How to Talk to Children About LGBTQ+
"Of course there can be two mummies!"
Today is the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) and so, there didn't really seem a better time for me to pen a blog on talking to children about what it means to be LGBTQ+.
Now, I'll start by saying that I don't identify within this bracket: I'm a straight, white, married-with-kids, middle-class British woman and as such, I tick pretty much all of the 'privileged' boxes and I have absolutely no experience of the discrimination, prejudice and daily battles that some LGBTQ+ people have to face. However, my position of 'privilege' doesn't mean that I'm ignorant, and it certainly doesn't mean that I am raising my children to be ignorant.
In fact, I hope, the opposite is true. I am proud of the fact that my two young children are growing up surrounded by people and families that represent the diverse reality of society and every colour of the rainbow.
From day one of their lives, my kids have known no different: my sibling is non-binary and married to a woman; my best friend is a gay man and my cousin and her (female) partner are in a long-term relationship. My kids don't look at them as being any different to their 'straight' aunts and uncles, or to anyone else.
A few months ago, my four year old daughter was playing with her friend in the park. The two of them decided that they were going to play 'Mummies and Daddies'... Little Miss' friend announced that she was going to be the mummy, and that my daughter could be the dad.
So, a confused and cross Little Miss turned to her friend and told her that she didn't want to be the dad; she wanted to be a mummy too. My daughter's friend told her that there couldn't be two mummies and that she'd have to play the dad.
I'm proud to say that Little Miss burst into the kind of giggles that only four year olds produce and said: "Of course there can be two mummies, we just have to be in love and get married!!"
And, whilst it sounds like a small thing, I'm really pleased that, early on in her life, my daughter has adopted this attitude; that being in a LGBTQ+ relationship, isn't out of the ordinary, it's a completely normal way to be: of course there can be two mummies.
So, how can you help your child learn to have an instinctive attitude of acceptance when it comes to their perception of LGBTQ+ people? Well, here are my top tips:
Keep it simple, from the start.
Teach your child from the very beginning, that love is love.
If they ask "Can a man marry a man?" just say "Yes, they can!" You don't have to go into the history, or the legality, or anything else: just keep it simple.
Little people are naturally accepting and nobody is born prejudiced: if you show children early on that a man can marry a man, a woman can marry woman and a man can marry a woman, they will accept that.
Similarly, you can tell them that you don't have to be married, you don't have to be in love with someone, you can be happy on your own too.
Build inclusive foundations
Teaching children that LGBTQ+ people are an important and equal part of society isn't just a conversation to have; it's something to be incorporated into every day life.
If you're playing with your child, be mindful that you play in an inclusive way, and remember that you don't have to preach at your child for them to understand a simple message.
So, whilst you might think that staging an elaborate wedding for Barbie and her lesbian lover is the only way to showcase LGBTQ+ relationships actually, in play, as in real life, it can be so much more simple than that!
For example, if you're reading "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", you could refer to the bears as "Big Bear, Medium-Sized Bear and Baby Bear" (as opposed to Daddy Bear, Mummy Bear and Baby Bear); if you're playing with dolls or people figurines and your child wants to make 'a family', encourage them to explore other dynamics other than the 'husband, wife and two kids' scenario.
Just by doing the little things like this, you are showing them that whilst they may not encounter as many 'differently shaped' families as they do 'traditional' set ups, the only ingredient you need in a happy family recipe, is love.
Avoid reinforcing any social stereotypes
I think that one of the reasons my children are quick to accept alternative dynamics is that we haven't drummed into them the social constructs that were taught to us as kids.
My husband is a SAHD (stay-at-home dad): we haven't taught our children that a mother's place is in the house and the father's role is to be the bread-winner.
We don't really have assigned jobs because of how we identify gender wise. My husband cooks most family meals, I paint and decorate; we both hear Little Miss read and we both change Littlest's nappies.
Monday-Friday are writing and content days for me and so my husband looks after our youngest during that time. The only job that is DEFINITELY allocated to my husband is spider-catching, and that's not because he's a man; it's because I'm a wimp; and, as I told my daughter the other day: "I'm not a wimp because I'm a woman; I'm just a wimp!"
Avoid stereotypes. Don't ask your daughter if the boy in their class is their boyfriend; don't teach them that only women can be nurses. Teach them instead that anyone can be, and do, anything: isn't that an empowering lesson to teach your child?
Let your child ask questions
If your child has questions, let them ask them. Teach your child that they can ask you anything without fear. Avoid saying things like "Don't ask that, it's rude" and remember that children are naturally curious and eager to learn: they learn from what you show and tell them. If they ask you something that might be frowned upon by other people, you can discretely answer their question and then explain that most people don't like to talk about this, but that they can always ask you.
It's worth remembering that, as with any question you find yourself confronted with as a parent/care-giver, you don't have to have all the answers. You're not a superhero, you're just a Grown-Up, you can say: "I don't know, I'll find out, shall I?"
And it's that simple! As I say, children aren't born with bigoted views, other people's ignorance and hate makes them that way. So, teach your little people to love and to accept, and that everyone is equal.
It's not hard; it's not scary: start young and practice what you preach. Love is love and it comes in all shapes and sizes and, every single colour of that beautiful rainbow.
Some of the fab books for young children that my two love, and that showcase universal acceptance in an authentic and unforced way:
Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae (Orchard Books)
Llama Glamarama by Simon James Green and Garry Parsons (Scholastic)
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Candlewick)
Aaaarrgghh! Spider! by Lydia Monks (Egmont Books)
The Pirate Mums by Jodie Lancet-Grant and Lydia Corry (OUP Oxford)