How to explain gender and identity to a child
What you will learn:
- How to talk to your child about gender
- The signs that your child is struggling with their gender identity
- Toys to help in the discussion
Gender is not always as simple as being categorised as a boy or a girl. In more recent years we have become acutely aware that gender is not always as straightforward as this and that there is a need to be more inclusive, celebrate our diversity and encourage individuality.
Gender identity concerns rarely start in adulthood. In fact, often those who identify as non-binary disclose that in some ways they had always known, right from an early age. For this reason, it makes it all the more important to look out for any signs that your child is questioning their identity, so that you can support them to ensure that they feel safe and secure in being who they truly are.
Looking for the signs:
Looking for the signs that your child is struggling with their gender identity is not as simple as following a clearly defined list. There is no ‘one size fits all’ scenario.
Instead, the signs are often more subtle and for each child, how these present will be different. Quite often, a child struggling with their gender identity may display signs of anxiety or become distressed, particularly around gendered activities.
For example, this can be seen when it comes to playing sports and through the choosing of a toy to play with. Your child may show signs of distress at being encouraged to partake in activities that are stereotypically positioned towards their birth gender. If you see signs such as this, it may be possible that your child is experiencing difficulties with gender identity.
Simply talking with your child is a great place to start, but how you approach this will be different depending on factors such as the child’s age.
In most cases, just as the signs that they are struggling are subtle, how you approach these conversations ought to be subtle too. For those older children, a more direct conversation may be appropriate but for younger children, conversing through play is your number one tool for starting these types of conversations.
The below toys are great conversation starters and being gender neutral, they are the ideal toys for discussing gender.
Max your modern boy doll is a great way to start a conversation about gender with your child. With a move away from traditional ‘girl toys’, this doll allows for the introduction of a male doll as part of imaginative play.
If you have a more stereotypically female doll, for example, a doll with a dress, encourage your child to play with this doll and Max. Play alongside your child and engage in role-playing with them.
Ask them questions such as ‘which doll do you like the most?’, ‘what outfit do you prefer?’ and ‘which doll do you feel you look most like?’.
Answer the questions yourself so that your child knows it’s okay to pick either of the dolls. Keep the conversation light and fun and interject each question with neutral questions such as ‘what adventure should they go on?’ in order to ensure that the subtleness you are aiming for continues.
Most importantly, have fun with your child. Discussions around gender do not have to be serious all the time and can simply just be about having fun!
The magnetic faces activity box is a great tool to use when talking to your children. If your child is struggling to verbalise how they are feeling, they can use the magnetic faces to communicate with you without having to even say a word.
Allow them to play with the magnetic pieces where they can design the face as they wish. It could be a bow in the hair or a pirate’s hat and moustache!
Ask your child questions relevant to your situation about how their character would feel in certain scenarios and allow them to respond by giving their character a happy face or a sad face.
Respond appropriately with lots of reassurance that it is ok for their character to feel like that.
Not only is this giving your child an outlet to express their feelings, but it gives you an understanding of situations where your child feels uncomfortable and where change and understanding might be needed.
What to do if your child tells you they think they identify as non-binary?
If your child informs you that they are trans or non-binary, the most important thing you can do is listen to them.
Give them the space and the time to speak, away from distractions so that you can really engage with what they are telling you. Telling loved ones something as personal as this is not an easy thing to do. Reassure them that they are loved unconditionally and that you will continue to support them. Often, being accepted is a primary concern so ensure that they know that they are.
A young child who shows signs that they may not identify as their birth gender, is unlikely to understand the complex nature of gender identity, even if you as the parent feel you can see signs. If this is the case, set the foundations of openness and acceptance from an early age, so that your child knows if they wish to talk, they are safe to do so.
Discussing gender does not need to be a difficult thing to do. It is about acceptance, it is about ensuring your child knows they are loved unconditionally and it is about teaching your child to be exactly who they are meant to be.