I keep a basket of feminine products right by the toilet in my bathroom. You’d think it was a basket of treats for how much interest my kids would give it. For a long time I side-stepped their questions about its contents. I had no idea how to explain periods to a child.
It wasn’t until my oldest was around 6 or 7 that I finally decided I should take her curiosity seriously. And I came up with a brilliant idea: I could actually open a pad and a tampon to show her. Talk about a lightbulb moment coming in the form of common sense.
Explaining periods to my son a year later was a much easier task. I even came up with a story version for those that enjoy humorous conversations. You can read the following short story together or use your own words to retell it. Either way, it’ll be fun.
How to explain periods to a child
A period is how a woman’s body prepares for the possibility of becoming pregnant. It takes a lot of work to grow a few cells into a new human being. But our bodies are amazing and they know just what to do to create new life.
The story version
Have you ever heard the story of the period?
I’m not talking about that little dot that comes at the end of a sentence.
This period is part of an undercover group, along with the ovaries, eggs and uterus. This group has one mission: to help pregnancy happen.
Agent Period works on the clean up crew. She has to take care of any evidence if a mission doesn’t turn out as expected. No joke: this is an important job because if the evidence isn’t taken care of, it could jeopardize the success of the next mission.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Of course you need to know WHAT evidence Agent Period even needs to clean up.
Let’s start from the beginning. Every month, a mature female body prepares the uterus with extra blood and tissue. Why? That’s a good question.
You see, the body can’t become pregnant if the uterus is not prepared for this really important mission. The uterus has to thicken its inner walls with tissue and blood to prepare the best environment possible for a baby to grow in, and this takes time.
Seriously, babies don’t just pop into a mom’s uterus, like Pez dispensers pop out candy. This is a big-time operation that needs everything to work perfectly. Every agent knows the part they play in the mission, and every part is important.
But first, we need to talk about secret codes. Did you know the body has a special language it uses to tell its different parts what to do and how to work? In fact, the body has several different secret codes. These codes are called hormones. The hormones tell the ovaries that it’s time for one of her best agents, Agent Egg, to go on a secret mission.
After Agent Egg gets this coded message, she leaves the ovary and starts to travel down a very small tube, called the fallopian tube. If everything works out just right, this egg will have a rendezvous with another cell on a secret mission — the sperm. In fact, the only way Agent Egg can even succeed in her mission is if Agent Sperm helps her out.
But it just so happens that Agent Egg ran into a problem. She missed the rendezvous with Agent Sperm. Or maybe Agent Sperm never showed up. Whatever the reason, this rendezvous was a bust.
Honestly, Agent Egg was relieved because starting a mission of 9 months of pregnancy is a really serious commitment. It’s not for the faint-hearted egg. It takes a lot of preparation to be ready for a life-changing commitment like that. And this egg was not ready for that type of commitment.
Before too long, Agent Egg sent word that the mission had been compromised. Wasting no time, Agent Period was on the scene ready to clean up the evidence.
Luckily, Agent Period is a seasoned agent and knows exactly what needs to happen. She works tirelessly day and night for several days cleaning up any evidence of the mission. Those walls that got thickened on the inside of the uterus? Agent Period starts pulling them down and moving the materials — the tissue and blood — out of the uterus.
Agent Period takes trip after trip through the vagina until all the blood and tissue are gone. And do you know what? Agent Period is pretty good at what she does.
In fact, she’s so good at what she does that after all the evidence is removed, the uterus will start another mission. It’ll start thickening its walls again, preparing for the possibility of pregnancy. Another new agent, an egg as well, will be given a coded message to go to the rendezvous point. Whether this new agent succeeds or fails, Agent Period will always be on standby, ready at any moment to do her part.
The simple, text book version
There are a lot of changes that happen when a girl goes through puberty. When a girl gets her period, this is a good sign that her body is developing how it should. A period is when the inside of the uterus sheds its inside wall. The uterus sheds this lining when there is no baby developing in the womb.
A period happens about once a month and lasts for around 5 days. The tissue and blood from the uterus exit the body through the vagina. This is why girls wear a pad or a tampon when they’re on their period. These feminine products soak up this blood and keep clothes clean.
Why introduce periods by age 7-8?
It’s important to know how to explain periods to a child. Your daughter needs to be prepared for upcoming changes she will experience. Your son can be empowered to gain respect for this important function in a female body.
Periods are a part of a healthy female body. Talking about menstruation isn’t any different than all the other body systems kids are learning about at this age. In fact, this is prime time for a kid to understand how a period works. Child development research helps us understand kids are cognitively geared towards understanding processes at this age.
For example, on a bus route the bus may start in New York City and end in Philadelphia. This is all a 5 or 6 year old may be interested in learning. Simple cause and effect. Point A to point B.
But a 7 and 8 year old will likely have a natural curiosity about what other towns the bus will go through on its way to Philadelphia, how long the ride will take between each city, and maybe even how many miles the bus will drive to get there. Meaning, these kids are not interested only in cause and effect, but the process or details that get from point A to point B.
These kids — both girls and boys — are capable of understanding periods. Of course, parents teach girls about periods because they’ll experience them one day and they want their daughters to be prepared.
But why teach boys?
Well, the natural processes of the human body are not secret. When boys learn early on that periods are a sign of a healthy female body working exactly as it was designed to do, they will have more empathy, respect, and understanding for sisters, friends, girlfriends, and a future partner. This in turn makes a big difference in the lives of these females.
Answering questions before they’re asked
Kids ask a lot of questions. Remember, these questions are most often asked with a desire to know the simple facts. Questions may revolve around who, what, when, where, and how. You can even answer some of these questions before they’re asked by giving this information up front.
Here are some questions you might hear.
What is it called again?
It’s often called a period, but you’ll also hear it called menstruation or the menstrual cycle. It’s just a lot of different words that mean the same thing.
Who gets a period?
Adult female bodies have periods. When girls’ bodies change into adult bodies during puberty, girls will get a period too. This means that most teenagers also have periods, since a girl’s period most often starts around the age of 12. It can start earlier or later though for some girls.
Do periods happen all the time?
Periods last for around 5 days each time they happen. For most girls, a period happens about once a month.
Is there a lot of blood?
No. It may sometimes look like a lot, but it’s actually only several tablespoons worth. And that little bit of blood is spread out over several days.
Does it get all over in your underwear?
During her period a girl wears tampons, pads or other feminine products to soak up the blood before it causes a mess in her underwear. You’ve probably seen some of these feminine supplies in the bathroom. I’ll show you what they look like. You can even open one up if you want.
What happened to Agent Sperm?
What a great question. Age 8 is a pretty awesome age because it’s also a great time to give a simple explanation of sex. Simple questions and simple answers, remember?
Around age 8 is when kids conclude their natural questioning sequence about where babies come from. After learning how a baby gets out of the body, it’s only natural kids want to know how a baby got IN there in the first place. That’s why you’ll find a lot of helpful information about Agent Sperm in the post How to Painlessly Talk to Kids about Sex.