29
Aug

How to talk to your teenagers about perimenopause and menopause

July saw a rare breakthrough in menopause – the topic will
now be added to secondary school sex and relationship lessons in the UK
curriculum. Education secretary Damian Hinds agreed that menopause is an
important part of reproductive health, and that all children should learn about
this subject at school. The news also raises the question – how can we best
educate our own children about the changes that happen at this difficult time?
We asked menopause coach, author and advocate Ruth Devlin to provide her
typically frank and straight-talking guidance on the subject…

Suffering from perimenopausal symptoms, or wherever you find
yourself within that hormonal transition, through menopause to post menopause
can, for some, be hard enough. Combine that with hectic family life and equally
hormonal teenagers and life can be a challenge…even more so when trying to
explain how you feel!

Having a conversation about the ins and outs of your
mother’s hot flushes, night sweats and joint aches will, for most, result in a
nano second of attention span, sheer indifference, or worse still, complete
disinterest. Accompanied by the obligatory rolling of eyes! No matter how much
they love you most children of any age assume you’ll always function as
normal…having parents who show any sign of ill health, irrational behaviour,
anything out of the norm is frankly a hassle and ends up being a bit of an
inconvenience for them!

Why
is it so important to try and have those conversations…

Well, it’s an absolute no brainer to educate everyone from
as early an age as possible to not only help prepare them for
their own potentially turbulent, hormonal journey ahead, but also help the
family unit as a whole to understand what could be going on with a menopausal
mum or a hormonally challenged sister or brother!

Simplifying the role everyone’s hormones play can be a
challenge though and let’s face it, potentially a bit of a dry topic!

How
on earth do you start that conversation…

Nuggets of information dropped into conversation can be more
beneficial than sitting down with a full on power point presentation filled
with infographics, references and notes to take away! Always remember
repetition is essential – ever realised it’s not just us menopausal women who
suffer from memory loss…or is that selective hearing?!

A good starting point can be pointing out we have oestrogen
receptors all over our bodies – hence the multitude of different symptoms
potentially to be faced. Try and pop the odd comment into every day chat with
comparisons to symptoms their own hormones might be subjecting them to and from
experience a bit of humour goes a long way…okay, a lot of humour.

How about hair as a topic, it can be an easier starting
point than the menstrual cycle! On recently parking at our local supermarket
another car zoomed in next to me driven by a lady of similar age…on arrival
this lady promptly whisked out a set of tweezers, but instead of tweaking the
shape of her eyebrows she started plucking the odd hair out of her chin! So, a
short humorous chat about the redistribution of hair caused by the contribution
of hormones can be much more amusing for teenagers to listen to than the
endless moaning about having to dye your frizzy, greying hair! Everyone
remembers having an aged aunt or granny who was a little heavy handed with the
old powder puff that resulted in enhancing the extra downey facial hair that
can develop for some at this time of life…no…oh well was just my aunt then!

Son’s can be incredibly hard can’t they at this age to talk
to…about anything really let alone your perimenopausal symptoms…I’m not
suggesting you’re going to start talking vaginal dryness to your already
mortified, monosyllabic, grunting son, but drawing attention to the extra nasal
and ear hair that some men develop can help explain how bodies change and
evolve with fluctuating hormones. Especially when your son might be one of
those desperate to develop real stubble rather than the odd bit of fluff which
only requires them to shave once a week! A very frustrating time!

Spots … those frustrating, random eruptions of horror which
for any teenager can feel like they have Mount Vesuvius on their face, even if
it’s the tiniest dot! But a good time to try and start the conversation about
healthy diets, lifestyle choices…how what you put into your body can really
help skin conditions and how maybe you’ve started to have the odd eruption
yourself now and again due to the perimenopause and why that is. How exercising
and making sure you’re hydrated (water not fizzy drinks though) will help all
sorts of teenage ailments which can be contributed to by hormones.

It
doesn’t matter if you are 16 or 46, hormones are not selective.

