Talking about periods

Written by: Becky Hipkiss | Published:
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Talking to pupils about periods can be challenging for many teachers. Becky Hipkiss offers us some best practice tips

The facilitators on the Betty Bus – part of the Betty for Schools education programme – have spent the last nine months touring UK schools, speaking to pupils aged eight to 12 about periods.

Here, we have asked some of the Betty Bus facilitators to share some tips on how to talk to young children about periods. These tips are applicable for all young people but can be adapted depending on the age group.

The normalisation of periods

Before starting, take yourself back to how you felt at their age and think what questions you would have (liked to have) asked. It is great preparation for what you may be asked.

Take a deep breath and remember periods are a normal and natural part of life – if you seem like you’re embarrassed by it, the pupils will pick up on that and feel uncomfortable. Putting on a façade of calm, even if not totally honest, will help put the children at ease.

It is often helpful to explain to the girls that 51 per cent of the whole population are female and therefore more people have periods than people who don’t. It is noticeable that as we explain just how many people have periods every month the children stop thinking of periods as such a strange thing. It is fun to ask the children to think of some female celebrities or pop stars, and then to remind them that they would get periods too.

Sharing stories about your personal experiences is another easy way to make the children feel at ease – illustrating real scenarios and highlighting that all grown women are all dealing with periods regularly.

It is also important to call out and address giggles. While not disciplining laughter, it is key to explain that while it is natural to feel giggly at first, periods are something we can and should feel totally comfortable talking about.

Approaching the subject objectively

Lead by example, by using scientific language openly and without ceremony in your own speech, the children will follow suit. Also, by phrasing your speech and the context in the third person it keeps things objective, diminishing any strong emotional response and helping pupils to feel less awkward.

By asking questions such as “what might a/another girl like to know about periods?” it helps pupils tackle the problem more openly and without feeling singled out. It also gives less confident students a way to still ask their questions but not feel embarrassed.

Furthermore, asking, “is there something I can answer for you?” has proven more effective in eliciting questions than, “is there anything...”. “Something” implies the student probably does have a question and helps focus-in on the topic at hand.

Remember that initial fear and embarrassment are valid feelings. Instead of saying “don’t be awkward”, try something like “I understand why this could feel scary, but I hope that after this lesson you’ll begin to know that this is something totally normal”.

Listen and engage

Make sure you listen closely when teaching children about such a potentially daunting subject, including paying close attention to body language or voice inflections. Most questions fall into two categories: curiosity or fear. If they’re curious about something, it is important we give them the right information so that they are prepared. If they are afraid, it is important to acknowledge the fear and then provide answers that will make them feel better.

Often girls will feel better knowing that someone has heard them, so always validate a question and celebrate the courage it took to ask it.

Similarly, reward openness and praise students for their correct use of scientific words for periods and anatomy. It is important that children are taught that it is okay to say the words associated with periods out loud, giving them a sense of responsibility. Be sure to answer any questions honestly. If you don’t know the answer, it is fun to look it up as a class. Let them know that no question is silly. If they don’t ask, how can they find out?

Sometimes the children might not feel comfortable talking about periods when we start, so we use a system that gets them thinking about it in a different way. We consider feelings and reasons why one might feel those things and then have a think about how a period might have an impact. Finally, we explain why a period can make a person feel that way.

Gamification helps to engage and excite

We always get the kids involved in games to encourage them to use the relevant vocab and at the beginning of our session we get all the girls to shout the word “period” out as loudly as possible, which always proves a great ice-breaker! We then go on to explain how and why a period happens and get them to shout out all the technical names, including the words “uterus”, “ovaries” and “vagina”. At first the girls seem nervous but we’re always careful to explain that these aren’t rude words and just natural parts of the anatomy.

Finally, keep it positive. Many girls can be quite nervous approaching the subject of periods and may have heard scare stories before. It’s important they know about things like cramps, but it’s better to focus on things one can do to help with the ache, rather than how bad they might be.

What works really well is creating a casual atmosphere which allows pupils to be more open. There is a lot of fear and uncertainty surrounding the subject, so it really helps when the atmosphere is playful and casual.

Tips for talking to boys

Laugh! Sometimes, trying to quash giggles can be counter-productive. Enjoy being in the room, acknowledge why the subject might make boys feel giddy or weird, and allow a little banter where appropriate.

Use stealth. Using metaphor, physical games and competitions avoids too much intensity too soon. Lots of boys often love to compete with each other. We play listing games to speedily generate ideas, get all those taboo words out into the open and reward them with points.

Take every question seriously. If you feel like you’ve been asked a question in order to provoke a response (“Are we going to be talking about pubic hair?!”), answer it seriously. This removes the power of any trouble-making and sets a precedent that there are no reasons to feel embarrassed about not knowing/being wrong.

Use personal anecdotes where appropriate. If boys can see that you, a role model, are comfortable with talking about periods and taking care of those you care about, they might be able to mirror this behaviour.

Above all, just be honest with them. Answer their questions, tell them the things they want to know, use the correct terminology and explain that it is all natural. Try to get them to focus on empathy for their sisters or friends experiencing periods and what they can potentially do to help – even if that means leaving them alone.

  • Becky Hipkiss is assistant brand manager at Betty for Schools. This article has been put together using advice and guidance from the team of Betty Bus facilitators.

Further information

  • Betty for Schools is a free educational programme that offers PSHE Association-accredited digital lessons to teach young girls and boys about periods.
  • The Betty Bus is an experiential bus whose facilitators have spent the last nine months visiting UK schools and teaching eight to 12-year-olds about periods. Visit https://bettyforschools.co.uk


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