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That Time Of The Month: Teaching Your Mighty Girl About Her Menstrual Cycle

Posted on March 13, 2016 by Katherine

A Mighty Girl's recommended books and resources for preparing girls for their first periods.

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first-period-kitDo you remember having your period for the first time? Were you relieved, scared, or confused? Did you know what was happening, or were you told after the fact? Did you think you could bleed to death, or believe that you couldn’t swim or go to gym class? Did you hear someone make joking references to women being “on the rag” and think, “I’ll die of embarrassment if anyone knows?” Did you feel like you were prepared?

In a world that is increasingly public about all sorts of previously private topics, menstruation is often still a taboo subject. What information girls do hear around them is often negative or incorrect, and even school health classes that discuss the subject often focus on the “nuts and bolts” without ever touching on the real, practical experience of a monthly cycle. As a result menarche — a girl’s first period — is still likely to be disconcerting for her.

But parents, mentors, and friends of Mighty Girls can turn this milestone of womanhood into a much more positive experience. By providing lots of accurate information, real-life experience, and practical advice, girls can learn to view their menstrual cycle in a totally different way: as an important element of their female nature and as a key sign of coming adulthood. In this blog post, we’ll help you turn a girl’s first period into an empowering experience.

If you’re looking for more great material for teaching the Mighty Girls in your life about their bodies, make sure to check out our blogs Body Smart, Body Safe: Talking with Younger Girls about their Bodies and A Time of Change: Talking With Tweens and Teens About Their Bodies, as well as our Guides for Girls section which provides resources for Mighty Girls on all aspects of their physical and emotional developments.

Read All About It: Books About Menarche

One of the reasons menstruation can seem so strange is that we just don’t talk about it. Think of how many TV shows, movies, and books that feature characters in their tween and teen years never address the experience. Fortunately, there are some good books out there your Mighty Girl can read — or better yet, that you can read together — to introduce the idea that this is something that happens to every girl.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

In Are You There, God?, Judy Blume frankly addresses a common concern for tween girls: wondering if that first period is ever going to happen. Margaret is only 12, but it seems like all of her friends are maturing faster than she is. Fortunately, coming to peace with puberty — and how it happens on its own time — is easier when you know you’re not the only one waiting, which makes this book particularly valuable for tweens.

The Porcupine Year

Omakayas is an Objibwe girl in 1852 whose family has been displaced and needs to find a new home. Amidst the difficulties of finding a new place to live and a place in a new community, Omakayas is also faced with menstruation, a key transition into adulthood for her culture. However, with warm, loving guidance from Nokomis, her grandmother, Omakayas is left feeling confident and ready to take this big new step into adult life. Omakayas’ story may take place in a very different place and time, but her feeling of being caught somewhere between childhood and adulthood is sure to resonate with girls of today.

To read Omakayas' full story, check out the first two volumes of the series, The Birchbark House and The Game of Silence.

Just As Long As We’re Together

This book, also by Judy Blume, features a main character going through lots of turmoil — moving, starting middle school, parents who are separating — when her first period gets added to the mix. But to Stephanie's surprise, her first period isn't just a physical change: along with it come changing feelings about boys, friendships, and herself. This book will help girls understand that these emotional changes, just like their physical changes, are a natural part of nearing adulthood.

How It All Works: Learning About The Menstrual Cycle

Another way to make girls more comfortable with menstruation is to make sure that they have accurate information, not just about how and why it works, but also on the day-to-day, real life business of managing hygiene. The more informed she is, the more comfortable she will be with how to handle both menarche and her ongoing experience.

It’s So Amazing: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families

Girls are starting their periods younger — sometimes as young as 9 or 10 — so it’s a good idea to introduce the idea of menstruation to girls sooner than you might expect. It's So Amazing is about general sexuality education, but includes a discussion of the menstrual cycle and its role in a woman’s body. If you want to introduce this idea early — and especially if your daughter seems to be an early developer — this is a great book to start talking more seriously about the changes that come with puberty. Author Robie H. Harris and illustrator Michael Emberley have collaborated on three books about sexuality education; in addition to this one, parents can check out the introductory-oriented It's NOT The Stork! for ages 4 to 8 and the more advanced It's Perfectly Normal! for age 10 and up.

