The language that parents, caregivers and whānau use when speaking to children about gender, bodies and sexuality can have a big impact on how children grow up to think about rainbow identities. It will also indicate to them how open you are to letting them question and explore these things for themself. This is why it’s important to use language that doesn’t exclude or ‘other’ the identities and experiences of the rainbow community. Letting children know that you are open to having conversations about these topics and that you will listen to what they tell you about themselves will be hugely helpful to their sense of safety and wellbeing. Additionally, thinking about your own relationship to your gender and the language that you use when talking about it will help to normalise your child’s exploration of this part of themself.
Things to consider:
- Reflect on how you/your whānau discusses gender, bodies and relationships in general - If you foster a home environment where your child feels comfortable talking to you about their body, identity and relationships to others, they will be much better equipped to navigate these things elsewhere in their life.
- Use inclusive language about family structures and genders around your child - Having discussions with your child that make them reflect on their understanding of gender is really important in helping them to have a more expansive view on it.
- Read books with your child that portray diverse family structures, or talk about the different family structures that exist in your own life, emphasising that all families are complete and equal. You can find children’s/picture books with rainbow content here
- Support your child to unpack stereotypes if they talk about certain clothes, colours, hairstyles, toys or activities only being for boys or girls. This site can give you some further pointers around how to have these conversations.
- Allow space for discussion about gender exploration - Studies show that some trans and gender diverse people are aware of their gender as young as three years old, so it’s never too early to give children the opportunity to express and talk about their gender. Even if gender nonconformity is not an ongoing thing for some children, it’s going to be far less harmful to give them the space to explore this part of their identity than to internalise negative messages about gender diversity.
- Don’t be alarmed or try to censor your child or those around them for being gender non-conforming. One way you can gauge whether this is a big thing for a child is when they are consistent, persistent and insistent about their gender being different from that which they were assigned at birth.
- Follow the child’s lead; uphold their mana - As a general principle, trust and believe children, rather than dismissing what they tell you about themselves. This looks like honouring their choices about how they express their gender, and using the language that they use to talk about themselves. It also includes protecting their right to be exploring this stuff. They have the right to self determination, protection and to be empowered.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- What descriptive words would I use if I were to explain my gender or sexuality/attraction to myself? What about if I were to explain them to my child?
- What feelings come up for me when I see my child engage in activities or express themself in a gender non-conforming way? Why do I think I have this emotional response?
- What messages was I given about gender, bodies and sexuality growing up? Which of these messages were helpful or unhelpful for me in my own identity journey?
- Where can I look to find information about terminology or inclusive language?