Inside: A guide for parents on how to start explaining periods to your child so that boys (or male children) see menstruation as a shame-free part of life.
A common question that I’m asked by parents is about how to start explaining periods to your son. They may be unsure about whether their child needs to know about periods, what to tell them and how much they actually need to know. Or they want their child to be understanding of what their sisters (and mother) are going through. Or they want to make sure that their male child grows up without adding to the shame that is often associated with periods.
This is an important discussion to have with male children, as they will be having contact with females for their whole life – school friends, intimate partners, sisters, work colleagues and maybe even their own daughter. And research tells us that boys want to know more about periods. So this is your opportunity as a parent, to start sharing some positive messages about periods with your male child, and to counteract the negative messages they may already be receiving from the media, their friends and society.
You’ll find more information about puberty in my Puberty 101 page.
When to start explaining periods to your male child
There is no ‘right’ time to start explaining periods to your son. It is completely up to you but the earlier you start talking about puberty, the easier it can be.
You can start talking to kids about puberty from a very young age. By starting when they are younger, you are gently introducing the concept to them that one day their body will start to change from being a child’s body to an adult body. Kids as young as three or four will have no trouble grasping this concept. They won’t really understand why, or even want to know, but they will accept it as just another thing that will one day happen to them. They will see puberty (and periods) as being normal.
There are many possible opportunities for talking about periods with male children. Your 3 year old might walk into the bathroom when you’re changing your tampon or pad. They might ask why you’re bleeding down there. Your 5 year old might be upset because their big sister sometimes shuts the toilet door and won’t let them in (because they are changing their pad). Your 7 year old might find period supplies in the bathroom drawer and ask what they are.
These are all situations where you can provide your male child with basic information that will satisfy their curiosity. You don’t need to worry about giving them too much information. Anything they don’t understand will soon be forgotten because it just won’t make sense to them.
What do males need to know about periods
Male children (or boys) need to know that females go through puberty as well. Some of the changes for females (or girls) are the same, and some of them are different.
So it might be helpful for your child to know that:
- a period is when blood comes out of a female’s vagina
- it is part of the reproductive cycle for females
- each month a female’s body gets ready to have a baby
- the uterus grows a thin layer of blood and special tissue that make a soft bed for a baby to grow on
- if there is no pregnancy, the body throws the bed away, as it isn’t needed
- it comes out as blood through the vagina and is called a menstrual period
- this usually happens once a month until they go through menopause in their 50s
- sometimes periods can be uncomfortable
- pads and tampons are used to absorb the blood (there are other menstruation products too)
- a period is a normal part of being female
- a female is fertile (capable of becoming pregnant) once they start to have their periods
- there are many other words for periods – menstruation
- there is also lots of slang and some of it can be insulting
- periods only happen to people with a uterus
- which means that a transgender male (ie a female who is transitioning to a male) may experience periods as they still have a uterus
- peoples may feel embarrassed talking about their periods
- it’s important to not tease them about it
- sometimes periods can stain clothing and this can be very embarrassing for people
- they should never shame someone when this happens
- they should discretely let them (or one of their friends) know that this has happened
How to start explaining periods to your child
The best approach when explaining periods to your male child is to talk about periods in the exact same way that you talk about anything else.
So use the same voice that you normally use. This way you are giving your child the message that periods are a natural part of being female. They aren’t anything to be ashamed of and are just a part of every day (or monthly, LOL) life.
There are many things that you can start doing. Try to be more open in regards to the fact that periods happen. Take your child shopping with you, walk down the ‘period product’ aisle together and start up a conversation. Or get them to help you unpack the shopping, and ask them to put the period products away for you.
Talk openly about your own periods (if you have them) or the fact that females have them (eg an aunt, cousin, etc). If you’re comfortable, you can also make sure you talk about periods in front of the other males in your household, too. Kids learn more by what we do than what we say. So try to role model a positive approach.
If talking about periods makes you feel uncomfortable, then explain this to your child. Talk about the reasons why you might feel uncomfortable, and explain to them the negative messages that you received during your own childhood.
If you’re unsure about how to start explaining periods to male children, then you might find my parent book, Boy Puberty, helpful as it has lots of helpful suggestions on how to start talking with kids about puberty.
Try including fathers in the conversation as well.
Resources to help with talking about puberty
My mission is to create resources that will help you to naturally talk to your kids about sex, all while respecting your personal values.
Which means that inside this website, you’ll find lots of resources to help you with talking to your child about puberty.
My Puberty 101 page includes all of the information on puberty. You’ll find lots of different blog posts to help with talking to your child about growing up.
You’ll find videos about puberty in my Sex Education Videos resource page that you can watch with your child or to learn more about puberty yourself.
You’ll also find an extensive range of children’s books on puberty, for kids of all ages.
If you get stuck and feel that you need some extra support with talking to your child about puberty, then my book, The Parents’ Guide to Puberty, may be helpful. It’s a straightforward common sense guide that will help you to start having honest conversations that will guide your child through puberty, and strengthen your relationship without feeling embarrassed, awkward or nervous.
Or maybe you’re looking for a video course to sit down and watch together with your child. My friend Rowena from Amazing Me has created a fantastic 2 part interactive course for parents/carers to attend together with their 9 to 12 year old. It’s fun, educational and age-appropriate! You can learn more about her puberty course here.
If you have a child who is expecting their first period, then you may want to consider period pants. Period pants are fantastic for kids who are worried that they won’t know that their period has started until it stains through their clothing for the world to see. My favourite brand for tweens and teens is ModiBodi, as they are good quality and quite absorbent.
If you need some help with explaining sexual intercourse to your child, then How to Talk to Kids About Sex will help you explain sex to your child in a way they will understand. It breaks sex down into simple steps that take the stress out of explaining!
If you’re unsure about how to answer your child’s questions about sex, then I have the perfect book for you! The Sex Education Answer Book will give you age-specific answers to the most common questions kid’s ask parents about sex. Which means you don’t need to worry about finding a child-friendly explanation that your child understands.
And if you get stuck, feel free to get in touch! You can contact me here.