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Hey Dads: We Want You To Embrace It All, Including Periods

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A 10-year-old girl approached me after a puberty presentation at her school. “Does my dad know about periods?” she whispered. I nodded sympathetically as I saw the horror on her face. I meet so many young girls who believe that periods are a female secret that males are not privy to; and as a result, side-line their dad at a time when he could be so valuable.

This article is roughly all about dads and periods, specifically dads talking to daughters about periods. Personally, I’m pro dads! (That’s all dads –single dads, as well as those living with their daughters full-time or part-time.) I want to convince you that your daughter needs you fully present in every area of her life, including periods. However, there is an art to being the dad of a growing girl. You will need to ensure that your relationship evolves with her and tailor your support to suit her changing needs.  

I hope this blog encourages you to have an “embrace it all” mentality. Periods are not just about bleeding, although that’s a big moment for girls. Your daughter will also need your guidance as she builds her self-confidence, tackles body image concerns, experiences mood swings and becomes interested in romantic relationships. I know – don’t you wish you could just stop the clock, so life didn’t get much more complicated?!  Right now, you are modelling the things you want her to hold dear – respect, equality, care and protection.

To all the dads out there, here are six practical pieces of advice on how to talk to your daughter about her period.

Normalise Periods

A part of normalising periods is showing her that they are a part of your world too. You might state your position clearly by saying, “I’m totally okay with talking about periods. I’ve had mothers, sisters, and friends who get their periods, so it’s not weird for me.”  The more comfortable you appear to be, the more comfortable your daughter will be. Our girls ultimately take their cues from us, so don’t be put-off by her initial hesitation to chat. Like anything new, it may take time for her to see value in it.  

Ideas to help you get started:

  • Allow her to overhear you offering to buy pads for your partner.
  • Next time you are at the grocery shop, deliberately toss some women’s hygiene products in the trolley.
  • When having a conversation about puberty, start with the least confronting information first, and then work your way towards content she may be more uncomfortable with.  For more helpful tips on talking to tweens about puberty, you might like to read this blog “How to Talk to Tweens About Puberty”.

Get Involved On Her Terms

I would like to suggest you get involved “on her terms”.  When she is showing signs of being uncomfortable or grossed out – back off.  It models respect. When she asks questions or needs your help – lean in. It also models respect. I am sure your daughter will have a great deal to say about how she wants you to be involved. Allow her to set the pace, and in doing so empower her voice.

Ideas to help you get started:

  • Try saying, “There are some things you need to know as you grow. Would you like to have a talk to me about them, or would you like to read a book about them first?”
  • Try saying, “What do you need from me when you have got your periods? How can I be supportive?”
  • Give her ownership of other decisions in the home – on Friday you choose what we eat, where we go, and what we do.
  • When solving a problem, ask what she would like to do first and champion that voice.

Create Milestones

Celebrating periods is a tradition many families have. These celebrations may be as simple as sharing your first period story with grandma over ice cream, or as elaborate as hosting a period party. Make sure you ask your daughter how she would like to celebrate, if at all. It’s beneficial to celebrate lots of different milestones during puberty. Some dads choose to create special date nights as their daughter nears adolescence. Some dads choose to go for a nightly walk or cook together, knowing they need to be more accessible. The method doesn’t matter. The connection does. 

Ideas to help you get started:

  • Schedule time in your diary to get to know your growing girl. You might plan to go out for coffee once a fortnight during her first year of high school.
  • There are a number of camping and conference-style puberty programs which aim to celebrate the transition to adolescence. This may be something you use to create a memorable milestone for them.

Update Your Privacy Policy

Little girls don’t get too fussed about privacy and personal space.  As they get older, this will change. This can be a big adjustment for many homes, and one which we need to make sure everyone is on board with, including siblings. When we respond to requests for privacy, we model the message that her voice is important, and she is the boss of her body.

Ideas to help you get started:

  • Make sure you know what your daughter is comfortable with and what she isn’t comfortable with.
  • Knock and pause to gain her consent before you enter her room.   
  • Try saying, “Let me know if you need privacy from your brothers. I can help with that.”
  • Make a special effort to take her to the grocery store later at night, so you can spend some time looking for the “right pads” without other people being in the aisle.

Value Education

We live in a society that doesn’t support men talking about women’s issues, so I understand that dads might feel a tad unqualified, or uncomfortable with these discussions. However, living structures have changed, and dads are often on the front line of caring for their daughters. Whether you are the main supplier of period education, or not, a book can be a great way to break the ice.  I wrote “A Girl’s Guide to Puberty” , “A Guy’s Guide to Puberty” (and created an online puberty program “Talking About Puberty”) to help parents kick-start conversations in a fun and age-appropriate way. They are designed to do the “heavy lifting” for parents, but they will never replace you.

Ideas to help you get started:

  • Buy a puberty book or online program for your daughter to view privately or with you. Please read it first!
  • Educate yourself about women’s hygiene products, including the range of periods and tampons available (they sell mini ones for younger girls). Don’t forget to check out leak-proof underpants, eco-friendly products. (PS. You can look at and shop for women’s hygiene products online if this is a comfortable start for your daughter.)
  • Don’t hand your daughter a book and say, “If you have any questions come and see me.”  Chances are she will have questions but won’t come to you.
  • Try starting a conversation by saying, I found this part of the video series really funny/interesting. What was your favourite part?
  • Identify the experts you can turn to for support and advice – doctors, gynaecologists, education and health professionals in schools are good starting points.

Include Your Sons

Dads, please teach your sons how to interact with a growing girl. This is part of creating a culture in a home that is respectful and gives our boys the tools to interact wisely outside of the home. I am a big believer in making sure boys are not left in the dark when it comes to periods. The more we normalise it, the better equipped they will be to be respectful in relationships.

Ideas to help you get started:

  • Give them a puberty book that includes content on the female body.
  • Discuss your daughter’s changing needs and explain ways they can be helpful. For example, knocking before they enter her room or bathroom.
  • Show them what a pad is and explain what it is used for.

Be Prepared

Do you know your daughter’s greatest fear? It’s probably that blood will leak on the back of her skirt at school, and everyone will see it. I think it’s super important that dads show they are capable of handling a period emergency. By doing this they show up for their daughter in a way that is useful and needed, and they become a trusted go-to person.

Ideas to help you get started:

  • I have some pads in the glove box of my car (or my office at work) for you. You just tell me if you need them or go get them yourself. I brought them for you.
  • If you need a note for swimming at school just let me know.

Finally…

Finally, let’s look at what the research says. We know that how our girls are embraced during their first period will affect how she feels about herself as a woman.  Keeping it light, being you, and having a little fun along the way is just what your daughter needs. Your relationship with her doesn’t have to tick anyone else’s boxes except your own! Don’t feel pressured to delve into areas she is uncomfortable with or push yourself into realms you are uncomfortable with. Healthy relationships are based on respect – you are respecting her journey and she yours – and I know you will be able to meet in the middle where connection happens.

RECOMMENDED READING: You might like to check out A Girl’s Guide to Puberty and A Guy’s Guide to Puberty and Talking About Puberty.

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