By Afsaneh Moradian, author of the Jamie Is Jamie series
There’s been a lot of discussion in the news recently about children’s mental health. Kids are suffering from anxiety, grief, and depression. According to the CDC (2020), “Suicide has become the second leading cause of death for youth under the age of eighteen.”
The statistics are even more staggering for LGBTQIA children and teens, who are four times more likely to contemplate, plan, and commit suicide (per The Trevor Project). Since they may endure higher rates of rejection by friends and family and more bullying at school, LGBTQIA kids may not be sufficiently supported, accepted, and loved.
It’s our job as educators, parents, and adults to celebrate all the children in our lives for who they are as individuals.
Here are five ways to show LGBTQIA children and teens that you love and respect them.
1. Understand that children, as young as preschool, know themselves and how they feel better than you do.
When a child tells you they identify as a gender different than the one they were assigned at birth, embrace it. Don’t question or dismiss it. Gender is fluid. That child may identify differently in the future, or they may not. But it’s always important to validate a child’s identity at any age and stage.
2. Use a child’s chosen name.
Far too many adults continue to call children by their deadnames because it’s written on attendance lists and official paperwork. Every time a child is called by the wrong name, it is a reminder that they are not seen or accepted for who they are.
Writing a child’s current name on an attendance sheet, cubby, locker, and other public spaces sends an immediate message that the child is respected, supported, and loved.
It’s not a child’s job to share their reasons for changing their name. It’s our job to accept who the child is and use their correct name.
3. Respect a child’s pronouns.
Maybe you’re unused to using singular they/them, or maybe you still see the child as the boy or girl you knew. However, when someone tells you explicitly what pronouns to use in reference to them, it’s disrespectful and a form of bullying not to comply.
Calling a boy “she” or a girl “he” is a form of bullying. It’s also bullying if you refuse to use they/them for nonbinary children who go by those pronouns. When adults choose to disregard a child’s name and pronouns, they are using their power to invalidate that child and teaching other children that it’s okay for them to engage in this kind of bullying.
One simple way to respect children’s pronouns is to begin group activities by making name tags with pronouns or inviting children to share their pronouns in introductions. Providing children with an opportunity to share their pronouns, with the adult’s support, will help everyone use correct pronouns.
4. Create inclusive spaces.
Encourage children to wear what they’d like and play what they’d like. By removing gender from clothing and toys, children can feel free and safe to be themselves. When we celebrate children for their individuality, we create respectful and accepting spaces for LGBTQIA children and teens.
5. Really listen to children.
Rather than assume what a child prefers, ask. When we respect children’s opinions, likes, and dislikes, we show them that we truly care about them and their needs and wants. When children feel seen and heard, they can feel safe to trust the adults in their lives and know that they will receive support when needed.
Respecting, supporting, and showing love isn’t hard to do. It requires listening with an open mind and adjusting any assumptions or expectations we may have. Pride month is a wonderful reminder to celebrate LGBTQIA children and teens and to keep that celebration going all year long!
Afsaneh Moradian has loved writing stories, poetry, and plays since childhood. After receiving her master’s in education, she took her love of writing into the classroom where she began teaching children how to channel their creativity. Her passion for teaching has lasted for over fifteen years. Afsaneh now guides students and teachers (and her young daughter) in the art of writing. She lives in New York City.
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