Pride Month: How to educate kids about sexual orientation and gender identity - Hindustan Times
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Pride Month 2023: How to navigate conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity with children

Jun 02, 2023 03:31 PM IST

Break free from societal expectations and empower your child to explore their true gender identity. Here are tips to support their journey of self-discovery.

Pride Month, observed worldwide in June, carries great importance as a global celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. It stands as a moment to recognize the challenges faced, victories achieved, and the continuous pursuit of equal rights and inclusivity. This vibrant month is adorned with lively parades and joyful events that symbolize unity, diversity, and resilience. It is also a time of celebration, acceptance, and education about sexual orientation and gender identity.

As a parent, it's important to create a supportive environment for your child to understand and embrace diversity. (Unsplash)
As a parent, it's important to create a supportive environment for your child to understand and embrace diversity. (Unsplash)

As a parent, it's important to create a supportive environment for your child to understand and embrace diversity. By fostering understanding, empathy, and respect, you can help your child navigate these topics with confidence and promote inclusivity in their worldview. Let's explore ways to support and empower our children in their journey towards acceptance and equality during Pride Month and beyond. (Also read: Gender equality starts at home. Here are tips for parents to raise feminist kids )

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In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Aanchal Narang Founder and Therapist Another Light Counselling, shares valuable tips and guidance on how to have open and age-appropriate conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity with your child.

1. What is sexual orientation, and how can parents explain it to their children?

Sexual Orientation is simply who you are attracted to emotionally, romantically and sexually. People can be attracted to one or more genders. Their intensity of attraction might be wary as well. There are multiple types of sexual orientation heterosexual (girls being attracted to boys and vice versa), homosexual- gay, lesbian (girls being attracted to girls), bisexual & pansexual (being attracted to multiple genders or gender identity not being a major criterion for attraction), asexual (having only romantic and not sexual or having a lesser intensity of attraction) etc.

It’s important to note that everyone doesn’t experience attraction in a linear and heterosexual manner. However, society imposes this as a norm which might bring a lot of confusion, shame and guilt in children who might be queer. Parents can start by understanding the concept and some main terms and unlearning their stigma and stereotypes. They can introduce age-appropriate media like comics and storybooks that have queer children and couples. Reva and Prisha, Heartstopper, Sheera, Timmi in Tangles, Bloom are good books to start with. When they see different types of couples, they understand better.

2. What is gender identity, and how can parents help their children understand it?

Gender has two primary aspects - identity and expression. Gender identity is about who you are and what gender you feel like in your mind and body. Gender expression is about how you choose to look, talk, refer and represent your gender. They are correlated but also have their differences. It’s also crucial to know that sex and gender are different. Sex is biological and is the label you are often assigned at birth. Gender is social and psychological and might not always align with your assigned sex at birth. When it doesn’t align it’s considered nonnormative or queer. Gender and sex are not binary but rather it’s a spectrum.

Research suggests that children identify their gender when they are as young as 3 to 5 years. Many adult queers have talked about the same. They inherently know but often get disoriented by the social expectations of their gender. Hence, the first step should be listening and talking to the child and how they feel and how they want to represent themselves. Parents can show them infographics like the gingerbread person (https://www.genderbread.org). This helps them get visual cues and access to different terms. Not boxing them in the first place with pink and Barbies for girls and blue and cars for boys will also ensure they don’t internalise a binary nature of gender and have scope for exploration and understanding.

3. What can parents do to support their child's exploration of gender identity?

  • Acceptance is key. Never dismiss your child’s expression. Don’t impose your expectations of how you want them to look over their choice.
  • Let them know that they can talk to you about their doubts and dilemmas. Read and understand the concepts and terms and work on your stereotypes and stigmas. There are communities and organisations of parents of queer children. You can connect with them and collectively learn and also process your difficulties accepting your child’s journey. Ex: Sweekar
  • Don’t impose gender stereotypes on them. Let them choose their toys, clothes, and accessories. Reassure them about their chosen gender expression. They might want to change and experiment with their name and pronouns and respect their choice.
  • If your relatives or neighbours are making any inappropriate comments, stand up for your child. If your child is getting bullied in school, talk to their teachers and relevant authorities.
  • If the child is struggling with the exploration, help them access queer affirmative therapy and support groups.
  • Take them to pride marches, and introduce them to people of diverse identities.

4. What are some ways to teach your child about gender diversity and the importance of inclusivity?

Children learn a lot from observation. If you have people from diverse genders in your life how you talk about them and include them will play a major role in your child’s understanding. Media is another good way. There are games and quizzes available online that you can play with your child. Talking to them about how inclusivity is about making people feel safe and loved and everyone deserves to feel that irrespective of their identity.

5. How can parents address misconceptions about sexual orientation and gender identity?

Parents can start by understanding and correcting their own misconceptions and biases. If you see a wrong gender stereotype being portrayed around your children voice it. When children learn something wrong and speak to you about it, listen to them and help them unlearn their internalised stigma. Give them relevant facts, books, and research that will them learn and explore. Talk to them about how certain activities or clothes or colours don’t have to be associated with a particular gender expression.

6. How can parents create a safe and accepting environment for their child's gender identity journey?

Establish that you love the child irrespective of what they look like or want to represent. If you have multiple children, don’t passively discriminate against your queer child. Be mindful and unlearn your biases. Openly communicate with your child, ask them about their choices and respect them, listen intently. If they want to change their names and pronouns, call them that. Sometimes, watching queer movies with them, having pride flags at home etc also helps. It’s okay if you struggle to accept your child’s journey but process your emotions regarding it to ensure you don’t adversely impact the child.

It can be difficult to explore your gender identity when society wants you to fit in certain boxes, and be there for your child when they struggle. Attend workshops and seminars with the child. Help them seek professional mental health and healthcare if and when required. Queer affirmative therapists, gynaecologists, and psychiatrists are difficult to find but there are crowd-sourced lists available, research with your child. Let them know they are not alone.

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