Period: A Girl’s Guide

This pocket guide by JoAnn Loulan and Bonnie Worthen is an great look at everything to do with menstruation. It answers the basic questions of how things work, as well as practical questions like how to decide between pads and tampons; how to handle period-related issues like cramps, PMS, and even how to remove accidental stains; and what happens during a pelvic exam. A calendar at the back will also get her started charting her cycle, so that she can start figuring out what’s typical for her in terms of cycle length, period length, and heaviness of flow.

Below Your Belt: How To Be Queen of Your Pelvic Region

Of course, reproductive health is about more than just ovulation and periods. In fact, while we don't talk about it much, the whole pelvic region has a remarkable effect on health and well-being. In this new book from the Women's Health Foundation, girls will learn the whole picture of pelvic health, from good urinary and bowel habits to strengthening pelvic muscles to tracking and managing periods. This unique book is sure to be well-used.

Parents looking for book about pelvic health for younger children can check out the Foundation's picture book Riding the Potty Train: Better Bathroom Behavior for Little Girls on The Go!.

The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls

This most beloved guide includes general information about growth and development, as well as specific period-related questions like what to do about menstrual cramps and how to use a tampon correctly. Girls who understand the basics of puberty but want more information will find this book accessible and reassuring, and it's also an excellent option for parents who want a book focusing strictly on anatomy and hygiene, without a discussion of sexuality and intercourse. Parents of younger tweens should also check out the first volume, The Care and Keeping of You 1, which covers similar information with slightly less detail for ages 8 to 12.

Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen’s Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body

Older girls may be getting used to their menstrual cycle, but that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from further information. Cycle Savvy goes into much more detail about female reproductive anatomy, general gynecological health, and physical and emotional changes during the menstrual cycle. Author Toni Weschler also advocates charting your cycle, not just so that a girl knows when to expect her next period, but also so that she is in tune with her fertility and reproductive health, and therefore more alert to changes that could signal a health issue. After reading this book, girls will be confident that they understand just how their menstrual cycle works.

Be Prepared: Ready For Menarche

If you ask women about the most disconcerting thing that happened in their early years menstruating, most of them will describe a time that their period started and they weren’t ready: they didn’t have the supplies they needed to hand, and didn’t know how to get them. By providing your Mighty Girl with a kit of supplies, she’ll be ready when the time comes!

Dot Girl First Period Kit

This handy kit from Dot Girl includes a book of 20 common questions, as well as pads, disposal bags, hand wipes, and a reusable heating pad, all of which pack away in a carrying case that fits in a purse or a backpack. The pack also includes a period diary to help her track her first year of cycles. This kit assumes some degree of knowledge — it’s not for teaching her all about menstruation, but for reminding her of key points — but the included supplies will make sure that she doesn’t get caught without the products she needs.

Helloflo Period Starter Kit

This period kit includes everything your Mighty Girl will need for her first period — including a few treats to celebrate! The Get Ready Guide for Girls and Get Ready Guide for Parents provide useful information, while the included pads, pantyliners, and zipper pouch ensure supplies will be at the ready, both the first time or in the future. As an added bonus, girls get a bracelet, hair ties, facial scrub, lip balm, and even some fruit chew candies to remind them that your first period is worth something special.

Healthy Chats My First Period Kit and DVD

This kit and DVD allows parents and girls to explore all the things she'll need to know before her first period in a comprehensive way, all in the privacy of your own home. Based on the "Healthy Chats for Girls" mother-daughter seminars by Dr. Chrystal de Freitas, the DVD provides accurate information about topics including body changes, menstruation, birth control, and more, while the included pouch for pads and tampons allows girls to create their own period kit out of whatever products they prefer.

Heart Felt Reusable Bamboo Menstrual Pads

There are so many more menstrual product options out there for today's girls! If your Mighty Girl is bothered by the materials in disposable menstrual pads, or if she wants to be more environmentally conscious (and save a little money along the way), why not try washable, reusable pads? These bamboo pads by Heart Felt are comfortable and easy to clean, with a charcoal layer that is super absorbent. This 5-pack of pads will give her the chance to try out washable pads and see if they're right for her.

LENA Menstrual Cup

Another option now available for girls and women are menstrual cups; these insertable soft cups can be used for up to 12 hours at a time without leaking. This menstrual cup from LENA is made in California from 100% medical grade silicone and is registered with the FDA. It's available in two sizes: the small size is best for first-time users and girls and women with a light flow, while the larger size is best for older teens and women or those with a heavy flow. While using a menstrual cup takes some practice, girls will love being able to do whatever they want -- dance, run, even swim! -- for a full day without worrying about their menstrual product.

