Originally published: April 2022
Kids start to gain a sense of their identity from a very young age. They explore different versions of themselves through creative play and role-play, reflections, and interactions with peers.
As they mature, it’s common for kids to have questions about their identity. They might think about who they are now, or wonder about who they’ll be in the future. They might open up conversations about what gender means to them, or ask questions about their sexuality.
Learning about sexual and gender diversity can help you feel comfortable, confident, and ready to talk to your kids about these topics when they come up. Start by getting familiar with some key terms:
Sex is the category people are assigned to when they’re born, usually based on the physical appearance of their genitals. Most people are assigned male or female.
Sexual orientation is a term that describes someone’s emotional and sexual attraction to others. It can change over time, but is often clear to a person even before they reach puberty.
Gender identity is how someone feels on the inside. It’s their internal sense of identity as boy/man, girl/woman, both, fluid among genders, or no gender (regardless of what sex they were assigned at birth).
Gender expression is how someone shows their gender for the world to see. It includes the way they look, act, and behave, and their chosen name and pronouns (he/his, she/her, they/them).
These four terms are important traits when it comes to who we are as people. Help your child get comfortable with them too—try the Every Body online tool together, and use it to help guide conversations.
Your child respects and trusts you, and they care about what you think. When you’re talking together about issues related to gender and sexual diversity, try to keep an open mind. Be supportive, warm, and compassionate.
Here are some hepful tips:
- It’s never too early (or too late) to talk about sexual and gender diversity. Try asking your child what they know or what they’ve heard—they may have heard words or comments they don’t fully understand. Reassure them that their questions are valid, and help them find accurate answers and information.
- It can take a lot of courage to ask or talk about sexual and gender diversity. Some children might also be confused or embarrassed by their feelings. Be caring and respectful. Tell your child that you’re there for them, always.
- Read books or watch movies that involve sexual and gender diverse themes or topics. Help your child spot these themes in music, advertising, or on the news. Use these ‘teachable moments’ to keep the conversation going.
- Set a positive example. Use inclusive words and phrases—for example, say ‘partner’ instead of ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend,’ or use ‘parent’ in place of ‘mom’ or ‘dad.’ Don’t make assumptions about someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and avoid jokes or slurs related to sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
- Remember that we’re always learning—you may not have all the answers, and that’s okay! When you need support, turn to trustworthy sources like TeachingSexualHealth.ca.
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