Puberty and menstruation have the potential to be a rough conversation for dads and their growing daughters. After all the onset of puberty isn’t just uncomfortable for parents to talk about, it’s also a tough time for kids to experience. For daughters, not only are their bodies changing, but their brain is changing, too. And, of course, there is the societal shame around periods and period blood — a shame that will only deepen if kids are left in the dark about their changing bodies. All of which means dads need to suck it up and talk about puberty as much as they can, as early as possible.
That’s very much the message from entrepreneur Naama Bloom, who literally wrote the book about menstruation and puberty called HelloFlo: The Guide, Period. “That’s how you get rid of the stigma. My daughter knows I get my period because she asked me, when she was like three-years-old,” Bloom explains. She notes the conversation was predicated on her daughter noticing her mother’s menstrual pad, which she believed were diapers. Bloom set her straight with a simple explanation of menstruation. “I said, ‘Well, women, every month, blood comes out of them. It’s part of the process of making a baby. We all have eggs inside of us, and every month, one comes out.’ And she goes: ‘Oh, so I’m like a chicken?’ And I was like, ‘Kind of.’”
How To Talk About Puberty WIth Your Daughter
- Make the information accessible: There are plenty of books about puberty and menstruation. Make sure you pick one that is all-inclusive. Leave it in her room. Tell her you’re ready to talk when she is.
- Answer all questions in straightforward accurate, anatomical language: Refusing to talk or putting it off until they are older shrouds the topic in secrecy, even shame. Make sure she knows exactly what will happen to her. Make sure she knows that periods are a part of her reproductive system.
- Don’t force the conversation: If you feel you have to talk, make sure it’s over an activity or project — or in a car, so you’re not looking one another in the eye.
- Recognize you are not the expert, but you can still help: If your daughter has a question you can’t answer, make sure you’ve lined up all the sources you can. You just have to signal yourself to be as open as possible to your daughter.
- Prepare your daughter for unwanted attention: Unfortunately, for many young girls, the changes in their physical appearance may make them susceptible to attention that they have not yet received. People treat girls differently after they hit puberty. Preparing your daughter for it will help her deal.
Obviously, a father doesn’t have as easy an in to the puberty conversation as menstrual pads, but that doesn’t mean that daughters won’t have pointed questions as she grows up. Bloom is unequivocal that those questions should be answered immediately in the most straightforward way. “You have to answer all of the questions, when they come up, without hesitation,” Bloom notes. “It can’t be a new conversation. If it’s a new conversation, it feels like there’s something shameful or secretive about it that they weren’t allowed to know.”
But it’s not just about answering questions as they come up. It’s also about making sure that the information is accessible for daughters—both from parents and outside sources. So giving a daughter a comprehensive book on puberty is a good start — Bloom’s would be a fine start. But regardless of whether the information comes from her book, or not, the key, according to Bloom, is to not force the conversation.
“Kids are going to get there in their own time,” Bloom says. “But if you leave the book in their room, they’re going to pick up. It will prompt questions. By giving your child the book and saying, ‘Hey, I read this, and you should too,’ you open up this dialogue. You’re saying: I’m not afraid to get in on this and have this conversation with you.”
It’s also okay to recognize the limitations of your knowledge as a dad. Most gender normative dads have never menstruated and never will. Still, “The same thing is happening to boys, they just don’t get a period,” says Bloom. Admitting the differences is totally fine.
Being a dad and guiding your daughter through puberty also doesn’t have to be all about the mechanics of the bodily changes. Although daughters will likely have questions about that — and dads should do your best to answer them, even taking to Google together to figure things out — dads should also make sure they’re providing emotional support during a deeply awkward time.
“Focus on the emotions,” Bloom says. “Because that’s the part that’s really going to impact your child’s wellbeing. Any book can teach you the mechanics.”
She also notes that some dads may need to use other resources. She recently heard from one dad whose mother wasn’t in the picture when his daughter started her period. He took it upon himself to find people that his daughter could relate to and talk with. “He asked his sister and a couple of his friends to go have dinner with her,” says Bloom. “They all went out and talked about being a woman. As hokey and cheesy as it sounds, it’s also so nice and meaningful for her. It takes a village.”