Many of us did not grow up using gender pronouns beyond he, she, his, hers, her and him.  This has all changed in recent years as many social justice and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) issues have reshaped our thinking to be more inclusive. 

The pronouns we use are only one piece of the complex and beautiful puzzle of human identity. Yet, gender pronouns matter so much, especially for the generation of kids we are currently raising— and for future generations. Connecticut Children’s pediatric psychologist, Melissa Santos, PhD, shares tips for helping your child navigate the world of gender and pronoun diversity—and be an ally for their peers…

Want more articles like this from pediatric experts you trust?

Sign up for our newsletter.

1. Start the conversation about gender pronouns early.

How and when you talk to your kids about gender diversity will probably depend on their age, but the key is to be mindful:

  • Read the room: Check on your own language first: how do you talk about it with others? What phrasing do you use?
  • Don’t jump to conclusions: Be careful of making assumptions about how your kids will think or feel. It’s important to communicate that we should not label people based on appearance or behavior.
  • Avoid overthinking and over-talking: Meet your kids where they are. If you as a parent have questions (totally ok!), that doesn’t mean your child will.

>Related: How to Manage Your Own Emotions While Your Kids are Watching 

What are some talking points for kids who want to learn about gender pronouns?

Try saying something like, “There seems to be a lot of talk about gender pronouns. What have you heard? What do you know? Do you have any questions?”

Start there and see how the conversation goes.

>Related: 7 Important DEI Conversation Topics for Families

2. Encourage kids to ask others for their pronouns—with respect and sensitivity.

Again, this depends on age and how curious they are about exploring the topic. Encourage them to avoid assumptions. Dialogue around this might look like:

“It’s awesome that you’re asking about this! It’s very important. When you’re meeting someone for the first time, you could say, ‘Hi, my name is Phoenix and I use they/them pronouns. Which pronouns do you use?’”

Even more important, let them know it’s ok to make mistakes. For many of us, the topic is new even though, for many around us, the struggle with gender identity is not new. If your kids make a mistake (like making assumptions as we discussed, or using incorrect pronouns when addressing someone), tell them to:

  • Apologize and move on. It’s common to try “too hard” to make up for the mistake by harping on the issue, and then conversations feel awkward for everyone.
  • Remember that everyone is doing their best and we are all learning. Everyone makes mistakes all the time—in all aspects of life.

3. Reassure your child it’s ok to change if they are exploring their own pronouns or gender identity.

In life, it’s completely normal to change to find what’s right for us. People are dynamic, and constantly learning. So, remind your kids:

  • It’s ok to change your mind when exploring your gender identity or expression. This is called gender fluidity.
  • Pronouns do not need to define someone’s gender. You can identify as female but use they/them pronouns, for example.

4. Gather age-appropriate books about pronoun diversity for infants, toddlers, kids, teens and adults.

Books make the best conversation starters and there is no age that’s “too young” to start teaching kids to be allies for gender and pronoun diversity. Here are a few recommendations by age group:

Ages 0-3:
The Pronoun Book: A board book that features illustrations, a diverse cast of characters and simple language.

Ages 3-6:
The Bare Naked Book: Originally written in 1986, this book has been updated to reflect modern-day themes of gender and inclusion. It contains illustrations and text that normalize all types of bodies. 

Ages 6-8:
What Are Your Words? This book explores the many dimensions of what makes people, people. The main character, Ari, explores how using different pronouns makes them feel. It also covers how to ask people what their “words” are.

Ages 8-10:
Sex is a Funny Word: A Book About Bodies, Feelings and You: A comic book that explores gender, bodies and sexual orientation in an age-appropriate way.

Ages 10-12:
Too Bright to See: An 11-year-old named Bug explores their identity while also navigating grief and family issues—and meeting a ghost along the way!

Teens and Young Adults:
Gender Identity Workbook for Teens: An interactive book that teaches about gender identity and self-expression with engaging writing prompts, quizzes and activities.

The Pronoun Lowdown: Demystifying and Celebrating Gender Diversity: An approachable book that celebrates trans- and gender-diverse identities and LGBTQIA+ trailblazers and activists.

Not a book, but a free online resource: The Genderbread Person
A great website that helps families understand gender identity, gender expression and anatomical sex.

A person holds a chalkboard that has he/him, she/her and they/them written on it

5. For school-age and teenage children who watch the news, acknowledge the increase in discrimination against transgender and gender diverse people.

Try doing this in three steps: educate, relate, advocate:

  • Educate: Summarize current events as factually as possible if you’re getting a lot of questions. Share what you know and be honest about what you don’t know.
  • Relate: If asked what you think, share your perspective. Ask them to share theirs. If they express concern what’s going on in the world, here’s how to help them cope with scary or tragic things on the news.
  • Advocate: For teens and young adults, encourage them to make their voice heard. Tell them there is strength in numbers.

Advocacy is important. Why?
Suicide rates among LGBTQIA people are high. The Trevor Project, a free online resource, is dedicated to ending suicide among LGBTQIA young people. Through this free online resource, kids will have access to empowering tips on topics like coming out, being an ally, understanding gender identity, and what they can do to help the movement to reduce youth suicide rates.

>Related: The Best Way to Prevent Youth Suicide? Talk About It.

6. For kids who are active on social media, ask what they’re seeing.

We know social media has its pros and cons. While we, as parents, can’t stop kids from being curious and exploring the digital world, we can talk to them about it. Ask:

  • What they’re seeing on social media about gender identity issues. Do so from a place of curiosity and avoid judgment.
  • Who they’re following on Instagram or TikTok in the world of gender diversity. It may benefit you, too, to see what certain influencers are talking about. Here are some local profiles to check out: 
  • What questions, if any, they have or if they’ve seen something concerning.

>Related: What is Cyberbullying and How Does it Happen?

7. Reassure them your home is always a safe space.

This goes for any topic! Here are a few tips:

  • Help them feel seen: Ask how their day was or what they learned.
  • Don’t strive for perfection: Remember, it’s ok to make mistakes and learn together. Society as a whole is far from perfect.
  • Be curious together: This includes exploring the books and resources mentioned above and encourage a culture of inclusivity and acceptance.

Our Commitment to Transgender and Gender Diverse Patients
Connecticut Children’s Gender Program is dedicated to providing high-quality care to our transgender and gender diverse patients and their families.