All parents want what’s best for their kids. A big part of making sure kids grow up healthy and happy is creating an environment where they feel safe to be and explore who they are. We’re thinking about how we can foster comfort and safety in a world that can seem scary and threatening for LGBTQIA+ youth. We asked Maven parents in our LGBTQIA+ ERG, Pride at Maven, how they foster a culture of openness and acceptance at home. Here are their top five tips.
1. Start early
It’s never too early to start talking openly to your kids about gender. We might not even realize it, but from the moment they’re born, kids are constantly learning about gender expectations. “Kids absorb a lot even before they can speak, so it’s just about introducing them to all different types of relationships and people, and being clear when referring to them how they identify,” explains Will, he/him. Kids get a lot of messages about gender roles and family structures from the outside world, so it is especially crucial to highlight and normalize the diverse spectrums of gender and sexuality.
2. Follow their lead
It’s important to emphasize that your children are the ultimate authority on their identity and gender expression. Even at a young age, kids can have intuitive feelings about how they identify. “My kids were both fairly gender non-conforming growing up, so they got misgendered a lot,” explains Mary, she/they. “I think that gave them some really strong empathy for how people want to be identified, and how it may not match how they look.” Make note of the words your child uses to describe their gender or sexuality and use those words. Try not to assume anything about their gender or sexuality and if they’re open to talking about it, ask questions.
3. Encourage acceptance
As your child meets new people in their communities, they’ll likely see families with structures that are different from yours. By showing respect towards all kinds of families and accepting that not all families look alike, you can help foster a more inclusive environment for your child. “We talk quite a bit about how families look different: two moms or two dads, a mom and a dad, grandparents, other parent/guardian combinations,” says Becca, she/her. “I think talking about that helps normalize it for them—that maybe we look different, but we’re actually not so different from all their friends at school who each have a different situation at home.” It’s normal for children to have questions about how different types of families work, so be willing to engage in those discussions.
4. Challenge your biases
It’s important to acknowledge that we all have biases. You can identify what biases you might hold about gender or sexuality by paying attention to your thoughts and ideas as they come up. It’s okay to feel any range of feelings when confronted with a new experience or interaction, but it’s important to remain open to learning and educating yourself. You can expand your perspective by letting those around you challenge your beliefs, staying open to feedback, and really listening to people around you with different life experiences.
Change can be uncomfortable, but staying open and positive when discussing gender and sexuality with your child can help them feel included and comfortable with you and in your family. “I'm still learning, even when it comes to introducing activities that may be more aligned in social spheres to boys or girls. But we’re trying to create a space of equality from the start and really hold ourselves accountable to it,” says Anne, she/her. This is a learning experience for both you and your child. Just remember that no matter their identity, you can support them in their choices and their commitment to being themselves.
5. Let your child know you love them just as they are
You can be your child’s biggest advocate by listening to them, loving them, and ensuring that they live in spaces where it’s safe for them to be themselves. “I'm hopeful that my son has a different experience [than I did growing up], and that he has a lot of comfort in being himself, regardless of what that is,” says Will. “And I hope he knows that I don't care what that is, so long as he's happy, healthy, and safe.”
Talking to kids about complex issues can be hard—learn how to approach these conversations with support from Maven’s specialized experts. Sign up with Maven for free, on-demand access to providers who can help you navigate the ups and downs of the parenting journey.
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