Let the record show that your child is old enough to know and explore who they are — and that includes knowing and exploring their gender and sexuality.
Children recognize and understand their own gender much much younger than most parents realize. In fact, kids begin to understand and strongly identify with a gender as early as age 3, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics
So, how do you as a parent talk to your child about gender and sexuality — and support their exploration of these parts of themselves, as well as their identity? Luckily giving your kiddo the tools to better-understand themselves is both easier and more simple than you might think.
Here are 5 tips for helping your child explore their gender and sexuality.
1. Remember that identity is more than sexuality and gender
An individual’s identity is made up of more than just their gender and who they are (or are not) attracted to, romantically and/or sexually. An identity is marked by all the characteristics that influence who an individual is, and how they navigate the world.
Sometimes, an individual identity is just a long list of identifiers to name their race, ethnicity, class, religion, and political affiliations. But identity can also include information about interests and character. Someone who enjoys weaving and knitting might call themselves an artist, for instance, while a soccer player and USWNT super-fan might call themselves a soccer-enthusiast.
As a parent, you give your child information about how you will accept their gender and sexual orientation when you respond to other facets of their identity. So, don’t forget to support both their fixed and evolving identifiers. Doing so will give them the tools to better-navigate the world with compassion and care, curiosity and conscientiousness.
2. Create an open environment
The best way to show your child that they’re safe to explore their gender and sexuality is to show them that they are safe to explore other facets of themselves.
Without even realizing it, many parents implicitly tell their kids who they want and expect them to be. How? By encouraging them to be like their siblings, signing them up for extracurriculars they loved as kids, and picking out their children’s wardrobe. Many of these decisions are imbued with beliefs about what girls and boys should do, how they should act, and what they should wear.
Handing some of these decisions over to your kids can help. Consider the following:
- Have your kid pick out their own outfits for school each day
- Allow them to choose what extracurricular you sign them up for
- Let them pick out what toys they play with (or ask for the holidays)
- Call them by the name or nickname that they like for themselves
3. Introduce them to a wide variety of main characters
Sure, mainstream television may have more LGBTQ+ representation than it once did. But rather than leaving your kiddos exposure to a variety of genders and sexual orientations to chance, intentionally expose them to stories with a variety of perspectives. That means seeking out age-appropriate shows that have minority characters in the lead!
Here are a few to check out:
- The Owl House
- Love, Victor
- The Fosters
As a bonus, these TV shows and movies may also introduce your kiddo to terms that resonate with them, that they haven’t (yet) heard in real life. More on that below.
4. Given them the language for a variety of identities
Words are, put simply, world building. Knowing that there are identity words for people who do not experience any sexual attraction (asexual), have a gender that is not in-line with their sex assigned at birth (transgender), and have attraction to individuals who have gender that is similar to their own (lesbian and gay) proves that there are so many lived experiences.
Your move: introduce your not-so-little one to this language. In addition to giving them access to TV shows with LGBTQ+ representation, you can buy them books about gender and sexuality, and even just bring these words up around the dinner table.
5. Introduce them to a diverse set of your friends
When your kids get to meet and interact with a diverse set of adults, it helps them understand more about their identity and tells them that they aren’t alone. Plus, it reminds your child that you’re friends with people across the gender and sexuality spectrums.
If you don’t have any LGBTQ+ friends, ask yourself why. Take inventory of where and how you spend your time, and if possible consider adding another queer-friendly space into regular rotation. After all, if your kiddo doesn’t see you embracing people in the queer community as friends, they may assume you can’t embrace them as family members.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team