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Part of being a parent involves explaining some big concepts to your children, and sometimes, this means thinking on your feet! My children have asked me everything from ‘How does space work?’ to ‘What happens when you die?’ just before they’re supposed to sleep at night.

Sometimes, these questions can be funny and sweet. Other times, they can cause some complicated emotions or be just too tricky to answer on the fly.

Talking about puberty, periods, and the way our bodies work can be hard, especially if you weren’t able to talk to your own parents about it growing up. Here are a few tips on how to approach it:

Acknowledge your own feelings

Certain topics are tough to talk about with little ones, depending on your background. There are some conversations I find emotionally tricky, and I think this is pretty common among women whose own parents weren’t particularly open about bodies and puberty!

If you find yourself reeling from a sudden, unexpected question, don’t worry. Take a deep breath, and allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel in this particular moment. It will pass, and later, you can consider why you feel that way and be more prepared for it next time around.

Take your time

Sometimes, kids hit you with the tough questions at the exact wrong moment: when you’re sick, when you’re running late for school in the morning, or when you’re trying to make a difficult phone call are all prime moments for this!

It’s okay to tell your children to wait for an answer: ‘I can’t answer that properly now, sweetheart. Let’s talk about it later.’ This is a perfectly reasonable thing to do – as long as you follow through on your promise!

Don’t worry about their age

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Even younger kids have questions about periods (in my experience, they have noisy questions that they like to ask in public bathrooms with many other people around). You can tailor your answer to be age-appropriate, even for the youngest children.

Founder of Sanitary Aid Initiative and author of the book Little Red Spot, Karo Omu, suggests in this blog post that there’s no one right time to tell your kids about periods and that, in fact, ‘it’s important to talk to your children about periods more than once at a specific age … as your child becomes ready for more information, you can provide it.’

If your child is nearing puberty and you haven’t had this conversation yet, it’s a good idea to do it in small doses, providing opportunities for questions, for example, when buying pads or tampons.

Use plain language

If you can, use the correct terminology when talking to children. This may feel very counterintuitive if your parents used made-up words for body parts or functions, but it’s important that children are armed with the correct information about their bodies.

This becomes more relevant as children work their way through primary school and into secondary – rumours run wild on the playground, so it’s useful for your child to know the facts.

Provide them with literature

There are several books all about growing up. These are great to read together, or if your child feels more comfortable, they can read it alone and come to you with questions.

For younger children, I’d recommend The Little Red Spot by Karo Omu. It’s a beautiful picture book about ten-year-old Ivy getting her first period and the lovely conversation she had with her mother afterward.

For older children, I’d recommend What’s Happening to Me? From Usborne Books. This book covers everything from pubic hair to hormones to periods, and it uses simple language in an age-appropriate way.

Don’t forget about boys

Boys need to be educated about periods too! If you’ve ever had a toddler boy barge into the bathroom with you, chances are that they may already have asked these questions anyway. Again, you can keep it very simple and age-appropriate, using correct terminology. Answer their questions with honesty and patience, and encourage openness.

You don’t have to sit them down and have a big discussion, either. Simple conversations can arise when you go to the supermarket to buy tampons, as mentioned earlier, or even by explaining why you need a hot water bottle today.

Educate yourself

Personally, I’ve been on a mission to understand my own body as an adult woman! Only now am I beginning to see the gaps in my sex education, but luckily, there are many resources out there to help, and it’s never too late to learn.

If you have gaps in your knowledge and you have a child with questions, I’d recommend checking out this page on the NHS website. It explains everything in basic terms, and you can pull it up during a discussion with your child if necessary.

If you want to find out more in-depth about the way your body works, I can recommend a couple of books. Period Power by Maisie Hill is an incredible resource, covering everything about what happens to your body in each stage of your cycle.

You can also check out Vagina: a Re-Education by Lynn Enright. Part informational book, part feminist rallying cry, this will teach you everything you need to know about the health of your reproductive organs, cover health conditions like endometriosis, and explain why education matters when it comes to women’s health.

Celebrate our bodies

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For those of us who don’t have straightforward periods, it can be really tough to celebrate our cycles. But it helps children – especially girls on the cusp of puberty – to explain why periods are needed and what their function is.

It’s also helpful to have a positive attitude about growing up. Going through these changes can be very scary, and children can anticipate these worries quite far in advance. It’s worth acknowledging these emotions, helping your child to identify how they feel, and reassuring them that it’s normal to feel that way. But you can also celebrate their milestones and encourage them to see the good parts of growing up.

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