to her PGL instructor, or accidentally wear a black bra on the day she has to give a presentation in front of the whole school.
On days when there’s little to laugh at, watch this video about the first moon party. We must have watched this 20 times over the past few years, and we still laugh every time. In fact, I think we know most of it by heart. Flea’s favourite line is, “Your Grandpa is bobbing for ovaries like a champ!”
4: Buy (or make) a Period Box
It’s possible I didn’t have enough hobbies, but when we were 10 and 11, me and my friends were obsessed with sanitary supplies. Endless hours were spent reading the leaflets from the boxes and looking at stuff and going, “eewww” and throwing them at each other. It was almost as much fun as daring each other to go into HMV and buy a packet of Mates condoms (possibly I’m showing my age, here).
These days there’s no need for such nonsense.
Period Box is a nifty site that puts together a pretty “starter kit” box for pre-teen girls containing a range of teen-sized sanitary supplies along with some extra gifts. It’s perfect for girls who aren’t menstruating yet but might get their period in the next year or two.
The box we received had sanitary towels, applicator and non-applicator tampons, wipes and night-time products. There was also a book about growing up together with a couple of treats – gourmet chocolate, a bath bomb and a zip up bag.
It’s cute, and I really liked that it lets girls see all the options. The teen sizes products can be tricky to find in supermarkets. At £29.95, it’s not cheap and it’s worth noting ours took several months to arrive – but I would still recommend it, as it’s such a nice alternative to Judy Blume and Just 17.
5: Invest in Some Books
When you’re looking for a book about periods for a girl who may be some way off actually getting her first period, it’s not as easy as you think. The “early” books are often WAY too childish for girls in year 6 and 7, while the older books might include levels of detail that you’re uncomfortable sharing with your child.
I did quite like the Usborne book What’s Happening to Me? (even if I accidentally bought the boys’ version first). It’s simple, factual and not at all intimidating – I’d say it’s perfect for girls aged 8 to 10 years.
By 10 or 11, though, I think you need something more specific – and here, we turned to the US for resources. American Girl is a really big American doll brand, but they have a publishing arm that produces some truly GREAT books for young girls that are positive, fun, and factual.
With regard to puberty, I really like The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls – this title covers first periods, body changes, hormones, moods and other topics like personal hygiene, peer pressure and the general awkwardness of growing up. There’s a really reassuring tone and quotes from regular girls, with Q&As that answer most of a girls’ questions.
And Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret is STILL a classic and Flea loved reading it last year.
I’m finding that this is a time in girls’ lives when they’re easily embarrassed and self-conscious. As parents, probably the best thing we can do (I hope!) is be reassuring and calm about the whole business. If nothing else, I want Flea to have access to good information, though – whether it’s from me, a book, or a period box.
[All the items in this post are things I’ve bought myself and would 100% recommend to you. Some of the links are affiliate links, so if you click on them and buy something I might make enough to buy a bar of chocolate after 10 years or so]
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