The month of June holds great significance as a dedicated period for uplifting LGBTQ+ voices, celebrating LGBTQ+ culture, and supporting LGBTQ+ rights. Nevertheless, The Wise Family team is committed to honoring and celebrating the voices of the LGBTQ+ community throughout the entire year.
To continue our focus on providing insight and resources to educate your kids on this important topic, check out what our team member and Supervisee in Clinical Social Work, Amy Andrukonis, has to say. Also, check out our LGBTQ+ section on our Resources page. We update this resource page on an ongoing basis and will continue to add new and valuable materials to share.
As a social worker with a passion for working with toddlers and preschoolers, I spend a lot of my time and energy thinking about how we grown-ups communicate with children. This PRIDE month, parents of little ones might be thinking it’s “too early” to communicate with their child about gender identity. But actually, it isn’t! For one thing – whether or not you realize it – you already are communicating with your child about gender. And for another, children begin developing strong ideas of their own gender identity earlier than you might think – as young as 2 or 3.
Before we discuss some practical ways to communicate about gender with little ones, I invite you to reflect on the values you would like to impart to your child.
Consider how these values are reflected in the way you communicate (explicitly and implicitly) with your child about gender. It’s also important to educate yourself about gender. If you want your child to have a healthy view of gender and their own gender identity, one of the best places to start is with your own beliefs and attitudes. Review educational resources about gender. Notice the response that arises in you as you read or listen. If you find yourself feeling distressed or defensive when reviewing these resources, you aren’t the only one. But, those feelings, left unchecked, can be harmful to your little one.
Children are very adept at sensing what topics are important to adults and what makes them uncomfortable. Get curious about your responses. Remind yourself that challenging your own beliefs about gender is a loving choice that makes the world safer for your child (and other people’s children). If you continue to feel activated or distressed as you review the resources, consider seeking out mental health support or another professional to work through your feelings and responses with.
Examine the toys in your home, the media your children consume, and the activities they partake in. Do these items reflect gendered expectations? How could you widen the options available to your child? Often, our children’s preferences are shaped by our own expectations and the limited options we present to them.
You might think your child doesn’t know very much about gender norms or stereotypes. But the fact is, your child has probably absorbed a lot of information regarding gendered social expectations, even if they find it difficult to put into words. Watch and listen for signs that they already hold these beliefs. For example, if you hear your child say, “Pink is for girls!” You might ask, “What makes you say that?” Or, “Huh, that’s weird, because I’m not a girl, and I like pink!” Or even, “Sometimes people say that, but it isn’t actually true.” Experiment with different responses and see what feels true to you.
Delight in your own identity, your child’s identity, and in others’ identities. If your child notices that a boy they are friends with is wearing a dress, you could say, “Yeah, he loves that dress! I notice a big smile on his face when he wears it.” For further reading, please navigate to The Trevor Project, Gender Spectrum, Gender Unicorn, and PFLAG.
Let’s continue to show our PRIDE every day of every month of every year! Until next time, Be Wise!
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“Dr. Amy talks about moving children from being externally-driven to internally-driven…and she helps you get there!”— Parent of 15-year-old daughter
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