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Helping young children understand the menstrual cycle

Written by Elizabeth Peck, author of Why Does Mummy’s Tummy Hurt?

Have you ever wondered whether or not you should tell your young child about your cycles? Should young children in general be told about them? Before I had my daughter, who’s now five years old, I’d never thought about these questions; but when she was around two years old, they began to be quite pressing. The reason for this was a very practical one: she was insistent on coming with me everywhere, including to the bathroom. Usually this didn’t matter, but every few weeks of course, things were different. I didn’t want her to be scared or upset if she saw blood, and quite frankly I didn’t want to answer the many inevitable questions there would be while I was sorting out sanitary products and things. 

Woman teaching daughter

In fact, I reflected, I didn’t want to answer those questions at any time, even when not in the middle of a bathroom visit. I’d always assumed, since nothing in my life had led me to think otherwise, children should learn about the menstrual cycle at the same time as they learn about puberty, which is not usually until they’re much older. It felt wrong to tell my daughter about the menstrual cycle, because to me it was so inherently connected to sex. 

But the more I thought about it, the more ridiculous it seemed. My husband (a biology teacher, aptly enough!) and I discussed it and realized, young children learn – and love to learn! – about how their own and others’ bodies work. They learn about our hearts beating, our skeletons holding us up, our hair and nails growing, our digestive system; they learn about being ill, about vaccinations (especially right now!), they learn about how bruises form and cuts heal, and so on; and the menstrual cycle is such a feature of a woman’s life, it just began to make sense to me my daughter should know about this, too. And it would also solve the aforementioned difficult situation, if she would leave me to go to the bathroom alone occasionally!

Uterus artistic drawing with a heart in the center

So I looked for a book to teach her about the menstrual cycle. After all, there are books about potty-training, about becoming a sibling, starting school, washing your hands – there’s a book for everything. Except for this, it seemed! So I decided to write one. 

Since, like so many others, my daughter and I enjoyed reading Julia Donaldson and Dr. Seuss and other books with rhythm and rhyme, I chose to write the book as a poem. The result was fourteen short, simple, biologically accurate but warm little verses about the menstrual cycle. The poem describes how a mummy’s tummy is a wonderful place for a baby to grow, but:


“The thing is, it’s not often that
A baby does appear,
So each few weeks her tummy seeks
To tidy and to clear.”

Another thing you'll notice / While this is going on / Is that while she's in the bathroom, / Mummy is the only one; / She might prefer to be alone / While going to the loo. / It would be kind if you could find / The patience for her too

The poem goes on to explain how and why new tissue grows but then is ‘tidied’ every few weeks, and it also considers how a child can be patient and kind while this is going on, especially if their mummy’s tummy hurts, for example. 

Once I’d written the poem, I read it to my daughter…and was immediately, and pleasantly, surprised to find it worked! She was three at the time, and she enjoyed it as a poem, and also enjoyed the ideas it explained. We talked through the meaning of the poem a couple of times, and she asked a few questions - and from then on, there has never been any difficulty with anything related to periods anymore! The idea of my ‘tummy tidying out’ is now a completely normal part of life. What’s more, it has not only relieved the practical issue triggering it all in the first place, but the process of explaining it to her, and discussing it on subsequent occasions, has made me realise of course it was the right thing to do, to tell her about it!

Unlike me, and unlike so many other people I know, my daughter will grow up with a positive, natural, and accurate understanding of what a woman’s cycle is. Knowledge about puberty, fertility, and sex, when the time comes for her to learn about these things, will connect easily to what she already knows, rather than them being some kind of scandalous secret that can’t be spoken of openly.

After seeing how effective the poem was with my own daughter, and after speaking to one or two other mums to gauge their opinions on the matter, I decided it really was worth pursuing the idea of publishing the poem as a book. The idea of helping other parents and carers, and of educating more children in a positive and healthy way about women’s bodies and cycles (crucially, boys as well as girls!) seemed like a really good one. As a result, the book was published last year, and I am hopeful it has been helpful to other parents, carers, and teachers – and also of course to the children in their care.

Why Does Mummy's Tummy Hurt? book cover

 

Elizabeth Peck, author of "Why Does Mummy's Tummy Hurt?"

Elizabeth is the author of Why does Mummy's Tummy hurt. She is also a secondary-school teacher of Religious Studies, as well as a mother to a five-year old daughter. Elizabeth has written poetry exploring themes from the nature of beauty to the need to for authentic communication, and currently, she is working on a non-fiction book about being yourself, for young adults.

 

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