As a transgender parent, I know my kids get asked a lot of questions about their family. Most of these questions come from innocent curiosity, but occasionally malice sneaks in. And often when it does, the children asking are from families that pride themselves on being inclusive and welcoming. So, what’s happening here? Why do kids from accepting homes still have misunderstandings about trans families?
In many cases, their parents simply haven’t had a conversation with them about the topic. Either they didn’t think they needed to or they didn’t know how to. But kids as young as three are noticing differences and categorizing people (and families!) in their heads—so it’s never too early to talk about all the different, beautiful ways that families appear in the world. Here are some tips for getting started!
1. Don’t Freak Out
This sounds counter-intuitive, but when kids ask a ton of questions about something you’re nervous about, it’s easy to feel like you’re opening Pandora’s box. Answer their questions, but be prepared to back off if they’re getting annoying and you don’t feel comfortable continuing the discussion.
2. Use The Correct Terminology
When thinking of this, it’s also helpful to think about the times when you correct someone else’s terminology. Would you rather they said “transvestite” instead of “drag queen?” Then don’t say “transgendered” instead of “transgender” or “a transgender boy” instead of “a boy who’s transgender.”
You can also talk to your child about the fact that “transgender” is an adjective describing a person. Just like you wouldn’t say, “He’s black,” or “She’s Asian,” you wouldn’t say, “She’s transgender.”
3. Seek Out Diverse Books
Have you read a book together in which a character is transgender? If you’re not sure, head to your local library and scan the shelves. You might be surprised at the number of inclusive books. Read those together! Finding books with trans characters won’t feel like a coincidence. If you see yourself in a book, you feel recognized, validated, and normal.
4. Start The Conversation Early
Some of our family’s first questions at well more than two years old were about our gender. Being faced with all those questions, we realized we needed to be ready to explain things in a way that could be accepted by two toddlers and preschoolers. We opted for honesty, and that honesty has continued to be our guiding principle.
5. Don’t Force Conversations
Sometimes the most effective strategy to combat ignorance means to let kids volunteer the questions themselves. I find this to be one of the most effective teaching strategies in general, and it applies to this topic in particular. If it feels forced, kids will think something is wrong with the situation and change the subject as soon as they can. But if they’re the ones to bring it up, you have the opportunity to validate their feelings and help them gain a deeper understanding of the topic.
6. Follow Your Kid’s Lead
What would you say if your kid said, “I think I’m transgender”? Maybe you’d say “No, you’re not!” Or maybe you’d say “Why do you think that?” Only you know your child, so only you can answer this question. But it can be a good idea to start with acknowledging the feelings. Again, it’s very likely that if your kid is identifying as trans, what they’ve said is true. (Illicit self-diagnoses are possible, but unlikely in this situation.)
7. Use A Kid’s Book To Help Explain
I’m working on a series of books that could be very helpful in this area. The first is called My New Name, My New Body! and is all about a trans kid going through a new name and new pronouns. Check it out here!
8. Don’t Shy Away From Talking About Your Kids’ Bodies
Some people think it’s a little weird to talk about bodies with young kids. In our house, I’ve found that the more uncomfortable we are talking about body parts, the harder it can be for our kids to feel comfortable in their own skin. Some of the questions you’ll get are actually about bodily functions, but all of them are about learning to respect and accept each other. After all, bodies are not always easy things to talk about, but the more we talk about them in a nonjudgmental way the more comfortable we’ll all be.
9. Go Easy On The Jokes
If you did a lot of joking with your siblings growing up, recognize that jokes are a way for people to feel safe. You’re building up a level of trust between you, knowing that even if you say something wrong, you aren’t going to be judged or lectured. It can be hard for people to take the first steps without feeling safe. If you’re eager to make jokes, find ways to share where the line is. I think it’s important to make the jokes and the boundaries clear!
10. Encourage Your Kids To Ask Questions
For some people, coming from a traditional and very conservative family, they may not feel comfortable talking to their parents about what’s in their head. If you do something that makes people feel uncomfortable, first, be sure you have consent. Second, think about how to make things as comfortable as possible. For example, when someone wants you to ask them a question, you can say, “Your dad’s going to answer me, but you should be ready to resume the conversation when he’s done.”
11. Don’t Be Afraid To Answer For Adults
Maybe you know a lot, maybe you don’t know anything. The reality is, if people want to know something, they will ask an adult who knows. So, if they ask you, that’s great. But if they ask me, that’s just as great. We all know that peer relationships can be important to a kid’s mental health, and if you know a little about the topics they’re interested in, you can be the “cool” adult they’re looking for.
Dreams of Zugunruhe by Michael Kinsey
This product was recommended by Michael Kinsey from Mindsplain
The children’s book ‘Dreams of Zugunruhe’ is a perfect book for transgender kids. It is written with gender neutral pronouns by parent-child attachment specialist Dr. Michael Kinsey – to help parents gently teach their children to overcome their fears. The book just received the 2020 Mom’s Choice Gold Award for Excellence.
One of a Kind Like Me by Laurin Mayeno
This product was recommended by Maria Ramos from Maria Ramos-Chertok
This book is a wonderful story about a child (given the assumed gender pronoun male) who wants to wear a princess dress to school. It is based on a true story and the back of the book contains information on the child and his family.
Artistic Expressions of Transgender Youth Volume 2 by Tony Ferraiolo
This product was recommended by Tony Ferraiolo from Tony Ferraiolo,LLC
There are plenty of books in existence about transgender youth. the reason this book series is different is because you will be educated directly by transgender children and teens. When I first thought about putting these books together, I thought my target audience would be, parents, educators, and medical professionals.
I was so moved when I found out that trans and non binary youth were purchasing the books, so they wouldn’t feel alone. The drawings are powerful , they are artistic expressions of answers to questions like “Draw what anger feels like,”, what does body dysphoria feel like and “What makes you sad?”
Be Who You Are by Jennifer Carr
This product was recommended by Stefanie Lesser from Hope & Love Radio
Based on the author’s experiences with her children, this book is about Nick a transgender boy. He was born a boy but always felt like he was a girl. WIth the help of supportive family, and support for his parents as well, Nick, who wanted to be called Hope, found happiness. HIghly recommend.
The Boy with Pink Hair by Perez Hilton
This product was recommended by Daniel Odeniyi from Wottnovel
He was born that way-The Boy with Pink Hair. He had a cotto//n candy colored mop that no one had ever seen before . . ./Life is not easy being pink. Adults stare at you, little children giggle behind your back and some kids are just mean. But when you have a best friend who appreciates your uniqueness and parents who are loving and supportive, you can do just about anything. From blogger-extraordinaire, Perez Hilton, comes the story of a boy who is not afraid to be who he is and how his difference makes a difference.
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel
This product was recommended by Katie Dames from Feely Feelings
This book tells the story of a transgendered child which is based off of the life of Jazz Jennings. It describes how from the time she was two, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain stuck in a boy’s body. Her family was confused until the doctor informed them that Jazz was transgender. This book explains things in a clear way, and it’s something that transgender kids, their parents and teachers can understand.