My kiddo is biologically male, but when kids ask him if he’s a boy or girl, he says, “I’m me. I’m a person.” Kids, however, don’t accept this answer and pester him to the point of tears. I don’t know how to tell him the difference between boys and girls, or if I want to tell him that there is a difference at all (besides anatomically).
How do you explain gender to a four-year-old?
Children can be at one moment the most open-minded creatures ever and then the next they are parroting something they heard from an adult or clinging to a notion they perceive as fact. Actually, that’s pretty much all of us. Children really are just mirrors to our most youthful and innocent selves. So innocent that they don’t even realize the harm they could be causing to children who are finally being allowed to explore their gender identity.
Gender identity research is still in its infancy and there are so many unknowns. Except by those who think they know that gender is a binary. So explaining what is still so murky is a challenge and a half.
Understand that they already know too much
The first thing is that your children get direct and indirect cues on gender norms from day one, most of which are going to be hard to contradict. You’ll have to make it a point to carefully consider your child’s clothing choices, toys, books, games, movies, and align those choices with your values. It seems like you’re already allowing him to self-define and that’s awesome. Continue to reinforce that his choices don’t define his gender and that he doesn’t have to select ones that match his assigned gender.
This daily affirmation of his autonomy and contradiction of stereotypes is the foundation of growing up open-minded about the gender spectrum.
Teach about different kinds of relationships
When there’s an example of a family or relational structure that differs from “the norm,” take that opportunity to discuss how families and people vary and why that’s okay. It’s okay to notice that they may be different from what he’s used to, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong or weird or something he shouldn’t respect.
Help him understand bullying
The children who are hounding him for his gender definition are putting him in a vulnerable situation. You can rely on resources to counteract bullying to help with that immediate danger. But to really give him the resources to deal with it will take a lot of the lessons from above.
Developing self-esteem and confidence in who he is will be key.
Reach out for resources
Organizations like PFLAG can help you find local groups who can help you support him while he determines who he is and how he wants to live. Finding a community with others on the gender spectrum can only reinforce that there are many like him and that it’s totally valid.
Here are some books that can help children understand both gender diversity and how to deal with those who don’t understand it:
- Hello, My Name Is Octicorn
- The Boy & the Bindi
- Jacob’s New Dress
- One of a Kind, Like Me / Único Como Yo
And some for parents of those children:
- He/She/They – Us: Essential information, vocabulary, and concepts to help you become a better ally to the transgender and gender diverse people in your life
- A Place in the Middle
- Parenting non-binary children
Tons more resources are available here!
Help a Homie out! How would you handle the situation with this child’s classmates and teaching him about gender in general?