As the nation celebrates Pride month, it’s the perfect time to initiate or re-visit the topic of sexual identity, sexual orientation, and inclusion with your kids. For many parents, this can feel like a difficult or uncomfortable topic. If you’re unsure how to discuss issues of sexuality or how to best be an ally to the larger gay community with your kids, we have some expert advice on how to talk to kids about LGBTQ+.
1. Start at the Beginning
When discussing these topics, it’s important to make sure the conversation is age-appropriate and relevant to your child’s development. Reena B. Patel (LEP, BCBA) parenting expert, licensed educational psychologist, board-certified behavior analyst, and author of Winnie and Her Worries tells Parentology it’s best to start from the beginning and define things for your kids in a way they can understand.
- “Begin with the concept of gender identity.”
- “Don’t overindulge and only address the specific question asked, without giving any further details. For example, if your child asks why their friend from school has two mommies, you can say, ‘Families can be different. Some families have a mom and a dad. Some have two moms or two dads. Some have only one mom or one dad.’”
Clinical Psychologist, Health Service Psychologist, a Board-Certified Music Therapist, Dr. Bethany Cook offers additional advice on how to normalize sexuality for kids.
“One way to normalize the LGBTQ+ concepts for all children is to not push heterosexual relationship norms when they are little,” she tells Parentology. “Stop asking three and four-year-olds if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend or who they want to marry from their class. Instead, ask them who makes them smile or who they enjoy being around.”
2. Find Out What They Know
Children have a great way of picking up things up from their experiences or their environment. Parents shouldn’t assume anything about what their kids know about sexuality or where they may have questions.
“Ask what they know first. Actively listen and create a safe space for them to share and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to use words that describe sexual orientation — like gay, lesbian, or bisexual, especially if the person you’re talking about uses this to describe themselves,” suggests Patel.
3. Arm Yourself with Resources
Books, movies and television shows can be great resources to help kids identify with different kinds of sexuality. However, there have been problematic portrayals of queer characters in popular culture in the past, so see what sites like GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) have to say about the show or movie.
That said, LGBTQ+ books are also a great option.
“Books are a great way to introduce concepts to children of any age,” Cook says. “Have books around the house that openly have same-sex parents or subjects like boys who enjoy wearing pink. This isn’t about shining a spotlight on LGBTQ+, it’s about having ‘it’ — comments, books, friends, etc. — seamlessly blended in with what children view as ‘normal/typical.’”
4. Promote Acceptance and Inclusivity
Whether it’s letting your own child know that they are accepted no matter what their sexuality or modeling inclusion in your own life, creating a space for inclusion and acceptance will encourage your children to do the same. Patel suggests the earlier, the better.
“Create a sense of belonging early on,” she advises. “Focus on the importance of kindness and inclusion. Model how to be inclusive and demonstrate kindness. Having these conversations with our children helps create a safer, more inclusive community for everyone.”