As parents, you always want to shelter your children from the big, bad world out there. While you may be making sure that home is a safe space, there is very little you can control once your kids are outside home. As they grow older, your kids spend a lot of time in school and participating in extracurricular activities, so it is pretty vital to foster a relationship that allows for them speaking openly about anything untoward that has happened to them or someone else. An unfamiliar form of bullying that your kids may experience is period shaming. Note, we didn’t say uncommon, we said unfamiliar.
Period shaming is more common than you think, but it is uncharted territory because people tend to associate it with shame. Archaic perceptions on menstruation followed by period shaming can cause severe harm to youngsters. Being a recipient of this form of bullying can trigger anxiety, depression, an inability to love one’s self and body – causing a negative impact on one’s mental health and wellbeing. This is a pretty heavy load to carry on top of other issues kids deal with when navigating school and the real world. So parents must be proactive by openly talking about periods at home with the family.
A common mistake many people tend to make is excluding boys from any sort of conversation about menstruation. However, boys must get educated and aware of all the changes girls experience once puberty hits. Why? Because periods are part and parcel of life and quite honestly not a big deal. By deconstructing menstruation and normalising the topic when discussing periods with adolescent and teenage boys, we can remove the stigma that is tied to menstruation and eliminate or at the very least minimise period shaming. Sex-education at school should be inclusive for both boys and girls, instead of sending the boys out when it is time to give a talk on menstruation. Education must begin and continue at home.
Talking about menstruation is an opportunity for both parents and teachers to educate and empower kids. Below, are a few ways parents (as well as teachers) can contribute positively when generally talking about menstruation or dealing specifically with period shaming.
Educate and advocate for period education – Periods need to be seen by young girls for what it is, a positive sign of the ability to reproduce. If schools don’t allow for conversation to be held, then the topic of periods will remain a taboo. Being restricted from talking about something brings about an assumption that the very subject is indeed shameful – only to be whispered about while trying to be discrete as possible. When we attempt to make children understand how incredible the human body is, and that periods are not dirty but something to be celebrated, we are exposing them to the reality that periods are very normal. This effort will go a long way in eliminating any stigma affiliated with menstruation.
Draw a strong connection between period and pregnancy – Women play a big part in creating the gift of life. By illustrating the role a woman’s body plays in creating life, young girls will feel a sense of period pride. If the concept for periods didn’t exist, then no one would exist, so let them understand how big of a role periods play when it comes to humanity. Any offhand or negative comment sounds ridiculously small compared to this magic.
Show the kids the right way to react – Young girls will not know how to handle unwarranted teasing, but they need to prepped on why the teasing happens in the first place. Lack of awareness is the stem of the issue. Perhaps advise them on how to curb the situation if and should it arise. Here is how:
- Relax. There is no need to panic. Panicking is a reaction, and any reaction leads to more provocation.
- Use comebacks in a way that minimises negative comments – A simple ‘What is even your point?’ Or a ‘So what?’ Is short and sweet and may even make bullies feel silly. Simultaneously, it means your child avoids being in a tight spot to think of a witty comeback.
- Show them that it is okay to walk away – No one has to stick around and hear low blows. It is a free country, and your child is well within their rights to walk away with their heads held high.
Finally, you can help your kids understand why the teasing happened. Make them feel comfortable enough to come to you and let you know that they got shamed. Help them unload everything that happened to them and be open while addressing the fact that there is nothing wrong with them or their bodies. Those who have faced body-shaming run the risk of facing terrible repercussions later on if we as parents don’t take the initiative to mitigate a scenario where kids feel like they are not ‘normal’. Let your kids ask you as many questions they want till you feel confident in knowing that they are truly okay. Period shaming happens in several places, at school, at work, in boardrooms, etc. But that shouldn’t dissuade us at all from educating people, correcting misinformation and spreading positivity about periods, it just means that there is more work to be done.
This Children’s Day, let kids be kids.