Beginning Menstruation In Elementary School: How To Help

    I threw my parents and teachers a real curve the year I was in 5th grade. For months, I had chronic abdominal pain so severe it sent me to the nurse's office for hours. My mother was mystified and concerned. That summer, I started having light, irregular menstrual flow along with that same pain! Mystery solved! My menarche had been slow and irregular instead of sudden and heavy. 

     Menstruation brings a host of challenges that truly take a village to manage successfully. Research tells us that menarche, a girl’s first flow, is happening younger than ever, the national average being 12.5 years. 
     Middle school and high school students generally have resources in their schools to help. From sanitary supplies to a school nurse or counselor, to sympathetic teachers and friends, older girls often find help to navigate the journey.

Click here for a free planning checklist.

     Upper elementary school-aged girls, aged 9-11, can begin their menstrual cycles. These students have unique challenges. Some of them are:

✅ Though more girls are beginning menstruation at earlier ages, it is outside the norm to begin in the elementary grades. Experiencing something so essentially female can be difficult when you and your peers don’t understand what's going on.

✅ When any child, boy or girl, has a “first-time” experience related to their body, it can be an emotional event. Add hormones that can make a girl feel new physical sensations and emotions and you have added stress.

✅ Parents can be reluctant to begin these conversations with their young daughters. Sometimes they're just not aware of their child’s unique growth. Sometimes they don't know how to broach sex-related topics. This can mean that our girls are shocked, even traumatized, by a perfectly natural event.

     Teachers want to serve their students’ academic, social, emotional, and physical needs in the best ways possible. Here are some ways that we can support our girls through the experience of menstruation in the elementary years.
1.  Make a plan. 

Create a procedure with your grade-level colleagues. It’s so much easier when everyone is on the same page! Consider: 
  • How can a student approach a teacher in an emergency? 
  • Who will respond? 
  • Where will supplies come from?
  • Where will supplies be stored? 
  • How will you get supplies to a student?

Make sure staff is protected. Your plan should review what teachers can and cannot say or do when helping a child

Remember that male teachers may need special protocols to follow. While men can certainly be as compassionate and comforting as women, a young girl may not want a man to have that much information about her body. Men should not go in the girls’ bathroom and should certainly not be alone with a student to discuss such an intimate situation. Parents may not want a man involved. If you have male teachers on your staff, designate a female staff member who can step in as part of your plan.

2. Gather supplies. 

Consider all of the things a child might need in this situation, remembering that some kids have to wait out the day and ride the bus home. Include stick-on sanitary napkins, sanitary wipes, clean underwear, clean outer pants, and large zipper bags for stained clothing.

Get creative to collect supplies. Check out Lost and Found or solicit donations. Do you have parent volunteers? This would be an excellent project! Click here for more parent volunteer ideas.
3. Preserve privacy. 

If a child begins flowing at school, you’ll need a way to get supplies to her discreetly. My goal was to make it look like my student was running an errand for me when she left the room. I’ve handed girls manila folders and large envelopes with supplies hidden inside. Another option is to have a lunch bag filled and ready to go. It looks like you're simply delivering a forgotten lunch. You could also use a backpack, especially if extra clothes are needed.

4. Have emergency contacts. 

Sometimes a child needs to leave school. The reality is that many parents often cannot walk out the door to come for their kids. I ask my parents to always have a no-fail contact I can call for emergencies.

Get your free printable checklist here.

5. Communicate

Be proactive in addressing menstrual issues with parents. Remind parents that their input is vital. You want to partner with them for the best outcome.

You can communicate through email, text, or a mention in your Back-to-School letter. Be as discreet as possible to keep younger siblings from hearing conversations they might not be ready for.

Be cautious about having these discussions with your students. Only speak within approved curricular boundaries. If you must talk about any sort of “sex ed” topic, have administrative support first.

Encourage parents to begin these discussions at home. Remind parents that changes can happen without warning. They can avoid trauma by preparing their daughter.

Remind parents that you have a school protocol to follow. If their daughter begins menstruating at school and they want it handled in a specific way, they need to tell let you know.

We can't control what parents choose to tell their children. Discussions in this realm can be emotionally-charged. However, we wouldn't have a child gash their leg at school, be bleeding and in pain, and tell them, "Ask your parents." Neither should we dismiss menarche. 

          Thoughtful planning and communication can make a potentially difficult situation much more positive. I'd love to know how you handle girls who deal with menstruation in elementary school.

Download your free planning checklist. 

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