By Lydia Bowers, author of We Listen to Our Bodies
I have one of those names that gets mixed up frequently. Leah and Linda are frequently *misused* names for Lydia. And when someone gets my name wrong accidentally, or because they genuinely misheard it, I tend to brush off the mistake. When it happens repeatedly, though, I’m likely to say, “Excuse me, my name is Lydia.” Names are important to us, as people, and they are an important part of our identities. I want to be referred to correctly, and I’m sure you do, as well.
What About Pronouns?
Grammatically, a pronoun takes the place of a noun. Pronouns are placeholders for our names and deserve the same respect. Just as I want people to respect my name, I expect them to respect my pronouns. It is rude to intentionally call someone by a name that’s not theirs, and the same goes for their pronouns. My name and my pronouns are part of my identity. When we don’t respect someone’s pronouns, we send the message that “I don’t care who you are; I only consider you on my terms.” Pronouns don’t have to reflect what the doctor said when someone was born; they are part of how a person expresses themself to the world.
Talk with children:
Create opportunities to talk about which pronouns feel right to us during read-aloud stories. For example, in We Listen to Our Bodies, the classroom teacher asks the children to find an object they like. Deja picks up a smooth stone that makes her feel calm and happy when she holds it. Harrison likes the “tap-tap-tap” of dress-up shoes. He says they make his feet “feel happy.” But Deja says the dress-up shoes make her feet say, “No way.” Talk about how, just like the stone feels right to Deja and the shoes feel right to Harrison, our pronouns should feel right to us. Ask, “Do the pronouns that replace your name feel right to you?”
What About Personal Boundaries?
Personal boundaries are the limits and rules we set for our interactions with others. Many of us would feel that our boundaries had been violated if someone intentionally used the wrong name for us. Our pronouns, as a part of who we are, are also a personal boundary. When we respect and use someone’s pronouns, we send the message that we respect that boundary. It shows that “I acknowledge that who you are as a person is not about how I see you, but about who you know you are.”
Talk with children:
Talk with children about personal boundaries. Share that our boundaries are about how we like other people to interact with us—from our physical boundaries to how people talk to us to what we like to be called. Ask, “What does your body tell you about your boundaries? Do you like hugs? Is there a nickname that fits you? What about your pronouns?” Tell children, “Other people have boundaries as well, and it’s important that we respect their boundaries, just like we want them to respect ours.”
In Jamie and Bubbie by Afsaneh Moradian, Jamie’s mother reminds us that “sometimes people change their names or pronouns or both. So make sure you call someone by the name and pronouns they want to be called.”
For more ideas on how to talk with children about personal pronouns, check out these articles from Free Spirit author Afsaneh Moradian (Jamie Is Jamie and Jamie and Bubbie) on how misusing pronouns can be harmful and tips on asking for someone’s pronouns.
Lydia Bowers is a speaker, consultant, and trainer who happily exists in the Venn diagram overlap between early childhood and sex education. After spending almost two decades working directly with children as a classroom teacher and a parent, she is passionate about reframing sexuality conversations. Lydia now teaches families and educators how to talk to children about subjects like gender, reproduction, and abuse. When she’s not traveling around the country for conferences and speaking engagements, she lives in Cincinnati with her husband and two children and adds to her growing collection of children’s book character tattoos as often as she can. Follow her on TikTok @lydiatalksconsent and Instagram @lydiambowers.
Lydia is the author of We Listen to Our Bodies.
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