Ways to Expand a Child’s Thinking About Gender Identity

At Starlight, we strive to provide equal access to our programs and ensure diversity at all levels of our organization. This year, we are committed to delivering 50% of Starlight programs to children’s hospitals and facilities caring for the medically underserved and vulnerable populations. 

One important facet of that is supporting the LGBTQ+ community through our programs while providing education and resources to help families talk to their children about LGBTQ+ inclusion and diversity. From conversations about gender identity to understanding the gender spectrum, it's crucial to begin with identifying and defining some key concepts.  

Gender identity is how individuals perceive themselves and what they prefer to be called by others; this can be different than their sex assigned at birth. 

The gender binary only recognizes two genders – male and female. This view is not inclusive of people who do not describe themselves as male or female, which causes confusion for those trying to understand their own gender identity. It is important that children are raised not just respectful of other views but are accepting and inclusive of genders outside the binary.

Individuals who do not identify within this binary may instead identify as gender nonconforming, including those who do not align with gender stereotypes and express their gender in their own unique way. 

Whether a child is struggling with their own gender identity or knows friends or family who do not identify within the gender binary, it is important that kids are equipped to be accepting and welcoming to others who may be different than them. Starlight is committed to helping parents feel prepared to have these discussions with their kids, so we have compiled some helpful tips to navigate conversations about gender identity.

  1. The best place to start is by talking to your child about this topic. There are so many resources available to help you speak to your child using age-appropriate language and examples. It is never too early (or too late) to begin this conversation! 

  2. Encourage your child to play with all the toys they enjoy without discrimination. You can help expand your child’s options to include commonly gendered toys, like dolls, trucks, action figures, dress-up items, and more. This includes toys that feature commonly gendered colors — encouraging play with toys of all colors helps a child see beyond pink and blue.

  3. Read books that depict a range of identities and look beyond common gender stereotypes. For a child to be kind, compassionate, and welcoming to gender-nonconforming individuals, exposure to diverse identities is absolutely essential in learning acceptance.

  4. Depending on your child's age and level of understanding of these topics, consider introducing them to the Gender Unicorn. This visual tool helps broaden our understanding of gender identity and relationships beyond the binary. Children generally develop the ability to recognize and label stereotypical gender groups between 18 and 24 months; then, by the age of 3, they are able to identify their own gender. You may be able to use the Gender Unicorn earlier than you may have assumed! 

  5. Most importantly, allow your children to be themselves! By accepting your own child for who they are and providing them a safe space to express and process their feelings, you are teaching your kids to be inclusive and understanding of others that may not be exactly like them.

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