I'm a single father of a 12-year-old girl who I know will soon be having her periods. Could you please advise me on the best way to prepare her for this major phase in her life?
Your daughter is certainly on the brink of the onset of monthly periods. It's normal to have some anxiety about how she will handle it in the first few episodes. But the more you prepare her for this inevitable transition to reproductive maturity, the more she will cope without undue distress.
It may help to start the conversation by explaining the normal pubertal changes. By now, she must have gone through several physical changes that include breast development. The onset of monthly periods comes next in line. It signifies the maturation of reproductive organs, signaling the capability to reproduce.
You shouldn't be surprised if you find the task of explaining pubertal changes much easier than you thought. After all school biology lessons should already have covered pubertal development to some extent.
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Explain it as simply as you can, with crystal clarity. She should expect to see blood coming through her vagina. This is what a period is, and it is a natural phenomenon. The amount of blood that comes out will vary, it may initially be just spotting. But may be more with subsequent periods. She may experience some cramps in the lower abdomen. Being a man, you can get help from one of her favourite aunties but also don't shy away from making her aware that such a thing exists.
Explain that the cramps come from the womb, which is a muscular organ where the blood comes from. It is the same organ that carries a pregnancy when that time comes. You don't need to make your explanations more complex than this to start with. Every other discussion about periods beyond now can introduce more levels of complexity about reproduction.
You must then bring up a discussion about menstrual hygiene. It may help to have some menstrual hygiene products at hand. Show your preteen how menstrual pads and tampons look like, and how they are used. Again let the aunt take up this duty.
Be ready to show her a step-wise demo, at least on how to use a pad to protect soiling of her clothes with menstrual blood. She could practice wearing some protection as she awaits the very first period. That will boost her confidence when the real day comes. Don't forget to advise her on the frequency of changing soiled pads, every 4 to 8 hours or so.
Make the discussion as informal as possible, and encourage your daughter to bring up any anxieties she might be harbouring. Make it clear that she can always cross-check any menstrual matters with you, at any time. Find a way of explaining the meaning of reproductive maturity, paving the way for a discussion on sexual health. The freer the discussions, the easier it will be for her to cope with the onset of periods, and other related reproductive health matters.