Talking to Kids about Gender Diversity
Published on: October 12, 2020
Discussing gender identity with kids may be a sensitive topic, but it helps them to discover identity in a broad sense and to become more open-minded.
By Meg Wichita
Talking to children about gender can be tricky and you may feel uncertain about what to say. Children begin showing curiosity about gender at a pretty young age, so you may be surprised when the questions come; there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to having a conversation about gender identity with your children.
The first thing is that it’s okay to tell your child “I’m not sure, what do you think?” Children may look to you for answers, however, it is sometimes helpful to allow them to ponder the question themselves first depending on their age.
It’s also best to speak with clarity and honesty when it comes to gender identity, which means it’s okay to not have all the answers. That said, sometimes when they prefer a yes or a no; for example they may ask “Can a baby have two mommies?” A simple answer could be “Yes, families can be made up of lots of different types of people.” A child may not be ready to discuss sexual orientation but be able to understand diverse families enough to begin exploring the topic.
By giving kids time to draw their own conclusions you are giving them the opportunity to practice critical thinking and develop trust in themselves that they have the tools to figure things out. A curious mindset is a way of thinking that uses phrases like “I wonder if…”, “ Is it possible that…?”, “ What happens if…” etc. These questions leave the door open to remaining non-judgemental which is especially valuable for perspectives on gender identity.
“An easy way to explore the idea of gender identity from a personal perspective is to explain that who we feel we are in our minds is what matters the most. Some people feel most comfortable by incorporating elements of both genders… while others feel their best when they are expressing themselves as the gender opposite to the one they were born into.”
When children ask you about gender it’s often helpful to know where the question is coming from; maybe they heard something from a friend, saw a person who appeared a little different, or maybe they met a family with a unique combination of people. This may cause them to become curious and look to you for understanding.
Kids can often develop rigid ideas about what belongs to each gender (such as pink for girls and blue for boys). If this happens, first try to understand why they feel that way and see if they might be willing to explore other ways to look at it. An easy way to explore the idea of gender identity from a personal perspective is to explain that who we feel we are in our minds is what matters the most. Some people feel most comfortable by incorporating elements of both genders and expressing themselves as gender-fluid while others feel their best when they are expressing themselves as the gender opposite to the one they were born into.
Children may be curious about people who appear physically as one gender and express themselves as another. Helping them to understand that the gender of the body we were born with may not align with the gender we express ourselves as or how we wish to be treated can help them understand the diversity of expression. How humans dress and carry themselves can say a lot about the gender they most identify with.
Culture and time both affect what a given society feels is either masculine or feminine, because of this, you and your child may find it helpful to explore the idea together by asking gentle questions such as “I wonder why some types of clothing are thought to be for girls and other types thought to be for boys?” or “What if a boy feels more comfortable wearing clothing made for girls?”
Many families today are composed of a variety of combinations that fit within the LGBTQIA+* community. You may find it easier to talk with your child about how love is shared among all sorts of people than to explain in detail all of the varieties of families that exist. An inclusive way to describe a family is “any group of people who contribute significantly to the wellbeing of each other.” This means that a family does not necessarily need to have a typical arrangement of a mother, father, and children to be considered a family. Let your child know that some families may be different but that does not necessarily make them any better or worse than others. Everyone wants the freedom to express who they really are and to feel like part of a family that is as valid as any other.
The topics of gender and sexual orientation might be touchy, but children can learn about identity in a broad sense and at the same time develop a mindset of acceptance, tolerance, and understanding, which is crucial for their personal development.
Photos by: [gender 1] Tassii on Pixabay [gender 2] Sharon McCutcheon, on Unsplash
*Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex and Asexual. The + is to acknowledge any other identities that are not labeled.
About the Author
Meg is a mental health therapist trained in dialectical behavioral and person-centered therapies. Using a mindfulness-based and empathic approach, Meg has extensive experience in facilitating recovery from addiction and various personality disorders, including borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety. She is passionate about equality and social acceptance for people of all varieties.
Currently, Meg is facilitating therapy online for clients worldwide and works to ensure that distance never impacts quality of the therapeutic relationship. Contact Meg at email@example.com.
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