The Emotional Side

Of course, even if she is totally prepared in every way for her first period, a girl at this age has a lot of emotions that she needs to express: about her developing body, her complex moods, and her changing place in the world. Many girls this age find it helpful to keep a journal or diary where they can freely explore these feelings in a safe space. Blank journals are great, but sometimes it’s helpful to have a guided journal with writing prompts and other material to help her sort out her complicated thoughts.

The Care and Keeping of You Journal 2

The partner to the American Girl Library book The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls is an excellent way to help girls manage their feelings about how their body — and life — is changing. In addition to including tips, quizzes, writing prompts, and checklists, it also includes designated space for tracking their periods. The guidance this journal offers will give her a great way to understand her whole body better — when she enjoys exercising most, what foods she needs more of, and what makes her feel most comfortable in her own skin. For a similar journal for slightly younger girls, check out The Care and Keeping of You Journal 1 which is suitable for girls aged 8 to 12.

The Feelings Book Journal

This journal is a companion to The Feelings Book, American Girl Library's excellent guide to understanding and managing emotions. This journal focuses solely on the fluctuating emotions of a girl this age, something that can be particularly challenging if she finds that the hormones involved in her cycle have a large impact on her mood. Quizzes, fill-in-the-blanks, and checklists let her identify and work through her complicated thoughts — because sometimes, understanding what she’s feeling is the hardest part.

Just Between Us: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal for Girls and Their Moms

Journaling between mother and daughter can be a great way for girls — and moms — to talk about some of the changes in puberty that make them uncomfortable. Mother and daughter authors Meredith and Sofie Jacobs have created a joint journal that moms and daughters can use to write out conversations that might be awkward spoken aloud. The writing prompts cover much more than general development, including topics like friends, school, and dreams for the future. But when the emotions of puberty get hard to handle, girls can use this journal to help find out more about their mother’s own journey — and what she can learn from it for her own.

The Care and Keeping of Us: A Sharing Collection for Girls and Their Moms

When life is changing fast, it's important to stay close with the people in your life — but some of the conversations can seem difficult face-to-face. And, of course, first you have to know what to say! This collection for moms and daughters will help with both of those issues. The set includes twin books for moms and daughters, each of which contains prompts, how-to-say-it scripts, and more to get the conversation started, as well as a shared journal with two bookmarks for writing down jokes, thoughts, to-do lists, and questions. This newly released set is sure to be a hit.

Celebrating Womanhood

Of course, there’s another special way that mothers — as well as all the other people in a girl’s life — can be a part of menarche: by celebrating it! Many cultures have a variety of rites and celebrations for a girl’s first period, and marking the occasion in some way is a great way to welcome her into womanhood and make her feel like her cycle is a special part of her.

Moon Mother, Moon Daughter

For thousands of years, cultures have welcomed the arrival of a girl's first period as a key signifier of adulthood, but in today's culture we've lost the sense of the significance of menarche. Janet Lucy and Terri Allison encourage mothers to use myths and rituals that use the moon as a symbol to welcome girls into the community of womanhood. By encouraging mothers and daughters to form new connections as the daughter matures, Moon Mother, Moon Daughter is a celebration of female gifts and generational wisdom.

105 Ways to Celebrate Menstruation

Menarche only happens once, but most women will have hundreds of periods before their cycle stops during menopause -- why not find ways to celebrate each one of them? 105 Ways to Celebrate Menstruation was written to help women understand their own cycle — and their daughters’ — in a new light. The tone is one of honor and respect for a woman’s body, making it perfect for helping girls find balance in their new skin. Some of the suggested rituals are more suited to adults than teens, but even the ideas that you don’t want to use are sure to inspire other ways that you can celebrate her female nature.

If menstruation wasn’t something you discussed in your home, this can all feel a bit strange at first. But by making it an open topic for your Mighty Girl — something matter-of-fact, not mysterious, and maybe even a bit special — she will feel a new confidence about this very important transition.

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This post was posted in Front Page, A Mighty Girl Top Pick, A Mighty Girl Spotlight and was tagged with puberty, tweens, teens, period, menstruation, bodies, menarche, first period kit