How to Talk to Kids About LGBTQ+ and Gender Identity

By Annie Rosemurgy | Photo by Rob Maxwell via unsplash.com

To build on our “Supporting LGBTQ+ Kids” feature this month, we asked local experts to give us more detail about how to talk to kids when LGBTQ+ and gender identity questions arise.

What do you say to kids who approach you with questions about gender identity or sexual orientation?

“The best way to respond to kids when they have questions about gender identity is to be simple, direct and open. Listen to what [they] are asking and provide clear and precise responses that are also age-appropriate. Some of these responses could be as simple as: ‘All families are different;’ ‘People express themselves in all kinds of ways;’ or ‘Those toys/colors/clothes are actually for anyone who likes them!’ Kids will ask questions for a number of different reasons, so it’s important to stay open to their curiosity. You can use responses like ‘That’s a great question! What makes you curious?’ Or, ‘What is your understanding of what that word means?’”

Katie Rickert, Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) LGTBQ+ district lead

“First, realize that anyone who comes out to you — a child, teen or adult — [that] it’s a big deal. They’ve trusted you with a piece of truth of who they are, and that should be recognized. Say something like, ‘Thank you so much for sharing this with me. I’m so glad that you felt like you could trust me with this part of your life.’ Also, note [to them] that you will hold this in confidence until they are ready to share this part of themselves with others.”

Heidi Duss, founder of Culturescape Consulting

“The first thing I would say to a child who approaches me with questions about gender identity, is, “Thanks for asking.’  That might sound odd, but if the child is asking, my guess is it is for a good reason.”

Lisa Koeneke, M.S., Inclusion Institute Certified Diversity Practitioner and LGBT-Owned Business Enterprise

How do you establish yourself as a safe, gender-affirming person for kids?

“It’s so important to provide a judgment-free space for a child to share how they are feeling and/or their experiences. Ask them what pronouns they use, and don’t use phrases like, ‘it’s just a phase,’ or, ‘they don’t understand.’ Additionally, make gender-neutral language a common practice in your home. Don’t assume gender stereotypes like girls play with dolls and boys with trucks or that they may be attracted to the opposite gender with phrases like ‘do you have a crush on a boy?’ Encourage exploration and don’t make gender and sexuality a taboo topic. Expose the house to LGBTQ+ characters in books, TV shows and media.  Finally, reaffirm your love and support for them.”

— Heidi Duss, founder of Culturescape Consulting

“Adults can share their name and pronouns when introducing themselves, so that kids feel free to do the same. Kids who are exploring their identities are often looking for indicators that an adult is LGBTQ+-affirming, so adults can wear clothes, pins, or badges with rainbows to make that obvious to the children they interact with. 

— Katie Rickert, MMSD LGBTQ+ district lead

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