Deepen the Conversation
*Here are some ideas for resources like “And Tango Makes Three”
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State your values
Parents are the primary influence on children. Make sure your children know what you believe and what you consider to be appropriate behavior regarding language, sexuality, dating, etc. Be prepared to explain your reasoning. Your children need to know your values so they can develop their own. And yes, they may disagree with you or even defy you, but this is often a clear sign you have done well – you have children who listened to you, are deeply thoughtful, and are capable of making increasingly mature and complex decisions.
Equally important: Practice your values. Be respectful, kind, humble, and honest in your relationships with your own parents and your partner. Your words will be more meaningful if you model the values and habits you want your children to develop.
But even if, at times, you do not “practice what you preach,” this does not disqualify you from teaching your children values – being perfect is not a requirement of parenthood. Teach from your experience. If, for example, you were sexually active when you were your children’s age and are now discussing how you want them to wait until they are more mature, you can use your own experience to raise their awareness of the risks and how decisions have consequences (see “Start talking: Healthy Communication” for more information). Admitting to your own lapses in judgment or values can provide a powerful, persuasive reason for making different, healthy decisions.
Most parents hope their children will explore and develop their interests, skills, and strengths, and that others will value and respect their children. Model the underlying values: The belief that all people are valuable and unique; mutual respect, equal rights, and opportunities for everyone; and that all people should be able to enjoy the full spectrum of human feeling and activity.
Give your child opportunities beyond gender stereotypes:
- Encourage children to use all the tools, books, videos, toys, and other resources that interest them. Choose resources that provide equally strong and positive examples of people of different genders in different roles: superheroes, cooks, inventors, adventurers, etc. For example, there is a book, “And Tango Makes Three” about two gay penguins.*
- Provide children of all ages equal opportunities and responsibilities to participate in all household work: cooking, washing the car, caring for their younger siblings, etc.
- Respond to behaviors and emotions in the same ways. For example, you might tell a young child, “Your knee must hurt a lot from that fall. It’s OK to cry when you are hurt.”
Encourage children of all ages to talk openly about how they feel about their gender. You may talk about whether they feel expected to do (or not do) certain things – sports, hobbies, career interests – because of their gender, or are they encouraged to pursue their own interests, skills, and strengths? Provide positive feedback and advice, including examples of children who do not follow the traditional gender roles, such as girls who build and race cars (“You are becoming a serious mechanic! Do you want to take a course this summer on engine repair?”), boys who want to be nurses (“It’s really hard work, but you have helped care for your grandmother your entire life, so I think you could definitely do it.”), and children who like to experiment with makeup, fashion, and hairstyles (“I can’t afford to buy you a new outfit for the party, but do you want to make something? Let’s get on YouTube and see what other kids have done, to get some ideas.”).
Acknowledge and value difference
Children notice differences all around them — gender differences, a classmate’s lunch looks and smells different from their own, their cousin is blind — and generally have curiosity about these things. Help them appreciate and learn about these differences rather than pretend they do not exist. Talk about differences among individuals and groups openly and positively. Pretending differences do not exist diminishes the experiences, self-expression, cultures, and values of other people.
Teach children the importance of working out disagreements
Let them know that disagreements are normal, but what matters most in a healthy relationship is that you can talk about the situation and try to work out a solution that works for everyone involved. With young children, creating or talking about stories is a great way to start these conversations. For example, read stories that deal with conflict and ask them to discuss their reactions (“Have you ever had an argument with a friend?” “How did it make you feel?” “How can friends make up with each other when they argue?”), or role play and discuss “friendly” and “unfriendly” ways to act.
Teach children that actions have consequences that can begin, nurture, or end friendships and other relationships. For example, ask a young child, “If you keep pushing Marco, how do you think he will feel about you?”