*Note: Name has been changed for privacy reasons.
Imagine coming home from a long and stressful day to find that your dog has gotten into the bathroom garbage – bit of a pain, but not the end of the world. As you clean up the tissues and Q-tips that are strewn across the floor, you find remnants of feminine product and realize that someone in your house has recently had their monthly period. And it wasn’t you.
This is the true story of Sterling Heights mom, *Renee. All of her children are girls and she wasn’t sure which of them had started their monthly period, one of the most “WTF” moments in a young girl’s life, and didn’t tell her.
After cleaning up the bathroom, and having a glass of wine, Renee gathered herself to have a separate conversation with each of her girls until her eldest came clean.
“We had a lot of things going on that day and I was already exhausted, (so) it was overwhelming and relieving at the same time,” Renee says. “… I knew it would be happening soon and I was glad that it didn’t happen at school.”
As it turns out, Renee isn’t the only mom to ever have her daughter keep her period all hush-hush. Getting your monthly period for the first time can be well, as Renee’s daughter puts it, “weird,” despite it being a natural part of every girl’s life, and even kids with parents like Renee, who opt to have an open relationship and honest dialogue with them, can get a little red-faced when it comes to talking about the crimson wave. So parents, it’s up to you to strike up the convo.
Why hide from the tide?
Dr. Eric Herman, a clinical psychologist with Children’s Hospital of Michigan, says there are two reasons that a child might avoid telling their mom or dad about her period.
“I think the first reason is that they might be embarrassed,” he says. “Things are changing and they might not want to talk about it or know how to talk about it.
And the second reason is fear.
“I think the idea of bleeding from the genitals might be kind of scary,” he adds. “If a child doesn’t understand what’s going on they might think that something is wrong with them …”
The best way to prevent your child from hiding it is to show them that it’s not a shameful thing through conversation.
“It becomes a problem when (the child) is younger and the conversation doesn’t happen, or parents are uncomfortable so they don’t talk about it, so the kid gets the feeling that they shouldn’t talk about it,” Herman explains.
Parents should begin to have this conversation early because some girls can start their periods as early as 10 or 11, Herman says. If you’re just too uncomfortable, avoid letting the school take over. Instead, try an age-appropriate book (just be sure that they actually read it) or bring the topic up to your child’s doctor so that they can help them prepare.
“If you’re ahead of it, you can tell (the child) what things will start to change,” he adds. “(And) parents should pay a little bit more attention so that they can tell when things are changing.”
Parental post-menstruation duties
Even if you are late for the boat and your child hides their monthly period from you, or even if they come to you with it, it’s not too late for you to start up a conversation about it.
“First thing you do is let them know that you know and let them know that you aren’t upset,” Herman explains. “Proceed to kind of talk about it and educate them. Then it becomes how to take care of themselves.”
This means discussing the different kinds of protection – including teaching them how to use a tampon or how to use a menstrual cup – the risks and benefits that come along with each of them, cramps, proper feminine hygiene and other issues that might arise.
“Mom might explain how it happened to her and how she handles things,” Herman adds.
Sometimes, even with all of the prep work, your kid might still hide it from you.
“I thought I kept communication very open. I thought that I had normalized things and prepared them pretty well, so (her hiding it) was a surprise for me,” Renee says.
After finding out about it and chatting with her daughter about the right protection for her, Renee encouraged her daughter to download an app that will help her tween track her periods.
As for Renee, she’s learning to improve the balance between giving her growing girls their privacy when they need it while still being attentive to their needs.
“If they want to be more independent, then I need to help them so that they can take care of it on their own,” she says.
This post was originally published in 2017 and is updated regularly.