How to Talk to Your Kids About Gender
The language and vocabulary around gender has evolved significantly over the last few decades as we have come to better understand the diversity of human experience.
While ideas about gender often spark strong debate, many arguments stem from a lack of understanding. With so much confusion about the terminology surrounding gender, the notion of answering your kids’ questions can feel daunting. However, with the right tools, information, and mindset, you can confidently and empathetically navigate the conversation.
Start by Defining Terms
To help your child build a foundational understanding of gender, start by teaching the difference between these basic terms:
This is the label (male or female) that you’re assigned at birth based on genitals, chromosomes, and hormones.
Gender is a shared set of cultural expectations and categorizations. Gender affects how people perceive you, your expected role in society, and how others think you should look, dress, speak, and act. Gender can be a factor in the educational and career opportunities that are presented or encouraged.
Gender roles have changed significantly throughout history and across the world. For example, words like “manly” or “macho” often reflect expectations about gender in the United States, but not necessarily in every culture. Some cultures have historically only recognized men and women, while others traditionally recognize more, including Native American nations, and some cultures from Hawaii and South Asia.
This is how you feel inside, whether man, woman (or boy/girl), nonbinary, or something else. Your gender identity may match the sex you were assigned at birth (called cisgender), or it may be different (called transgender).
This is how you express your gender identity. For example, playing with dolls, wearing pants and playing sports, or both! There isn’t one right way to be a person of a certain gender, so gender expression can be unique to each person.
Three Tips for Talking to Kids about Gender
1. Don’t Overthink It
Many people worry that kids won’t be able to grasp such a complex idea, but they have an advantage that adults don’t: Children are still actively forming their understanding of the world and absorbing new ideas every day.
Kids tend to be concerned with how an issue relates to them personally. For example, they will likely care more about whether someone is nice to them, or if they like the same games, rather than worrying about whether the person follows gender conventions.
2. Explain That People Come in All Shapes and Sizes
This applies to many different types of identities: “People come in all shapes and sizes” is a straightforward idea that your child is probably already familiar with.
You can explain that most people with certain body parts identify as a certain gender, but not always. If your child asks why, let them know that who you are comes from the inside—from your mind and your heart.
3. Let Them Know Their Gender Doesn’t Limit Them
Above all, it’s important for kids to know that their gender does not define their potential, their abilities, or the ways they can express themselves. BrainPOP’s resources on Women’s History can be a great place to start for children of any gender to learn about women who challenged gender expectations throughout history. Our Emotions and Mental Health units can also benefit all kids.
Gender stereotypes and biases can be so ingrained in us as adults that we often don’t notice them. With a mindful approach and supportive resources, you can help your kids understand that we live in a diverse society, and encourage them to be accepting of others and comfortable and confident with who they are.