Talking to children about LGBTQ topics
by Cecilia Clark
Most children think of their family as the adults who care for and love them. This could include a number of configurations –grandparents, mom and dad, two dads, single parents, an aunt and uncle, or two moms. That’s because families come in all shapes and sizes — and identities.
As the world becomes increasingly diverse, your children will meet people from many different types of families. How you talk about this diversity depends upon many things, including your values, background and experiences, religious beliefs, and the age of your children. Yet, children and communities thrive best when members strive to get along and understand each other — and most importantly, respect one another.
Here are some questions that your child may ask and suggested ideas for discussing the variety of families they might meet, or see in the movies and on television.
Why does that girl have two mommies instead of a mom and dad?
Being part of a loving family is essential to a child’s well-being. When children ask about a family that has two dads, or two moms, you can focus on the love and the relationship itself.
You can start the conversation with the concept that families are about love, responsibility, and commitment. Explain that there are many different combinations of families and that when people care deeply about each other, they often want to be together and take care of one another.
How can two dads have babies? Are they really married?
You can steer the conversation to a few simple comments, depending upon your child’s age. Children come into families in many different ways and every family is unique. If the two men your child asked about are indeed married, acknowledge that “yes, they are married, just like your auntie and uncle” or any other examples in your child’s life.
What does gay mean?
Keep your answer as simple as the child is young. Try to answer honestly without overloading your little one’s ability to understand. Gay means that two people of the same gender love each other. The definition can be expanded as your child develops. It can be helpful to give concrete examples if you know gay couples– such as, “Natasha and Simone love each other and they want to be together as a family, just like us.”
By talking about family diversity early on, you’re helping your child develop the skills needed to get along with a range of people. This will put your child in a better position to stop gender harassment and bullying by using kindness towards others.
What do you say if your child uses gender-identity as a put-down?
Your child is absorbing messages about gender from the day they’re born. Most kids begin to identify strongly with a gender around age three. This includes transgender and gender non-conforming people. Children get ideas about what it means to be a boy or girl and the way to act, dress, talk, and behave from the people around them and society.
Because youngsters notice and comment on almost everything, it’s important to let your child know that all people deserve respect and that making fun of someone is hurtful to that person and can also offend people who have a gay, queer or transgender friend or relative. By ignoring comments, we’re telegraphing to our children that it’s okay to make gender-related comments. Even if you don’t know exactly what to say, address the issue so your child and others around you know that the caring adults are not comfortable with the choice of words.
Remind your child that families vary greatly and even if you don’t personally agree with someone’s choice, it’s important to respect the diversity of families that exist everywhere.
It can be difficult to know how to answer questions from young children about the LGBTQ community. Focusing on the variety of family configurations is a great place to start. It can also be helpful to seek out resources that you trust and that reflect your values. This could be a respected author, a teacher, your doctor, your church, and family and friends.