Don't brush off conversations about the big P. Keep it friendly and clinical with your kids
Periods' is a word we still don't say aloud in company. Something about its intimate nature and connection to reproduction shelves it in the shameful loft of polite conversation. But it is crucial to swallow embarrassment and address the issue of menstruation clinically and in a friendly manner with your kids, say child psychiatrists.
The repercussions of not dealing with it smartly can be grim. Experts say that if the negativity a child usually experiences while coming of age is not addressed, it could damage self-esteem and attitudes towards sex and sexuality in adulthood.
Shefali Batra, a city-based psychiatrist and psychotherapist, has encountered cases that grew complex because discussing the menstrual cycle was considered a taboo in the patient's home.
"A sense of being different from men," says Batra, "even inferior and dirty can take shape in the mind of the girl. If left un-addressed, it can develop into strong negativity."
She speaks of a young eight yearold who started menstruating early, and her behavior towards her mother slowly veered towards the aggressive because she was afraid and angry at not being able to understand what was going on with her body. The bond the two shared in this case, was not strong to begin with, and after this, it spiraled downwards. The girl felt 'dirty', and acted out on her mother.
The information age
It might be too awkward and forced to schedule in "the talk" with your daughter, so, just approach it casually. Follow the "if you are old enough to ask, you're old enough to know" rule and answer questions as they come. Let information trickle down on a need-to-know basis. Obstetrician and gyneacologist Dr Sangeeta Agrawal says, "Children are very inquisitive and will spring the question sooner or later. Parents should address the topic in ageappropriate language, but never shrug it off."
By the time the child is 10 or 11, you can stop changing the channel when ads for sanitary napkins pop up on TV. You can also pick up sanitary products when the two of you are shopping together. This will provide you an opportunity to mention that "these are hygiene products needed as you grow older." You can casually discuss the difference between tampons and pads, and even mention in which part of the home you stock them.
While 11 to 12-year-olds are happy to be reassured that the bleeding is not from an internal injury, teens demand a more biological explanation. Don't share more information than what the child asks at a particular time — she may need time to compute what you have just told her.
Mum's the word
Never change the topic, or dust off the question as it builds an aura of secrecy and shame around the subject — just the thing you want to avoid. The demarcation is between privacy and secrecy: Approach the subject like you would any other bodily function such as defecating or passing wind-something all of us do in private but don't talk about in public.
You can also build awareness about the symptoms by mentioning that you have a PMS-induced migraine or cramps. Slowly, delve into details of the ovulation cycle, how long it lasts, the link to pregnancy, etc. You can even leave books or magazines on the subject lying about at home, encouraging a peek.
Batra talks of another complexity: When your daughter has all the knowledge, and her friends get their periods before her, or much later. "This can give rise to more confusion.
She may start thinking she is abnormal, especially as the body also starts changing physically." Besides talking about how there is no fixed age for menstruation, enlist the help of older cousins or friendly aunts. Casually discuss the different ages at which all of you started menstruating, to show how different each one's biological cycle is. Thanks to the Internet, girls are better informed these days, observes Dr Agrawal. A great way to avoid blushing faces on both sides and at the same time strengthen the mother-daughter bond is to come up with a special nickname for "it" that only you and your child know.
Boys should know too
Boys are spared the monthly troubles, but it does them good to know what happens during 'those' days. Fathers play an essential role here. Experts agree that a man-to-man talk dispels doubts and makes the boy feel like a grown-up. Also, by telling the boy yourself, you can ensure he gets the correct information.
Here's why boys need to know:
1. It helps them understand women better (when at the receiving end of mood swings).
2. It dispels notions of their partners, sisters and mothers being 'dirty' some days of the month.
3. Helps them understand sexuality better as they are partners in pregnancy.
Kill the 'dirty' myth
Dr Agrawal, who is part of a teenage counselling programme, says she finds it useful to address misunderstandings related to menstruation. "In our culture, it is often believed that during this time, you should not have a bath, but actually the opposite is true. We encourage girls to maintain hygiene and change their napkin every four hours."