Children often ask their parents questions that can make them feel uncomfortable and unprepared to answer. And they often come up at times when you least expect it to.
They may hear certain words or terms such as LGBTQ at school or on TV, but not know what it actually means. Social media has been a catalyst for social change, acceptance and inclusivity among preteen and teenage youth. Many children already see that families in our world can look different from their own—whether it’s on television or when they are with you in the community.
As a parenting expert, licensed educational psychologist, board-certified behavior analyst, and author of Winnie & Her Worries, my advice? The best thing you can do is to explain to your kids that families can have different cultural traditions, religions, and values.
As parents, you want to be there to introduce and answer questions since children turn to us for many answers. Remember even at an early age you can teach the value of empathy and respect for others, as well as open the door for any future conversations regarding their own identity. Here are my tips on how to speak with your children about LGBTQ:
1. Start discussions early and be matter of fact. Use the words sometimes and if your child asks why another child wants to wear a dress but he looks like a boy, that is your opening to have the discussion on choice, inclusion and belonging. Remember that society created the theme stereotypes that boys play with cars and girls play with dolls.
2. Don’t be afraid to use words that describe sexual orientation as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, especially if the person you’re talking about uses this to describe themselves.
3. Actively listen to your kids. This will help you make sure you understand what your child is asking and what they already understand about the topic.
4. Be honest with your children. It’s ok to not have an answer. Encourage your child to continue to ask questions. Do keep your responses developmentally appropriate.
5. This is not a one-and-done conversation. Use media and/or life experiences as opportunities to continue and discuss the topic. Especially after they develop further understanding after processing what they learned themselves.
6. Remember to reinforce that although some families may look different, they’re really not that different. They love each other just like we love just like your own family does.
7. Talk about what a sense of belonging means. How to be inclusive and demonstrate kindness. Having these conversations with our children helps create a safer, more inclusive community for everyone.