It’s never too soon to take an opportunity to orient your kiddos to discussions about different definitions for a variety of sexual orientations – while also starting conversations about the meaning of gender identity. However, research shows that most parents are uncomfortable talking to their children about gender identity and sexual orientation. It makes sense, as a parent you probably weren’t raised with these conversations and aren’t sure what topics may be helpful or not for your children. And you may not know wehnMany parents are faced with questions such as “How can I explain different orientations in a way that’s age-appropriate? What is the difference between biological gender and gender identity? Is this topic supposed to feel uncomfortable?” This article will address these important questions and go over a variety of tips and tricks for the basics of talking to your children [ages 5-12] about the array of different identities and orientations your kiddos will ask about.
Giving Age-Appropriate Explanations
Depending on where your child is in regard to understanding their body, conversations about gender identity and sexual orientation can widely vary – and this is a good thing! Firstly of all, it’s important to keep in mind that these conversations are meant to change over time – a conversation about sexual orientation and gender identity with a 7-year-old will look much different than discussing these topics with a 17-year-old. Many parents have concerns that explaining sexual orientation requires an explanation of sexual intercourse and attraction. However, with children under the age of 10 years old, it’s helpful to keep explanations general and use examples that children can relate to, for example talking about “crushes.” See this is an opportunity to model acceptance and openness to people’s differences, which will ultimately set the stage for your child feeling comfortable with asking you questions about these topics as they become pre-teens!
Talking About the Rainbow
As children become more ingrained in their school community and begin to form strong peer relationships, it’s inevitable that they will come home with questions about friends and their families. While some of your child’s questions might be uncomfortable to answer, you can use this an opportunity to do some more research and learn about the LGBTQ+ community. Research has shown that it’s healthier for children to feel comfortable asking these questions without feelings of shame or judgement from their caregivers for having the questions. When your child first approaches you with questions about the meaning of terms such as gay, homosexual, straight, lesbian, bisexual, etc. it’s helpful to first respond with opened ended questions or your own in order to gauge what your child knows already, the context of where they heard these terms, and what they already think and feel about them. Whether it’s something involving one of their friends, a topic discussed in school, or something your kiddo sees on the news. One quick tip: many parents find it easier to explain different sexual orientations within the context of “crushes.” For instance:
• “Being bisexual means that someone can have crushes on boys and girls, do you have any questions about that?
• “If someone says they’re gay, that means they have crushes/like someone who is the same gender as they are.”
• “I want you to always tell me how you feel because you matter to me – it’s important that we talk about questions you have.”
Gender Identity vs. Bio Gender
Conversations about gender identity and sexual orientation are a prime example of how crucial your influence is on your child! Stereotypes and gender roles start to emerge in your child’s behavior as young as 4-5 years old and can be seen through dramatic play such as “playing house” with their peers or siblings. Understand that your child acting out different gender identities different from their biological gender is a normal part of their development and can serve an opportunity to educate your child. When your child comes to you with questions about the meaning of the term “transgender” or asks, “why does Susan dress like a boy?” you can keep your answers open-ended – allowing for more conversations in the future. Some examples of responses and explanations include:
• “There are people who are born as boys or born as girls, but then notice that they feel differently as they grow, change, and find out who they are.”
• “There’s no wrong or right way to be a boy/girl – we all have different ways of expressing who we are and that’s wonderful!”
• “It’s good that you’re asking these questions! What did you think transgender/trans meant when you heard it? Our gender can be like the color wheel or like a rainbow – there are many different shades of colors that make our world special!
These are just a couple tips to help you get the ball rolling and conversation going with your kids. Remember that this isn’t just a one-time conversation with your kids. Instead, these are conversations (plural). So if you feel like you didn’t explain something right or didn’t do well talking about it, don’t worry. You have a lot more conversations you’ll have with them that you can get right!