Debbie Granick is a parent/childbirth educator and freelance writer. She received a Masters in Social Work and a Masters in Public Health, specializing in Maternal and Child Health, from the University of North Carolina. Her previous work includes counseling adolescents and their families in a substance abuse prevention program, teaching tobacco education and reproductive health in a school setting, and consulting with local child care staff on toddler discipline strategies.

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That Time of the Month

Why are you putting that in your tushy?”

My three-year old walked in at the exact second that I put in a tampon.  Our eyes met.  Her smile contorted. Questions came exploding out of her mouth.  “Mommy what’s that?  What are you doing?  Why are you putting that in your tushy?”

Oh, my. I hadn’t planned this conversation.

Women don’t usually get the luxury of thinking through how to explain menstruation and the accompanying paraphernalia. Generally caught red-handed, so to speak, we need a quick explanation that is both truthful and age-appropriate.  Keeping what’s left of our dignity is a bonus.

Some moms get very creative to avoid the truth.  “I use them to remove my make-up” explained one mom, only to find her two-year old playing with them in the sink a few days later.  Someone else tackled the taboo directly, making “tampon wiener dogs” for a kid-friendly craft. The tampon, in the applicator, is the dog’s body.  Attach play-doh for the head, color the ears…details are online.  Not for everybody, but a creative way to get the conversation started on your own terms.

Others hope to avoid the conversation all-together. “For the love of Christ,” one woman wrote in response to an online question about explaining periods to kids, “can’t she just lock the door so she doesn’t have to deal with it?”  Clearly, this woman has never found her toddler, head under the bathroom sink, exploring tampon boxes or  walking around with maxi pads in her pretend “mommy purse.” But she also seems to think that “not dealing with it” is the answer.  And that’s rarely a good approach with kids.

I asked my friend Jane how to answer: “How does the baby get out of the tummy?”  My response about “a special place in mommies” hadn’t sufficed. “Do you have to be a mommy to have one?  Where is thespecial place?  Can I see the special place?”

Jane said, “I told my son that a baby comes out of the vagina.”

What a novel idea.  So much energy had gone into mine, into all the answers created by my peers with young children.  We find creative ways to not answer questions because we’re embarrassed, caught off guard, afraid our kids are too young, or are sure they’ll repeat the information at pre-school.

This energy that we put towards avoiding the truth is better spent elsewhere.  We need to give honest, straightforward answers to our children and check our own hang-ups at the door. I’m not advocating sit-down sex lectures for three year olds.  But we can lay the groundwork for open conversation about the human body by answering questions, when they are asked, simply and truthfully. No more “talks” with twelve year olds wherein we tell them everything we should have said in the last ten years, in twenty humiliating minutes.

Our toddlers’ questions about maxi pads may stop us in our tracks.  “Oh, no,” we think, “I’m not ready to discuss eggs, sperm, and sexual reproduction.”  Panic.  In her world, however, she really just wants to know the basics – what is the name of that thing and are you okay?

So when you decide the time is right, or when the wrong time becomes the necessary time, here are some perspectives on menstruation to share with your tot. 

What are those?

  • These are tampons (or pads).  Mommies use them.
  • These boxes are private for mommy. I’ll show them to you, but they are not to play with.

Why do you need those?

  • They work kind of like band-aids. They keep extra blood off my clothes.
  • I use them for a few days each month when my extra blood comes out.

Why do you have blood?

  • The blood does not hurt or make me sad (crabby, not sad).
  • This blood is not an ouch-ie.  This means mommy is healthy enough to have a baby. 
  • Every woman has extra blood.  They need it in their tummies to grow a baby.
  • Mommies have extra blood to share with a baby.  The blood keeps a baby warm and protected if there’s a baby in her tummy. The blood makes a bed for a baby. If there’s no baby in my tummy, the extra blood comes out.

Will I have blood when I’m a mommy?

  • You will when you are a teenager.  But we’ll talk about it more when you get bigger.

Even if menstruation makes you squeamish, don’t pass on your shame or embarrassment. If it weren’t for this monthly event, your kid wouldn’t be in the bathroom staring at you.

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