Right about now many parents are packing their daughters for summer camp, making sure they’ve got bug spray, sneakers, and sunblock. We talk to them about paying attention to rules and how to negotiate different personalities in the bunk, but do we prepare them for the possibility of getting their period? For girls 9-12, it is a distinct possibility that Aunt Flo will arrive for the first time at summer camp away from your maternal care.
When girls understand what menstruation is all about and feel prepared, they are much more likely to have positive attitudes about their periods all their lives. Adult women who felt they were prepared for their first period report fewer troublesome symptoms related to menstruation. Women with positive attitudes about periods are more likely to feel physically fit, illness-free, satisfied with their bodies and have a high level of comfort with their sexuality. Women who feel shameful about menstruation participate in more sexual risk-taking behavior, like having sex without condoms, and have more issues about self-image. So why not set up your daughter for a more positive relationship with her body. Here are some basics you can teach her.
You don’t need to be a biologist to explain the basics of menstruation to your daughter. After a brief review of women’s reproductive parts, you can simply say that each month the uterus prepares for the possibility of pregnancy by building up a layer of blood that has nutrients for the baby. When you don’t get pregnant, that layer comes out at the end of the month. If you need a little help in having this conversation, I suggest that you and your daughter read The Period Book by Karen Gravelle. It’s a funny and reassuring book about being on your period.
Also, an important point to get across is that after your daughter starts menstruating she is able to get pregnant. I remember when I told my 11 year old daughter about this and she just blushed and said “Mommmmmm!” It may be uncomfortable, and your daughter may be nowhere near thinking about sex, but there are a lot of opportunities for unsupervised time at camp. It’s crucial for her to understand that having sex with a boy can make her pregnant.
One of the things that most girls worry about is dealing with the blood. So make sure your daughter has a good supply of tampons and pads. It may seem obvious but let her know that pads need to be changed every few hours, and that she can’t swim with them. Give her useful tips like denim shorts are better at camouflaging a pad than knit shorts. You also might want to give her a lesson in how to use tampons if she wants.
Talk about myths
Here’s an opportunity to assure your daughter that having her period is not going to impact her ability to do pretty much anything. Menstruation does not affect thinking, intelligence, or physical abilities. And for most women, it does not have a strong impact on mood. Take this opportunity to educate your daughter that most women don’t experience PMS or become emotionally unstable. Yes, people do get cramps, but be sure to tell her about the wondrous powers of Advil. And call the camp beforehand so that the nurse knows she has your permission to dispense it if needed.
Sleepaway camp can be an exciting experience that feeds your daughter’s confidence and sense of independence. You can make sure she is prepared in every way she needs to be.