If you’re a parent or caretaker of a child entering the tween years, you likely have a lot on your mind. Social media. Middle school. And, of course, puberty.
For girls and kids with female anatomy, one of the biggest puberty milestones is their first period, or as doctors call it, “menarche.” Even if you haven’t heard the word “menarche” since sixth-grade health class, you can still help prepare your child for her first period. Keep reading to learn the most important things you need to know about menstruation.
At what age do children start their period?
Girls typically get their first period between ages 10 and 16. Most kids — 98% — get their first period before they turn 15.
Asma Chattha, M.B.B.S., a Mayo Clinic pediatrician and chair of the Division of Pediatric and Adolescent Reproductive Health, says, “Each child has a ‘set point’ based on both genetic and environmental factors that determine when they will have their first menstrual period. While family history is important, body build, athletic activity or chronic illnesses can all affect the part of the brain that influences when puberty begins and eventually brings about a period.”
Is it normal for children to get their period before the age of 13?
The average age of a first period is 12.4 years old. So, almost half of girls get their period before age 13. But some people get their first period at age 9 or 10.
Studies show that there are factors that may lead to earlier periods, including:
- Stressful family environments.
- Being overweight.
- Being raised in an urban environment.
- Consuming more than 1.5 sugar-sweetened drinks per day.
If your daughter gets her period before age 8, discuss it with your doctor. 
Can a child’s periods start and then stop?
Periods can be unpredictable during the first few years of menstruation. There is often a gap between the first and second periods. After that, menstrual cycles will likely be irregular, varying between 20 and 45 days. Also, girls may experience variations in how many days their periods last and the amount of menstrual fluid — commonly referred to as “blood” — that they have.
Periods usually settle down around three years after the first period. By then, 60% to 80% of girls have a predictable cycle that’s between 21 and 34 days long.
Note that diet, physical activity and stress can all affect your child’s period. Eating disorders and strenuous exercise can lead to hormonal changes that stop menstruation and impact bone density. This can lead to serious issues, such as broken bones or osteoporosis in young athletes.
How can you tell if your kid’s period may be coming soon?
Luckily, you’ll probably have a couple of years’ warning before your child’s first period. There are major signs, called “pubertal symptoms” that happen before periods start. Two of the most significant signs are:
- Breast development (“thelarche”) starts 2 to 3 years before the first period, often around age 8.
- Pubic hair development (“pubarche”) usually happens 1 to 2 years before the first period. The average age for pubarche is 11.6 years old.
There are other signs to watch for as you get closer to the big day. Dr. Chattha explains, “Acne, mood swings and a growth spurt tend to occur just before the first menstrual period. Some girls will have white or yellow vaginal discharge and others can have abdominal pain, too.”
How to talk to your child about menstruation
Talking about menstruation can feel uncomfortable. The good news is conversations can happen over several years. Here are a few tips to make the discussions easier.
Start talking about how bodies work when kids are young
According to Dr. Chattha, it’s best to start talking about puberty early. She says, “Ideally, the conversation surrounding puberty and changes to expect has been occurring in families a lot sooner than when the first pubertal symptom appears.”
Dr. Chattha recommends starting the conversation around ages 5 to 7 for kids of any gender. She suggests, “If you’ve already discussed body basics and done some good/bad touch education, that can be a good segue into a conversation about puberty.”
Give more details about puberty and periods as they mature
Preparing kids for their first period is critical. Pediatricians recommend starting the conversation about puberty around age 8, right before all the changes in their bodies start to happen. Don’t know what to say? Ask your pediatrician for advice or check out the wide variety of books and resources about puberty and menstruation. Dr. Chattha also has advice specifically for dads wondering how to approach these conversations.
“The conversation is best had at home before the subject is broached in school,” says Dr. Chattha. “That way parents can reassure girls that periods are normal and that a period is a ‘good’ indicator that their bodies are working the way they should.”
Although you don’t want to focus on the problems associated with periods, Dr. Chattha suggests, “It’s also a good idea to tell the adolescent that there may be some discomfort associated with the period and that you will help them find ways to reduce that, such as a heated water bottle, massage and over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen.”
Even after your discussions, a first period can be scary and confusing. When kids see menstrual fluid in their underwear for the first time, some even think they’re critically ill or dying. Be sure your child knows they can ask you questions, even about “weird or gross stuff.” Answer questions clearly and factually.
Talk to boys and transgender girls about menstruation, too
Even if your child won’t have periods, it’s important to explain how periods work. Emphasize that, for kids with female anatomy, periods are a natural part of growing up and being healthy.
Note: For gender-nonconforming adolescents, signs of puberty can be traumatic. Transmasculine and nonbinary children may dread the arrival of a period. Work with your doctor and mental health professionals to support your child.
How to be prepared for your kid’s first period
Dr. Chattha suggests getting kids familiar with period products in advance. “Having a limited supply of menstrual pads of varying kinds, menstrual cups, tampons or menstrual period underwear is essential,” she says. “That way, the adolescent can look at them and feel them before a menstrual period begins.”
Additionally, let your tween or teen pick out a special “period pouch” for her period supplies and a pair of clean underwear. She can bring it to school, so she’s ready when her period comes.
As your child hears more about periods from friends, in school health class or on the internet, they’ll likely have questions and worries, such as: Can I go swimming with my period? Can I still play sports? What if I get my period and I don’t have supplies with me? Take time to discuss each question.
Dr. Chattha says, “An important aspect to highlight is that the period should not limit the lifestyle of the adolescent or pre-teen. Period swimwear and athletic period underwear are all easily available now.”
What to do when your child gets their first period
After all the anticipation, a first period is almost always a surprise. One day it just happens. If possible, bring your daughter home, reassure her that everything is OK and help her feel confident using her preferred period products. And don’t forget to talk about period hygiene, such as how often to change pads or tampons.
Dr. Chattha says, “Asking for their input on which menstrual products they feel most comfortable with is important. No one size fits all. While some girls may prefer and remain using menstrual period underwear for a long time, others may be comfortable with the idea of a tampon.”
Depending on your child and your values, you might want to celebrate by giving her a small gift or making a favorite meal. After all, getting your first period is a big milestone.
Backed by the experts at Mayo Clinic, PERIOD. is the no-nonsense guide kids and caregivers alike can trust to navigate menstruation, period.Shop Now
Want more children’s health and parenting information? Sign up for free to our email list.Subscribe Open parent optin subscribe modal