Throughout my time doing educational psychology work, I have encountered parents who share concerns regarding their children.
“I think he is a bit… feminine. Sometimes I’m worried about the toys he plays with because he really likes soft toys.”
“I’ve been worried cos she’s a bit of a tomboy.”
Before we take umbrage at these comments which perpetuate gender stereotypes, there are of course parents who hold more progressive views towards gender and sexuality. One family, in particular, stands out to me- the family watches Brooklyn 99 together, and the mother has explained to her daughter that love is regardless of gender. More poignantly, she also shared that she told her daughter that she would love her no matter what.
While our society remains a more conservative one presently, there has been a shift towards more progressive attitudes towards LGBTQ+ issues. A recent poll in 2019 conducted by a Singapore-based think tank, the Institute of Policy Studies, showed that opposition to same-sex marriage was 60%, down from the previous 74% in 2013. Notably, 6 out of 10 respondents aged 18 to 25 did not find same-sex marriage “wrong”. With youths having more open views, and more awareness of LGBTQ+ issues, it is even more important that we know how to have open discourse with them. Experts also recommend having such “difficult” discussions about sexuality, sex, and gender early on in childhood, as it promotes a safe space for our children to come to us when they have related issues.
Once you have done some reading on gender and sexuality, and have understood the basics, here are 5 ways that you can talk to your children/teens about LGBTQ+ issues:
Identify LGBTQ+ friends/neighbors/colleagues to your children and refer to them with the correct term/pronouns. If you do not have anyone in your circle that identifies as LGBTQ+, you may also point out characters or celebrities in media. If you do have a friend that identifies as LGBTQ+, you can also get them to speak to your child.
Be comfortable explaining what same-sex attraction or even, gender dysphoria is, in child-friendly terms. Most children do not need much explanation to understand the love between two individuals. Something simple such as, “you know how mommy and daddy love each other? Auntie Jenna and Auntie Karen love each other the same way too” to explain same-sex relationships may work. If you still struggle with explaining, there are a large variety of queer resources online for children. Books: (link: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/lgbtq-kids-books-pride-month_n_5b1023bce4b0fcd6a834bbdb), such as the controversial “And Tango Makes Three” can also be used.
Address any gender stereotypes or hate/discriminatory speech when you hear your child say them. For example, if they say something like “I don’t like playing football, because I’m a girl”, you can address it by sharing stories of when you broke traditional gender stereotypes. Encourage them to think of things that they like to do that may not conform to these stereotypes, and help them break them down.
Respond to questions that your child may have with a clear and short answer. Do not shy away from answering them. We may need to practice some active listening here and respond directly to the question the child is asking, rather than making assumptions of why they are asking these questions.
Emphasize the importance of being an ally. Even if your child does not identify as queer, it is important that they learn acceptance rather than tolerance for those who may have differing views than their own.
Given that our children are the face of our future, it is so important that we start early to raise them with values that reflect the future we want to see: a world with love, equality, and acceptance.