Teaching children from a young age about gender is vital to helping them develop respect for themselves and others.
Beyond respect, it teaches that they don’t need to conform to fit into a certain box and that they can be anything they want in life.
Why is it important?
Embracing gender as a spectrum allows children to have a brighter future. We are embarking on a new generation of *boys and men that do not harm and are skilled at preventing and protecting against violence.
Raising children without assumptions about their gender or sexual orientation is vital in order to empower them to be who they really are, and thrive as their authentic selves.
What matters is that you’re trying. This page is meant to be a resource, to help give you the tools and language to talk about gender with your child.
This page uses terms like “boys” and “men” as broad terms. These resources are meant for all children, including transgender, nonbinary and gender-expansive youth.
Gender identity — A person’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. A person’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.
Sex assigned at birth — The sex (male or female) given to a child at birth, most often based on the child's external anatomy.
Cisgender — A term used to describe a person whose gender identity aligns with those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth.
Transgender — An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. A person whose gender identity is different, and often fully opposite, from their sex assigned at birth.
Non-binary — An adjective describing a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a cisgender woman. Non-binary people may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between, or as falling completely outside these categories. While many also identify as transgender, not all non-binary people do. Non-binary can also be used as an umbrella term encompassing identities such as agender, bigender, genderqueer or gender-fluid.
Gender fluid – A person who does not identify with a single fixed gender or has a fluid or flexible gender identity.
Agender - A person who does not identify themselves as having a particular gender. Not to be mistaken or directly connected to being asexual.
Genderqueer - Genderqueer people typically reject notions of static categories of gender and embrace a fluidity of gender identity and often, though not always, sexual orientation. People who identify as "genderqueer" may see themselves as being both male and female, neither male nor female or as falling completely outside these categories.
Gender non-conforming - A broad term referring to people who do not behave in a way that conforms to the traditional expectations of their gender, or whose gender expression does not fit neatly into a category. While many also identify as transgender, not all gender non-conforming people do.
Terms to Know
Culture and popular media can make us think that hobbies and personality traits are gendered but at the end of the day, whether children like sports, art or anything in between has nothing to do with their gender.
Our boys need permission, opportunities and safe places to express themselves and their feelings. Let’s encourage real conversations with our sons that focus on their feelings, relationships and hopes.
Here are some tips to help preteens have conversations about gender identity:
Talk About Gender Stereotypes
Use TV, film or news articles to initiate conversations.
You might say, ‘I think it’s great that different types of people are represented in this show. Our family wants to be accepting of all genders. What do you think about this character?’
Consider your values when it comes to “princess” or “hero” stories, and what messages you want your kid to take away.
Talk with your kid about what they think about gender stereotypes.
Help boys challenge stereotypical ideas around gender.
They will be getting messages about what it means to be boys every time they step out into the world.
When you see them associating strength, fighting or anger with being a boy, remind them that those are just small pieces of the puzzle.
Criticize Popular Culture
Teach boys to ask questions and be critical of our culture and the media they consume.
Talk to them about messages about girls, boys and LGBTQ people and how they might not represent real life.
Talk About Gender & Pronouns
Even if your child has not come out as gender non-conforming, it’s important to show them that you are a safe person to come to if they ever have questions or need support.
Talking about all types of gender and pronouns is a great way to show that you are an ally.
Use trusted adults or friends to help you talk with your pre-teen.
Most kids will not want to talk about their gender if they are concerned they won’t be loved and supported.
But they may come out to a friend or a trusted adult, like a teacher.
Write your child a love note. Letting your child know you love them unconditionally gives them the green light to approach you when they are ready.
Show them what it looks like to express emotion and give them permission to show affection to others in age-appropriate ways.
Discuss Gender with Family
Talk with family and people close to your child about values regarding gender and respect. For example, grandpa may want to take only your boy(s) to see a sports game. Ask him to take your girl(s) too.
Another example: your daughter’s godmother buys her dolls, but your daughter prefers dinosaurs. Let her godmother know what your daughter is really into and that you support her.
Just as all moments are opportunities for teaching with our children, adults can learn too.
Encourage Expressing Emotion
One of the most important things you can do to help your child grow up to be emotionally healthy is to help them express their emotions, no matter what their gender is.
This includes letting boys cry, and taking intentional steps to undo messages they get at school that tell them otherwise. It also includes allowing girls to express anger.
Help your child learn the vocabulary to explain how they are feeling and listen when they talk to you.