Breaking the taboo - talking about periods

At betty, we get that talking to pupils about periods can be challenging. Luckily, our betty bus facilitators are experts after a year touring the UK teaching girls and boys aged 8-12 all about periods. Here are their top tips for making your period education lesson a little less daunting, and a lot more fun!

The normalisation of periods

Before starting, take yourself back to how you felt when you were 10 and think what questions you would have (liked to have) asked. Take a deep breath and remember periods are a 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 pupils at ease.

It is often helpful to explain to the girls that 51% of the whole population are female and therefore more people have periods than people who don’t. It is also 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!

Approaching the subject objectively

Lead by example - by using scientific language openly and without ceremony in your own speech, the children will follow suit.

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 without feeling embarrassed.

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.

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?

Gamification helps to engage and excite

We always get the kids involved in games to encourage them to use the relevant vocabulary 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.

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.

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 is no reason to feel embarrassed about not knowing/being wrong.

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.

betty for schools is a free educational programme that offers PSHE Association-accredited digital resources to teach young girls and boys about periods. The betty bus is an experiential bus whose facilitators have spent the last year visiting UK schools and teaching 8-12 year olds about periods. This article has been put together using advice and guidance from the team of betty bus facilitators.

Visit our website for more information and to register for our free resources.