How to Talk to Children About Gender, Inclusivity, Sexuality, & LGBTQIA+

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The world is calling for more inclusive and compassionate ways to communicate and understand the full spectrum of gender, sexuality, and relationship preferences. Let's explore what "inclusion" means - it is about welcoming, accepting, and advancing a diverse mix of peoples. It is imperative that as a parent, teacher, counselor, or anyone caring for children that we expand our knowledge and scope of understanding to the wide and beautiful spectrum that exists in terms of topics on gender, inclusivity, sexuality, and LGBTQIA+. And yes, it is changing fast, with new belief systems and language coming all the time. At times it may seem daunting when you worry about knowing everything or getting it right, yet when we relax into changes we can feel the excitement of witnessing the broadening happening across the world.  And our children will have so many more opportunities to love and accept themselves and others, and all parts of them, rather than having to ignore, suppress, question, and shame natural feelings, urges, questions, and seeking and exploration behaviors. If you or a loved one has experience suppression, oppression, confusion, shame, and/or other traumas around sexuality, gender, inclusivity, etc., compassionate and inclusive counseling from qualified licensed professionals can help. Many people fear changes, and have anxiety children will be hurt, confused, or judged.  And are scared to talk about these subjects at all, fearing something bad will happen and yet, in truth, it is quite the opposite. It allows children and the upcoming generations to find a greater sense of acceptance in their own sense of self and authenticity in the world. If you need coaching or want an inclusive setting to have healthy conversations, counseling can help. Also, it is important that if you have a child or teen who having difficulty with any of these topics and more, counseling with a licensed professional can be a crucial step Our younger generations, and ALL who have for too long been ostracized, marginalized, and judged are speaking out and demanding that we have difficult and real conversations that promote change.  This includes with each other, and with our children. As a parent, caregiver, or teacher, it can be difficult to know the right thing to say when kids question what we deem to be adult topics. Broaching topics of sexuality can be awkward for both parties; however, it is a necessary and very important conversation to have. And it is crucial to have some knowledge and understanding and to approach it with an open heart. It takes willingness, openness, and compassion. Want to learn more skills, develop great empathy and compassion for self and others, and become more mindful. Try our DBT Skills Groups for adults or teens. When it comes to talking about gender and sexuality, and the wide spectrum that continues to expand in preferences, children should be given truthful age-appropriate information so they can better understand and empathize with themselves and with others. Regardless of whether your child identifies now or in the future with LGBTQIA+, having a conversation about LGBTQIA+ issues will help reduce prejudice while teaching compassion and empathy. This is powerful, as it can, directly and indirectly, reduce tensions, anxiety, social awkwardness, interpersonal difficulties, and enhance wellbeing, inclusivity, and acceptance.

When to Talk It’s never too late to start a conversation on issues of sexuality with your children. While there may be initial discomfort and reluctance from preadolescent children and older, ultimately having these discussions with your children will help them develop a sense of safety and security with you, while it teaches them tolerance and acceptance. For young children, the age of 5 is generally a good time to begin discussing these topics by sharing some basic information with them.

What to Say For very young children, keep the conversation simple and focus on basic concepts. When talking about sexuality, you can explain to your child that just as a man and a woman can fall in love, so can a man with a man, and a woman with a woman. When talking about transgender individuals, you can explain that how a person looks on the outside isn’t always how they feel on the inside. You can refer to the familiar adage about “not judging a book by its cover.” Children should understand the basic concept that there are all kinds of people in this world, and that is what makes us all special and beautiful, like the colors in a rainbow. Allow the colors to be different, each one is amazing on its own and when combined to form a rainbow is magical. Encourage them to ask you questions as they explore the world. Stay curious with children, they have a sense of wonder that we all need and should be encouraged and validated. Just as they see a rabbit for the first time, they ask "what is that"?  This is from a place of curiosity and wonder, not judgment. If we allow them to ask, explore, and provide back loving, truthful, age-appropriate, and compassionate feedback they will learn to engage in the world from this place. How powerful and wonderful is that? Our own willingness, openness, and curiosity go a long way and will foster that in children. Or maybe it is the other way around, if we let them, they can foster it in us. Either way, it is transformative and healing. Stay mindful, and be careful to not consciously, or unconsciously, give answers or communicate verbally or nonverbally in judgmental, confusing, and/or biased ways. Nor ignore a child's or your own curiosity. For mental health and wellbeing, you want to communicate in a way that celebrates all people. We all are and equally deserving of love, acceptance, and respect.  And if we all treated each other, and ourselves, this way, what a world it would be. The research shows it all starts with self-compassion, and it can totally transform us and the world around us. “Compassion is, by definition, relational. Compassion literally means 'to suffer with,' which implies a basic mutuality in the experience of suffering. The emotion of compassion springs from the recognition that the human experience is imperfect.” ― Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself If this is difficult for you to do, due to what you have experienced in your life, please seek compassionate support. What happened to you and how you were communicated may have impacted you and left you judgmental, in pain, angry, or hateful. If you are mindful enough to recognize this and willing to explore it, wonderful. Please don't beat yourself up to more, or hate yourself more, as that created more of the problem in the world. Counseling can help, so you can move through pain, trauma, and open your heart to more wellness as well.  This will help you and the children and others in your life tremendously.

Remember You Don’t Have to Know Everything Your child may have questions that you can’t answer. It’s okay to admit to your child when you don’t know the right answer. This could be a discussion point for later after you’ve done some research, or it could be a good opportunity for you to learn from your child. Take time to explore, ask others as well, stay humble and you will build a stronger relationship with yourself self and the children in your life.