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In the United States, girls typically begin menstruating between the ages of 9 and 16, with the average age of 12.5 years. If your daughter is approaching menstruation, you may have rehearsed a speech or two in your head. But hold off on the fine details.

"Most adolescent girls want a foundation of support, reassurance, and facts about menstrual hygiene," says Cindy Gunnarson, RNC, clinical nurse specialist with Waukesha Memorial Hospital's Women's Health Services. (Gunnarson recently gave a talk about menstruation to local Girl Scouts and their mothers.)

Presenting the biological basics is, of course, necessary and many adolescents do want to know them—and should. But front and center in many young minds are other issues surrounding this time in their lives. "Tailor your talk so that you connect with your daughter at her level," Gunnarson urges. "Discussions should address self-image, which is so important during these years. For example, if she's the first or last in her peer group to get her period, she'll want reassurance that there is nothing wrong with her." Women's Health Services offers the following guidelines to help you and your daughter.

  • Start early. Girls benefit when adults treat menstruation as a healthy, normal event. Be open about menstruation, while still respecting privacy.

  • Be concrete. Abstract ideas, such as "Menstruation is a transition into womanhood," may be lost. Use concrete tips. Girls usually want to know how to dispose of pads, where to get pads at school, how to prepare for overnights away from home. Plus they should be reminded to pay attention to personal hygiene.

  • Weed out misinformation. Ask your daughter what she already has learned from peers and others about menstruation. You may have to dispel misinformation.

  • Present biological basics. Using language comfortable to your daughter, create a simple framework on which you can hang more details later.

  • What about Dad? Obviously, each family is different when it comes to Dad's role. Some girls prefer Dad to stay out of it. Many want their fathers to play an indirect role by offering support and understanding, but that's usually the extent of it.

  • Helping her through the first ob/gyn appointment. Prior to her first menstrual period- when physical changes become apparent- girls should visit an ob/gyn. This can help them link the physical changes in their body with emotional changes they are feeling. Explain the exam ahead of time.

  • Help her track her cycle. Each period should be marked on a calendar, noting symptoms and patterns.

  • Check web sites. Internet sites such as www.tampax.com may help answer your daughter's questions.

Information supplied by Waukesha Memorial Hospital.

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