Building LGBTQ Sensitivity In Kids – Start Young!
June is celebrated as LGBTQ Pride Month to honour the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan. Those riots sparked the LGBTQ Liberation Movement in the United States. The last Sunday in June is celebrated as Gay Pride Day.
There are many countries across the world that are making solid attempts to create awareness, openness & acceptance towards the LGBTQ community. Many have changed their laws & made same sex marriages legal. I follow a couple of amazing same sex parents raising happy kids on Instagram.
But unfortunately, many more countries still lack progress on this front, including India. Yes, small steps are being made to make the LGBTQ community more inclusive… But here’s the thing – They’re already our community! ❤ It is not just the responsibility of the LGBTQ community to try and change people’s attitudes towards them. As straight allies, it’s important for all of us to join those efforts in every little way we can. We’re all the same people here. We all have families & friends… We all love going out, watching movies & just hanging out… We all work, pay rent & tally expenses. Where’s the difference?
I have no idea what Karma’s sexual orientation is going to be & it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we teach her empathy, inclusivity and openness RIGHT NOW. Research indicates that kids start developing their attitudes toward societal groups as early as age 3. Between 3 & 6, they can recognise discrimination. Between 6 & 10, they might even apply it. At around 10, kids start relying more on their own experiences & opinions of their peers to form their own beliefs & prejudices.
As parents of the next generation, we have a chance to raise kids who can redefine the word ‘normal’ and create acceptance at a vast level. But many parents do not know how to touch this topic especially with their little ones. Here’s a sigh of relief! – You don’t have to talk about or explain sex to your 3 year old to include awareness about diversity in your daily upbringing.
Here are some tips how on how you can incorporate #EqualityForAll at a very young age:
1. Build Understanding At Their Level
The core of LGBTQ is relationships and gender. This can easily be translated to kids at a level they understand. For example, small children see relationships in the form of families or friends. Similarly, to them gender means either boy or girl. You can comfortably widen this horizon to include all aspects of LGBTQ, gender neutrality and gender equality in a way that they understand. This can be taken a step further by ensuring your child meets all kinds of friends of yours – single, married, divorced, single parents, gay, queer, religious or atheist. It will show your kids that happy relationships don’t always have to come in pairs of a man and a woman.
2. Age-Appropriate Conversations
When your child is engaging in any form of family or friends play time either with their toys or drawing, tell them directly a family can have two mommies or two daddies as well! Similarly, if they’re playing dress-up with their toy characters or stuffed toys or even themselves, you can tell them that if Spiderman wants to wear a skirt, he can and if Minnie Mouse wants to wear a men’s shirt, she can. You can even break colour based gender stereotyping early on. It’s all related to building core psyche that’s all inclusive and it’s all doable.
3. Choose Your Words Wisely
When you talk about families or couples, use words that are more inclusive. If you know me personally, you would hear me use the term partner a lot more than girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife. Similarly, when people joke about Karma dating a boy when grows up, we categorically add that it could be a boy or a girl. These are small things but your choice of words reflects a lot about your attitude & presumptions on certain things. We all know kids pick up on this very fast & it has a big subconscious impact on their future perceptions.
4. Equality in Pretend Play
Play is a great way to learn. There are many ways to do this. From inter-changing pronouns of characters played with to encouraging pretend play without gender stereotype roles. And this goes a long way… The results manifest themselves in an overall development of the child’s mindset that is not defined by societal norms.
Here’s a small example: Karma was playing fire rescue with lego. Dolly Duck (She calls it Dolly & not Daisy) was stuck in a house fire and fire fighter Minnie Mouse comes to rescue her. She has a jockey lego set too and the male jockey usually plays the baby in pretend plays. After rescuing Dolly, Minnie tells her – Come, lets go to the baby. I honestly cannot say if Minnie & Daisy are a couple or friends and if the jockey is their baby but it’s still play that’s more open minded and gender neutral than the norm. And I was proud! Small win and small step in the right direction.
5. Kids Friendly Books On Diversity
I will be honest with you. This idea came to me only recently. While I had already shortlisted videos on ‘good touch bad touch’ that I need to show Karma even before she was born, looking for right children’s books that showcase same sex families was something I only did recently. I am guilty of omission here and I am trying to correct that now. I request you all to do this from the time you start reading to your kids. It is such a simple step and it goes a long way. There is a dearth of such material for kids but if you search online, you will find it. Here are a few that come highly recommended:
- Mommy, Mama And Me / Daddy, Dada And Me by Leslea Newman and Carol Thompson
- Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell and Henry Cole
- The Different Dragon By Jennifer Bryan
- Mommy’s Family by Nancy Garden
- Everywhere Babies By Susan Meyers
In the end, all I want to say is that such steps will not only aid in raising children who are LGBTQ sensitive but kids who are more empathetic overall. If you’re wondering whether you should wait till your child knows if they’re straight or gay or transgender before introducing diversity inclusivity, my personal recommendation is NO. By including awareness young, you are raising a child who is less likely to be a bully tomorrow… A child who will reach out to misfits… A child who is driven by compassion… And most of all, a child who will come to you tomorrow for your guidance if they are fighting an internal & external battle because they feel they don’t fit in with the norm.