Take the seemingly bizarre synchronisation of any female
menstrual cycle within a household…why is that?! Let’s just say at certain
times of the month tensions would run high in our household before my daughter
and I addressed our hormone imbalances! A sense of relative calm now being
appreciated by the other male members…well relative! It’s not just humans…a
friend recently commented her three Italian Spinone dogs were all synchronised
too…what a household to live in…we are talking three human and three canine
hormonally, fluctuating females! Yes of course I sent her husband a copy of my
book, have you seen the size of spinone dogs! Take any in-roads into a
conversation about periods that you can, even if it’s through your dog being in
season!

Throwing in the odd comment that yours have either stopped
or become intermittent – doesn’t need to be in huge detail, just sewing a seed
of information which they will remember at a later date and if you’re lucky the
odd one will ask more on the topic…well you never know!

Aching joints now there’s a topic, but how many teenagers
complain about their own joint aches – commonly called growing pains – an ideal
time to pop into conversation why you bang on constantly about the benefits of
having smoothies packed with nutrients and antioxidants. Why you try to serve
up fish at least once a week if not twice (realise for some teenagers that’s a
step too far!). The benefits of hydrating with water rather than caffeinated
power drinks after a workout…it doesn’t have to be like a nutritional lecture
every time you talk but even if you manage to get them to remember one tiny
morsel of information you’re doing well! It also helps to explain why you’re
doing lots of exercise to help keep your joints lubricated. Do try and pop in
to conversation that peak bone mineral density (BMD) is reached between the
ages of 25 and 30 years – I always found with my kids that got them thinking a
little bit more about what they were eating…the conversation can then naturally
drift through to the possible consequences of long term oestrogen deficiency
for some…osteoporosis. Pop in the benefits of Vitamin D especially living in
the UK with our limited exposure to sunshine!

Trying to explain the debilitating effects that some of the
psychological symptoms you might be experiencing can be more of a challenge…but
again, so many parallels in this area with low mood swings, irritability,
(think slamming doors of teenage daughters!) and the increasing levels of
stress and anxiety, amongst teenagers. Try to get your daughter to go along to
yoga or pilates with you – explain the benefits of positive mindfulness and
cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which you are by now practising daily…if
not why not?!

Informing and chatting to your children and partners about
how you feel and then trying to get relevant information across can most
definitely be a challenge and I’m not suggesting you will manage this
overnight. Teenagers have a great capacity for learning, you just have to find
the right route in! It is worth persevering, help to put things in perspective
and make them realise their mother isn’t actually going bonkers after all.

Do’s
and Dont’s:

  • Do get informed yourself, the
    more knowledge you have the better you will cope with your symptoms and the
    easier it will be to explain things to your kids
  • Do have open conversations and
    drop those nuggets of information in at will
  • Do make comparisons to symptoms
    they are suffering from
  • Do encourage kids to take
    responsibility for their own health through lifestyle choices – they are in
    control of what they put in their mouths
  • Do buy a copy of my book
    ‘Men…Let’s Talk Menopause’ – useful not only for partners, but with it’s easy
    to read format and humour ideal for teenagers to dip in and out of as well
  • Don’t rely on teachers and school
    nurses to provide education – they have a hard enough job as it is
  • Don’t put up with your symptoms
    and try and hide them, it’s usually obvious there’s something going on, in the
    long run it helps you and everyone else if you chat and explain things

 

About Ruth Devlin

After experiencing an array of perimenopausal symptoms
herself and realising the lack of consistent information available at the time,
Registered Nurse Ruth Devlin decided things had to change. Teaming up with
like-minded women from healthcare backgrounds, she co-founded Let’s Talk
Menopause to raise awareness about the menopause, demystifying it and most
importantly, providing easy access to information and support. She is a member
of the British Menopause Society and has liaised with menopause specialists to
establish what women really want, and need, to know about the menopause. It’s
no surprise, then, that she has appeared on everything from Radio 4s Woman’s
Hour to the BBC Insider’s Guide to the Menopause documentary with Kirsty Wark.

Read Ruth’s full biography here

Essential reading for all adolescent girls – a brilliant
online resource:

https://www.brook.org.uk/data/So_what_is_a_vulva_a…

Ruth Devlin Ruth Devlin Menopause Coach

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