As we honor Pride Month, various LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning) events and celebrations may get splashed across your child’s media screens, sparking difficult questions and conversations around the dinner table.
So what better time than now to have these important conversations to expand your child’s understanding — and your own.
“I’m a big proponent of letting kids guide the conversation,” said Dr. Crystal Cole, director of Akron Children’s Center for Gender-Affirming Medicine. “Planning a big lecture around gender identity and sexual orientation is probably not going to be beneficial. Instead, the appropriate time is when children naturally start asking questions because it comes up in play or at school.”
Your child might spot a child who looks like a boy, but is wearing girl’s clothes, or a family member may have recently come out as gay or lesbian.
Whatever the conversation starter, the key is to have the discussion early and often. Teaching your kids to be accepting of everyone, and showing respect, kindness and compassion can help them become allies to the LGBTQ community.
Dr. Cole offers some Do’s and Don’ts to teaching and modeling acceptance — and perhaps helping your children become positive agents for change in our world.
Dos when talking about gender and sexual orientation
Do educate yourself. Learning about gender identities can help you answer your children’s questions when they arise. But, don’t feel pressure to be an expert on the subject. If you don’t know the answer, be honest and encourage your child to find it with you.
Do make the conversation supportive and positive. Build a foundation of tolerance, support, love and respect early on by accepting your children for who they are no matter what. This will help create an environment where your children feel comfortable coming to you to ask questions and talk about their problems, thoughts and feelings. With your unending support, children will gain a strong sense of self and the assurance you will never reject them.
Do use examples of family or friends to emphasize compassion. A good place to start is asking your children open-ended questions about people with gender confusion in the news, TV shows or their extended family to gauge their thoughts and feelings. It’s important to understand your children’s beliefs so you don’t project your own negative beliefs or biases on them.
Do model the behaviors you want to see in your kids. Your actions and how you talk about gender will shape the way your children think about gender identity and sexual orientation. For example, if you’re unaccepting of a transgender student or use discriminatory language, your children will follow suit. So be sure you’re demonstrating acceptance of people’s differences by what you say and do.
Don’ts when talking about gender and sexual orientation
Don’t perpetuate stereotypes. As parents, we often unwittingly perpetuate stereotypes and gender roles early on. Baby girls often receive pink dresses and dolls, whereas baby boys usually receive blue sports outfits and trucks. Encourage your kids at a young age to pursue their own interests, whether it’s dolls or trucks, and choose activities that match their interests, rather than their gender. Be sure to teach your children about the benefits of diversity and how everyone’s differences make them unique and interesting people.
Don’t use slurs or other negative terms. When you use anti-LGBTQ slurs or negative words it can perpetuate dangerous stereotypes. Even seemingly harmless terms, such as saying something is “so gay,” can be offensive. If you hear your child or others using a negative term, speak up. If you remain silent or don’t intervene, it sends the message to your children that it is OK to use these hurtful words.
Don’t encourage discriminatory behaviors. If you laugh off a gay joke, or remain silent when a person is belittled for who they are or how they dress, you’re unwittingly encouraging discriminatory behaviors. Your kids are listening and absorbing what you do, say or not say in these difficult situations.
Don’t make the message complicated. Keep the conversation simple and short. If your children don’t understand, they will get bored and tune you out. Also, don’t feel like you have to give your children all the information at once. Conversations about gender identity and sexual orientation should be ongoing and will change over time. The message to a 5-year-old will look very different than that for a 15-year-old. The bottom line, though, for any age is to teach acceptance, and the importance of showing respect, kindness and compassion to everyone.
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