by Allison Banta
Talking to kids about gender, pronouns, and identity can be overwhelming. Maybe you had the opportunity to grow up in a family that was good at those conversations. Perhaps openness and curiosity and acceptance have always been your way of life. If so, hooray! If not, welcome. Bravo for beginning a new thing – creating a new way forward for yourself, your classroom, your family, your friend group, your community.
In a lot of families and communities, gender identity and sexuality are still very much misunderstood or even taboo. If, like myself, you grew up in one of those communities, take a deep breath. We can do this! Teaching our kids about a topic no one taught US about? It can be absolutely overwhelming. Lucky for all of us, it doesn’t have to be! There are a whole host of resources available, and talking to our kids doesn’t have to be A Thing.
Case in point: when my nephew had just turned three, we were at the park together. He’s a friendly little guy, and he was chatting away with another parent we’d just met, telling them all about how he was going to have a new baby in his family soon. The adult responded with a very standard: “oh how exciting! Is it a baby boy, or a baby girl?” And without missing a beat, my nephew responded:
“Oh it’s a girl! Well, unless her tells us she’s a boy or some’fin!”
And that was that. No overthinking. No confusion. It was a simple, easily understood explanation, and he was able to express it clearly, because that is precisely how he has had gender explained to him.
Is the discussion of gender identity and sexuality ultimately more complex and nuanced than a three year olds playground explanation? Of course, we can always add information as we continue the conversation with our kids.
One of the ways we can begin to do that is by following the lead of a three year old, and shift our language. Instead of “I have two girls”, I can just as easily say, “I have two girls, until they tell me otherwise.” When we meet a new friend, we can ask for their preferred pronouns.
It’s Pride month, and learning to be better allies can start with us, and with our kids. Shift your language, read books with trans or non-binary characters, model how to ask for a new friend’s pronouns (and then how to correct yourself if you make a mistake).
Kids hear us, and they see us.
When we model inclusive language and behavior in our lives, they are empowered to answer: “Oh, it’s a girl! Well, unless her tells us she’s a boy.” And then they skip off to the playground, their small feet carrying them toward a kinder, better world for us all.
Kids Lit Resources:
One of A Kind, Like Me by Laurin Mayeno
When Aiden Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff
Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton
Clive and his Babies by Jessica Spanyol
Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Neither by Airlie Anderson
What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg