If your daughter is between the ages of 8 and 12, you've probably talked to her about periods and what to expect when hers arrives. But it's also important for the boys in your home to understand what it means when their sibling is on their period and how to best approach this time of the month. How should parents explain menstrual cycles to the boys living in their home?
Depending on how old your children are, they may already be aware of what a period is and what to do (and what not to do) to support their sibling. But whether they've learned about the menstrual cycle in school or watched television shows and TikToks about what happens during that time of the month, it can still be a potentially awkward and uncomfortable conversation to have with your son.
Despite awkwardness or discomfort, experts say the period conversation is one that's necessary to have with the young people in your home who do not menstruate. Looking for ways to best discuss the topic of periods with your son? Yahoo Life asked therapists and parents for tips about how to talk about menstruation in a way that's not scary or intimidating for either party.
Educate your son about the menstrual cycle
Michelle Felder, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist from Parenting Pathfinders, says it's important to have an open and honest conversation with your son about what a period is and why it happens.
"I encourage parents to be clear, factual and honest about the changes that can happen to all bodies as they develop," says Felder, "and then talk specifically about the changes that typically occur to a person assigned female at birth and to a person assigned male at birth."
While you could have this conversation with information you've accumulated from your life thus far, Felder says there are helpful resources available online to explain what it means to have a period in terms a tween can understand, in addition to informative videos on YouTube.
The conversation around the menstrual cycle doesn't have to be lengthy either. Carinne Saini-Chambers, founder of menstrual product company Diva, says a simple way to give kids the amount of information they need is to say: "It's a monthly cleansing process for the body to keep the uterus healthy, so one day a baby could grow if she chooses so."
Foster a sense of empathy and understanding in the household
Your son may not be able to fully understand what it's like for your daughter to start her period. However, Dr. Sophia Yen, co-founder and chief executive officer of Pandia Health, says to explain that a menstruating person's monthly cycle can sometimes be painful and embarrassing … if they bleed through their clothes or stain their sheets.
"Regardless of whether your child's siblings were assigned male or female at birth, it's important for them to empathize with what their sibling is experiencing," Felder adds. "Puberty is a time of a lot of changes for all people, and learning that there's no one way to experience it can be helpful."
"Hopefully, having this perspective can help to increase your other children's level of empathy, understanding and compassion for what their sibling is going through," she adds.
Answer questions honestly and openly
It's likely your son may have questions about a period and that's totally normal. You'll want to be as transparent as you can. "Anytime either of my kids would ask questions about bodies, we would have mini conversations and just keep it super calm and matter of fact," says Saini-Chambers. "I never said things like Oh that's none of your business or You don't have to worry about that."
For Christina Mann Karaba, a mother of two, the conversation surrounding periods wasn't a one-time affair. Through open discussions, she says periods were something her son "always knew."
Mann Karaba followed a strategy similar to Saini-Chambers' when it came to answering her son's questions about periods. "We have a fairly open and honest family," she says, "so if he's had questions I always answer in a truthful, age-appropriate way."
Offer examples of what not to say
It's easy for your son to say Oh, she must be grouchy because she's on her period or She's crying so much because she's on her period, but experts warn it's important to use this opportunity to change the stereotypes males learn about menstruation and teach them to be sympathetic, not critical.
"Tell your son to avoid blaming anything on their period — not their mood, lateness, frustration — nothing," says Felder. "They should avoid ever asking Do you have your period? as a way to make sense of someone's mood."
Felder explains that asking a question like Is it your period? is not only invasive, but ignores the fact that there are many things that can be impacting how someone fees or behaves.
Also teach the non-menstruating kids in your home to avoid common phrases like Stop being dramatic and Ew, that's gross.
"As a general rule, I think that it's best for siblings to allow the person having their period to decide if and when they'll talk about it," says Felder, adding that anything that might cause a sense of embarrassment or shame around a normal bodily function should be avoided at all costs.
Offer ways your son can help
Although your son may still not understand the gravity of the situation when your daughter gets their period, they will likely want to help and be supportive of their sibling.
"Everyone that has their period experiences it differently, so there isn't one thing to say that can be helpful for everyone," says Felder. "But it can be supportive to ask Is there anything that you need?"
Tell kids about helpful things they can offer their siblings while on their period like water, a snack, a warm rag, over-the-counter pain medication (administered by a parent) or a pad or tampon.
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