Gender has been a hot-button topic lately, and for many adults, it can be hard to know how to talk about gender with the children in their life. Thankfully, and surprisingly to many adults, children often have much less trouble understanding when someone is transgender and/or gender expansive. As humans grow and develop, we naturally try to make sense of the world, which frequently means finding or creating categories for people and things. Gender is one of the quickest because of its pervasiveness in the English language and many cultures, including mainstream American culture. While kids continue to figure out what identifies a particular gender, it is a great time to talk about what things are and are not gendered and how different people identify in terms of gender.
I have heard kids claim that belts are for women and not for men because Mom wore belts and Dad did not. Hair length has also been identified with gender, particularly when Dad had longer hair than Mom. These are easy for adults to correct or question. When kids state that something is gendered in a particular way, asking why they think that can help identify how they are thinking about gender and can help them question the assumptions that they are making about gender.
Because I am nonbinary, the kids in my life have had more intentional conversations than many about gender and pronouns. These conversations start simply and can begin at birth. When talking to or with a child, it is good to remind them that the pronouns you are using for them are pronouns that were picked when the child was not able to pick their own, but that if they want you to use different ones, they can tell you. This creates space for pronouns to change and for kids to explore who they are more freely.
Most kids are exposed to fairly rigid gender binaries everywhere from TV to stores to school and communities of faith, so reminding them that people can be “girls, boys, and nonbinary” or “she’s, he’s, and they’s” can help them get used to and better understand gender as encompassing more than two options. There are also a plethora of kids’ books that help facilitate conversations about gender, from I Am Jazz by Jazz Jennings, A Costume for Charly by CK Malone, and My Shadow is Purple by Scott Stuart to Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall and It Feels Good to Be Yourself by Theresa Thorn, What Are Your Words? by Katherine Locke, and Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon. All of these books and more can help kids understand their own gender and other people’s genders at their own level of understanding and help them know that the grown-ups around them care for them.