How To Prepare Your Kid To Get Their Period At School
There’s the what of the period and the how of the period. Here’s how you can talk to your kid ahead of time.
One thing I’ve learned teaching kids about puberty over the past decade is that their worries about menstruation are actually logistical, not existential. What do I mean by that? When a parent thinks about their kid’s first period, they consider all the ways that represent them growing up and moving toward adulthood, eventually being able to reproduce. My baby isn’t a baby anymore!
But when a kid thinks about getting their period (particularly in school), they worry about different things — issues that might seem minor to you, but are crucially important to them. It’s things like: How do I get my pad into my back pocket without anyone in class seeing? How do I tell my male teacher that I have to go to the bathroom because I have my period? Who do I go to if I get my period and don’t have any products at school? What if I leak through my leggings? These might seem insignificant to an adult, but to a kid, these take center stage.
Which means preparing a kid for a first period unfolds on two fronts: the what of a period and the how of a period. And you’ll want to make sure you’re handling both.
First of all, make sure your kid actually knows what a period is; don’t assume that someone else has taught them in school, and don’t rely on TikTok or Youtube to educate them. Keeping kids healthy and safe means arming them with accurate, science-based information. A period is when the uterus sheds its lining of blood, water, mucus, and tissue out of the vagina. It can take a while (even a year or two) for a period to become regular, but when it does, periods happen every month and last four to seven days. A period is not peeing blood — you pee out of your urethra and menstruate out of your vagina. (We add the last line because, without fail, kids ask that question in every puberty workshop.)
Once you’ve made sure your kid knows what a period is, you can get rolling with preparing a period pack they can take with them out into the world.
The pack itself should be a non-transparent material and include unscented, fragrance-free menstrual pads of different sizes and absorbancies, some tampons (if your kid is interested), and a clean pair of period underwear or regular underwear. I also recommend kids bring an extra pair of leggings and leave them in their locker in case of an inopportune leak. But the most important part of packing a period pack is the conversations that go along with prepping it. It’s an amazing opportunity to show your kid that changing bodies aren’t something to be dreaded, but something to be approached with confidence and a sense of humor.
Acknowledge the unpredictability of first periods.
Parents wish they could be fortune tellers for kids’ seminal moments, but sometimes we just have to acknowledge that things are out of our control. Validating the unpredictability while helping kids feel capable of managing things helps them feel empowered to handle whatever comes their way. Let’s pack you a period pack for school this year — we don’t know exactly when you’re going to get your period for the first time, so let’s be prepared. At the very least, you can help a friend who is caught out without anything!
List trusted adults at school who can be a resource.
Make sure your kid knows who they can go to if they get their period and need help, whether that's products to use or guidance on handling a situation. Find out who in the school building has extra products — the nurse, the guidance counselor, the principal (yes, even they have period products!) — and communicate that to your kid. When an experience is new, it can be hard to ask for help. Here are the people at school who can be a resource for you — who do you feel most comfortable going to for products or advice?
Involve your kid in choosing the products that will go into the period pack.
When kids feel agency in taking care of their changing bodies, it gives them the belief they can manage whatever comes their way. Instead of a box of pads magically arriving on their bed one day, go to the store together to choose a variety of items. Walk the aisle, pick up different boxes, laugh at the awkward names (“quiet open tampons,” anyone?). FYI this outing is not just the purview of adults who menstruate — a parent of any gender can stock up on period products with their kid! Let’s go to the store and get a bunch of different pads to pack for school (and even tampons if you’re interested.) Also, there are some cool new products like period underwear, so let’s see if they sell those; otherwise, we’ll order them online.
Make sure your kid knows how to use everything in the pack.
A period pack is only truly helpful if your kid knows how to use what’s in it. We know that conversation can feel super awkward for everyone involved, but owning your discomfort relieves the pressure on everyone. Also, a dumb joke always helps, even if it earns you an eye roll from your kid. So when you’re unwrapping pads and demonstrating how to stick them in underwear, name how you’re feeling. This is a little awkward because I’ve never taught anyone how to put on a pad before. When you were a baby I was so nervous putting on your first diaper, I put it on you backwards!
Packing a period pack is just one of many times we as adults are trying to safeguard our kids from the embarrassing twists and turns of puberty. While we can’t necessarily prevent our kid from experiencing every humiliating moment, some well-placed information and a little know-how can soften some of the unpredictability of these years.
Vanessa is the co-author of This Is So Awkward: Modern Puberty Explained (coming October 2023 from Penguin Random House), co-host of The Puberty Podcast, and President of Content at Order of Magnitude, the leading brand dedicated to flipping puberty positive.