When I was growing up periods were spoken about rarely despite their regularity, and even more rarely with my Dad. I knew he knew, and that he knew I knew he knew. But that was pretty much it, and having begun my period as a ten year old I certainly wasn’t going to be the one to start a conversation with anyone about periods.
That’s a long time ago now, and in the years since I have learnt and taught fertility awareness, written extensively about the menstrual cycle from many fascinating angles, and for the past 20 years have worked mostly with mothers and daughters.
And alongside this work, I have had loads of conversations and run multiple workshops with dads who want to better understand, and be an active support, as their daughters mature through puberty and adolescence. While mothers have an obvious and important role to play in teaching girls about periods (more on that another time) thoughtful engagement and help from fathers makes a significant and positive difference to girls confidence and body image, as they learn to happily manage periods, and develop an engaged and healthy attitude to their menstrual cycle. This in turn has a major impact on girls’ social, emotional and physical wellbeing.
Having a period can be challenging, especially when a girl has recently begun and trying to get the hang of it all. Here are 10 straightforward tips for dads on how they can normalise periods, support their girls and create a period-friendly home.
Periods can be challenging. Your help makes it easier.
1. UNDERSTAND THE PROCESS of the whole menstrual cycle and common symptoms or problems. Your support if these are troubling is invaluable. Risk becoming a period nerd!
2. WORDS MATTER
- Use and encourage language about periods and premenstrual days to normalise, dignify and promote awareness.
- While periods can be challenging in many ways, periods don’t = period problems. Period problems are health issues. See Period Repair Manual by Lara Briden
- Use correct language about body parts from a young age, including vulva, clitoris, vagina and breasts. Nicknames can be fun and friendly after proper names are known and familiar.
- Be aware of and discuss period bullying and shaming.
3. WHEN GROCERY SHOPPING check if anyone at your place needs menstrual products and make sure you know the brand and type. Resist the impulse to bulk buy no-name brands – menstrual products are highly personal and you may be wasting your money. Learn about reusable products: pads, cups, sponges and underwear, and be willing to invest in these if menstruators in your house would like to use them. You’ll save a packet!
4. LEARN HOW TO REMOVE BLOOD STAINS on clothing, sheets and towels.
5. PLACE PADS, TAMPONS AND A SMALL FLIP TOP BIN in all toilets and bathrooms that you’re responsible for. Don’t forget to empty the bin regularly.
6. PERIOD PREPARATION PACK. Gather 4-6 pads, new underwear, a wipes purse pack, small freezer bag for blood stained underwear or used pads. Place in a zip up bag for your glove box, backpack or office desk – wherever it might be useful. Expect periods to arrive unexpectedly!
7. LET HER KNOW YOU’RE PROUD OF HER when her periods start. Many girls feel especially vulnerable at this time and your endorsement helps her feel grounded, confident and capable.
8. USE ANY INCREASE IN EMOTIONAL VOLATILITY AND SENSITIVITY to activate your emotional intelligence skills. Ask if she’s feeling *angry, sad, excited* or needs a hug. Listen to understand, restrain the impulse to ‘solve’ unless specifically invited to and find ways to regularly check in. Take care of yourself too!
9. CHOCOLATE. Keep small quantities of good quality dark chocolate on hand if this would be popular at your place. Herb teas and heat packs may also be appreciated.
10. CALENDARISE. While respecting this is their menstrual cycle to manage, an agreed routine of popping periods into a family calendar can help everyone manage these rhythms and changing needs smoothly.
If you’d like to find out more about Fathers Celebrating Daughters workshops go here.
Jane Bennett is the founder of the Chalice Foundation and a social worker, researcher, writer and educator with nearly 40 years in practice. After experiencing the revelations of Natural Fertility Management in the mid-1980s Jane began working as a Natural Fertility Management counsellor, then trainer and later authoring The Natural Fertility Management Kits with Francesca Naish. Jane launched Celebration Day for Girls in 2000, Cool on the Inside in 2002, Fathers Celebrating Daughters in 2004 and Mense-Ed in 2016. Jane co-created The Rite Journey girl’s Year 9 program, and continue’s her long-standing role with Natural Fertility Management. Jane is the author of A Blessing Not a Curse and Girltopia, and co-author of About Bloody Time – The Menstrual Revolution We Have to Have, Woman Wise Conversation Cards, The Complete Guide to Optimum Conception, The Natural Fertility Management Contraception Kit and The Pill – Are You Sure It’s for You?, and is eternally passionate about nourishing healthy curiosity and best-practice self-care for women and girls.