As an ally to the LGBTQ community, you’ve probably sported your rainbow tank top, sang your heart out at marches and voted for politicians who support your belief system. You might not be quite as active in your activism roles once you become a parent, so how do you come up with kid-friendly ways to discuss the importance of equality?
We asked experts for advice on how to start the discussion early, encourage kids to participate and hopefully inspire a whole new generation of activism.
Even if your toddler is at the age where they automatically say "no" to everything or your 7-year-old has decided you’re no longer a "cool" parent, you always make an impact. And the more you express your beliefs and share why it’s important to support others, no matter what sets us apart, the more you’re doing your part as an ally. "Teaching our kids to embrace their own and other’s differences, whether that be race, learning style or orientation will give them greater assurance they too should feel accepted, regardless of how they develop," explains Dr. Stacy Pulice, Ph.D., a therapist and Education Ambassador for AHA! "Gender and sexual orientation are among the many ways people are discriminated against, and research proves that education and familiarity increases tolerance."
And though you might not see indicators of your own children’s sexuality for a few years, Pulice notes that the population of adults who identify as LGBTQ has grown significantly in the past five years, with millennials beings almost twice as likely to identify. This means the chances of your child having a best friend who is part of the LGBTQ community is highly likely.
While you might not need to start explaining gender differences and the freedom of expression when your babe is still in the womb, Pulice says it's never too early to help your children navigate this sometimes confusing topic. "Until around age 3, girls and boys are androgynous, or gender fluid, able to play and 'try on’ gendered roles and dress without needing to choose," she explains. "Allowing them to experiment and accept the easy movement of a boy playing a princess or a girl playing a cowboy without reacting is important. Follow their lead, and if they ask why-questions, help them appreciate people for who they are."
Apart from making sure they know they’re accepted no matter what orientation they identify with, Pulice adds that being a parent who is outwardly a proponent of human rights will help nurture a compassionate, inclusive adult. "We raise better human beings when we help them understand that the skin suits we wear and the identities we label ourselves with are mortal wrapping around the same universal need to be loved and to have belonging,” she says. “Kids easily understand this and need this idea to be supported in a world that starts to teach discrimination.”
Pulice explains that the period between the age of 4 and the start of puberty is considered a "latent period," when children begin to build their sense of self and recognize their gender identity. "Your kids will venture into the world, being exposed to cultural norms that dictate gender and sexual orientation based on assigned gender at birth. This is a time when stereotyping can start, limiting options for choice,” she explains. “The good news is that your children pick up your beliefs and attitudes at home, so familiarize yourself with the issues and vocabulary of gender and sexual orientation. Keeping open conversation is crucial if you hope to cultivate future activists."
Let’s be real. There’s a lot of ground to cover when you want to talk to your child about what LGBTQ means, why it’s worth a discussion and why they should be tolerant of others. But if you go into information overload, you know what will happen: Your kids will tune you out and start swiping on your iPhone instead. That’s why Pulice says being mindful of how much your children can digest will help you determine what you’ll say, how you’ll say it and when to open up the discussions. "Discuss and rehearse with your co-parent or adult friends how you’d like to discuss the issue," she advises. "Your level of comfort with the subject is key, but know it can be a gradual process of educating. The basic message is that everyone deserves to feel safe and welcome and know that they belong. Parents need to keep in mind that they come in with many more narrow and formed opinions due to socialization than kids do. Parents need to work on their own filters and recognize places they are biased or fearful. The best way to approach kids is to ask them how they feel or think about these issues."
Instead of just telling, showing your kids how many others support the LGBTQ community and demonstrating how their actions can impact change will help them better understand the importance of being an activist. Daniel S. Sokal, a psychotherapist and parent-child relationship expert, recommends finding an organization, either nationally or locally, that welcomes families with kids of all ages with open arms, such as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and Genders and Sexualities Alliance Network.
Another avenue Sokal suggests exploring is encouraging your kids to write to politicians in their community and explain how laws can impact those who are discriminated against. This can be done in the comfort of your home and help facilitate a conversation.
And you'll see personalized content just for you whenever you click the My Feed .
SheKnows is making some changes!