Answering hard questions is a big part of parenting.
From explaining how babies are made to helping your children grasp the concept of death, parents serve as guides for children as they grow and begin to understand the world around them.
The recent spotlight on transgender issues from bathroom choices to gender fluidity has prompted many parents to ask for age-appropriate guidance on how to answer their children's questions or to help educate their children on what they might be hearing through the media or from friends.
At the core of these culture discussions is acceptance. Guide your child with an appropriate tone and attitude by valuing people regardless of their race, language, disabilities (visible or non-visible), experiences, age, sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.
As with most difficult discussions, if your child comes to you with a question, it's often best to first gauge their level of understanding by asking a question.
For example, if your child comes to you and asks 'Can a boy turn into a girl?,' ask your child what their thoughts are first before answering.
Suggestions and thoughts:
·Acknowledge the question.Even if you can't answer then and there, acknowledge that it was asked and you value the trust your child had in asking you. 'That's a good question! Can we talk about that in the car?' or 'That's a good question! It looks like you are thinking about this. Can I think about that for a minute or two?' It tells your child his inquisitiveness is a good thing and you respect his question.
·Answer with facts. 'Daddy, is that a boy or a girl? I'm not sure.' Or 'Why is that man dressed like a lady? Sometimes people look different on the outside than they feel on the inside.'
·Don't be afraid to say you don't knowbut offer to find an answer. You can talk about what you think might be the answer and allow your child to offer his thoughts.
·Keep in mind this is an ongoing conversation.Let you child know that he can come to you at anytime with questions no matter how uncomfortable it may feel.
Offer appropriate and respectful terminology.
Devin Thomas, the manager of counseling and anti-violence program at Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, said it's also important for parents to understand the vocabulary that will help guide their discussion.
Sex:Your assignment at birth determined by anatomy.
Gender identity:The internal sense of being male, female, neither of these or both. Children identify gender as early as age 2. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most children will label themselves as a boy or girl before their 3rd birthday. Around this time, children are learning gender role expectations — what boys do or what girls do, what and whom they play with. By age 4, most children prefer playing with children of their same gender.
Jackie, a transgender person in Milwaukee, said at an early age, she 'just didn't fit in' but wasn't sure why. She already knew what was expected of her assigned gender but realized an uncomfortableness internally.
Transgender:People whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. Thomas said this is an adjective that describes a person.
Gender expression:The physical manifestation of one's gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, body shape, etc. Most transgender people seek to make their gender expression (how they look) match their gender identity (who they are), rather than their sex assigned at birth.
Transition: This occurs when a transgender person resolves to live in a manner consistent with their gender identity. Some, but not all transgender people may also undergo 'medical treatment' (hormone replacement therapy or surgical procedures).
Sexual orientation: The gender a person is attracted to sexually and/or romantically.
President Barack Obama and the U.S. Department of Education issued a directive to public schools in May, allowing students to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender with which they identify.
Wisconsin and at least 10 other states launched a lawsuit in late May against the new bathroom rules, wanting students to only use bathrooms corresponding to their gender at birth.
Critics of the Obama administration's decision have raised a host of questions, including whether this directive puts people in vulnerable situations in public bathrooms.
If your child expresses concerns about this, explain that these students simply need to use the bathroom like everyone else.
In general, teach your children what is appropriate behavior towards them by adults (or older children). Talk to them about acceptable and unacceptable touching and interactions with others. Listen to them when they tell you about situations or people that make them uncomfortable. Teach them words and actions to alert trusted adults that advances are unwanted.
Preparing our children for the best they can be means teaching them about diversity of the world. Teaching awareness and tolerance of differences is a gift we can give our children.■
Jeanne Labana is a Milwaukee educator and a PCI Parent Coach.
More information is available through the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center mkelgbt.org.