Test your gender IQ: Your body determines your gender. True or False? This belief is false – gender identity can be different from the body we are assigned at birth. Expectations and ideas about gender come from our family, school, faith, and cultural inclinations. It’s important for adults to help young children learn about and explore gender in order for them to feel comfortable with who they are and to focus on the strengths that make them unique.
For adults to support a child’s inquiry about gender, it is necessary to understand the distinction between gender and sexual orientation. Gender is personal – it’s how we see ourselves and want we want to express ourselves to others. Sexual orientation is interpersonal – who we are physically, emotionally and/or romantically attracted to.
- People have genders – things like clothes or toys do not
- Gender cannot be determined by appearance
- A child should be able to wear clothes that feel right and they feel good in, without societal constraints
- Colors do not indicate gender
- A child should be able to participate in activities based on interest, not gender
Tips for parents
- Initiate a conversation about gender rather than waiting for a child to ask
- Raise questions to find out the ideas a child has already formed about gender
- Talk about experiences in daily life to give opportunities for a child to express their feelings without talking about themselves
- Facilitate critical thinking when viewing media by asking prompts such as “How do you think that makes the child feel because of what just happened?”
- Be aware of praise and comments you offer to a child that limit their gender identity (e.g., complimenting boys on physical strength)
- Examine your own biases and how you were raised to think about gender. What do you think about boys who like to paint their nails, or girls who play with trucks?
- Read gender books aloud with a child to inspire conversation
- Most kids experiment with gender through play and exploration. For more information, visit genderspectrum.org
Examples of how to discuss gender when questions arise
Is that person a boy or girl?
- “I don’t know, because we can’t know a person’s gender just by looking at them.”
- “People may feel like a girl, or a boy, or both, or they may not feel like either one. What would you say if a person asked you what gender you are?”
Boys don’t wear dresses!
- “We should get to wear whatever clothing we feel comfortable in and feels right.”
- “Clothes are just clothes and each of us can choose what we like and don’t like.”
- “Did you know people used to say girls couldn’t wear pants?”
Girls don’t play football!
- “Do you think people should be told they can or cannot do something because of their gender?”
- “How would you feel if you couldn’t do what you love because of your gender?”
Self-acceptance and identity are a vital part of a child’s development and emotional health. Offer children the privilege to decide their personal gender!
Wool, Pamela. (2019, September 4). Talking to Young Children About Gender. Resources for Parents and Caregivers. Retrieved from GenderSpectrum.org [website]
Sponsored by Kathleen Fitzhugh Remitz (Civic Center) and the MCFL Children’s Services team.