How do I help my child learn about their identity?
Talking about identity can help children be more comfortable with their own identity and embrace the differences they see around them.
For younger children:
- What is your favorite thing to play or do?
- Who is a character (from a book or show) that you would like to be like? Why?
- What makes you special?
For older children and teens:
- What is your understanding of identity? Can it change over time?
- What makes people unique?
- What helps form identity?
- What values do we have as a family?
- What values do you have as a person?
- How does your personality impact your identity?
- What is something important about you?
Beginning early, children start to take in information about identities – those that are common in their daily lives, those that their caregivers might react to or those that feel different.
That information continues to evolve as children develop. Yet, what we consider to be more formal identity exploration can occur at any point in an adolescent’s growth – depending on a child’s life experience, their individual development or understanding of identity exploration.
Parents can help their children build their identity in the following ways:
- Allow time and space for exploration.
- Young children begin to explore identity through play.
- Expose children to different interests, hobbies.
- Support your child in building skills as they express interest – know that this might change over time.
- Talk with your child.
- Share what you notice your child does well and enjoys.
- Talk with them about values and choices.
- Discuss difficult subjects as they get older including: healthy relationships, sexuality, emotional and mental health, substance use, etc.
- Family can create a foundation for identity exploration.
- It can feel uncomfortable when your kids begin to push away and explore an identity that might feel separate AND it is healthy.
- Support your child by letting them know that you love and accept every aspect of them.
- Allow freedom to explore, while maintaining limits and safety in that exploration.
Everyone holds a unique identity. It can be formed by the many aspects of their sense of self.
A person’s social identity is both unique and complex.
When you talk about identity with children and teens you can help them both understand their own identity and the unique attributes of every individual that makes up the world around them.
Having open and honest conversations will help them be more comfortable in their own skin and more inclusive.
Some questions to explore social identity with your child:
- Which identity aspects are most important to you?
- Which aspect do you not think about or identify with?
- Is there a part of your identity that you would like to learn more about?
- What part of your identity do you feel others notice first? How does that make you feel?
- What are you curious about?
Digging deep and learning about the self and each other is a process that takes energy and time.
What is Gender Identity?
- Gender Identity is an internal sense.
- Sex is what you are assigned at birth.
- Transgender means that a person’s gender identity does not match their sex assigned at birth.
- Nonbinary is having a gender identity that has traits of multiple genders or not assigned specifically.
Why does this matter?
- 52% of transgendered youth contemplate suicide and 20% have made a suicide attempt, according to research done by the Trevor Project.
- Another survey done by GLSEN found that having a gender affirming adult (a person who uses correct name and pronouns) can reduced suicide attempts by 40%.
How do you talk to your child about gender identity?
- Approach conversations with an open mind and a desire to understand.
- Reflect what they are sharing and ask questions if you are unsure of what to say.
- “I hear you saying ____. Can you tell me more about that?”
- Create safety.
- Exploring identity can be associated with an increased risk of suicidality and bullying.
- Discuss who they are comfortable sharing their gender identity with.
- Create a plan for safety, if they are experiencing self-harm or suicidal thoughts. (link to self harm page)
- Create a plan for safety, if they are experiencing bullying (Link to bully page)
- Let your child know you love and accept them as they are.
- Use their preferred name and pronouns, even if it feels uncomfortable to you.
- Find a gender-affirming therapist.
- You do not need to be an expert on gender identity, only to support your child.
- A therapist can help them understand and build their sense of self.
How Do I Help my Child Build a Positive Racial Identity?
- Be concrete.
- Children begin to notice race as early as 6 months old.
- The more comfortable you are talking about race with them the more they can build a positive sense of identity.
- Discuss what race is and isn’t.
- Be direct.
- Let children know that oppression and racial bias exist.
- Talk about your own biases and how you are working to overcome them.
- Read books with diverse characters.
- Read books with characters that look like your family.
- Read books with characters that are a different race than you.
- Discuss what makes others the same or different to you.
- Learn about cultural history.
- Learn about cultural heroes and discuss what they overcame.
- Attend cultural events, museums, etc.
- Discuss your own family’s history and their race and heritage.
- Be active.
- Discuss how you can fight against oppression and injustice on both a small and large scale.
Children’s Books about Identity
- Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
- The Story of You By Lisa Ann Scott
Books about Gender Identity
- I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings, and Shelagh McNicholas
- Who are you? The Kids Guide to Gender Identity by Brook Pessin-Whedbee and Namoi Bardoff
- Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Books about Racial Identity
- Skin Again by bell hooks
- The Colors of Us by Karen KatzHappy In Our Skin by Fran Manushkin