How to Talk with
Preschool-Age Children (3 to 5 years)
aged three to five ask a ton of questions. You should give them simple and
concrete answers. They are looking for basic information - not complete or
For example, after seeing two women neighbors holding their new baby,
your three-year-old might ask, "Who is the mommy and who is the daddy?" You
may simply explain that "Both are mommies," perhaps adding that two moms are
a family and can make a home for a baby.
Preschoolers not only use words to express themselves, but they are also
beginning to play and pretend. Itís a wonderful time to use picture books to
communicate ideas and feelings.
The early years are a time when children like to pretend to be the
opposite sex, or do things that are mostly associated with being a boy or a
girl. You might be surprised when your five-year-old son wants to wear a
dress to school or that your daughter prefers roughhousing and playing with
Dress-up is a normal part of childhood, even when a child is pretending
to be the opposite sex. And playing at things that normally are done by kids
of the opposite sex is perfectly normal and healthy.
aged six to 12 see most things in terms of how they relate to their own
lives. If your seven-year-old asks, "Mommy, my friend Timmy says our teacher
is gay. What does gay mean?" you might say, "Gay means that Ms. Chambers
loves a woman like I love Daddy."
Itís also important to understand why your child wants to know. Maybe
someone said the teacher was gay in a scary or prejudiced way, and your
child is looking for reassurance. Maybe your child has come up with his or
her own ideas about being gay, and wants to check them out with you. Again,
listening first gives you a good idea of what your child wants to know and
needs to know.
Children aged 11 to 12 can identify with others. They understand that
they can have several feelings about something at the same time. Their
bodies are changing, and many preteens are thinking about sex, even if they
arenít talking about it. Sexual curiosity and attraction to other kids of
the same sex is a normal part of development. Just because your child has
these feelings doesnít mean he or she is gay.
Consider these situations:
You might discover your eleven-year-old daughter crying after school
where she and her best friend were called "lesbos" because they were
holding hands. Listen to what upsets her most. Does she know the meaning
of the names she was called? Does she feel she should stop holding her
friendís hand? Is she scared of the other kids? After talking to your
daughter, you may want to follow up with the school counselor or principal
to express your concerns.
You might be called by your childís school because your son or
daughter is bullying and calling another child "fag," "queer," "sissy,"
"tomboy," or saying "gay" in a hostile manner. This is an important time
to talk with your child and stress the value of treating everyone with
tolerance and respect.
In general, the questions and the ideas become more complicated as kids
grow older. "How do people who are gay have children?" "Why do some kids
call others fags?" "Why do some girls act tough and dress like boys?" And,
one that is often scary for parents, "Am I gay?" If your child is wondering
if he or she is gay, itís important to assure them that you love them,
whatever their sexual orientation. Itís also important to let them know that
they will eventually answer that question for themselves as they get older
and learn more about their feelings.
Talk openly with your child and be as honest as possible. You can admit
when youíre feeling embarrassed or donít know the answers to your childís
questions. If you work together to find out the answer, you show your child
that curiosity is nothing to be ashamed of.
and expressing oneself as a boy or girl are major parts of adolescent lives.
In adolescence, your childís friendships may become more intimate and
involved. The opinions and actions of your childís peers are also highly
valued by your teen. Most teens want the freedom to express themselves and
want privacy around their changing bodies and sexual activity. But they also
want their parents to ask them about sex.
As teens begin dating, their sexual orientation often becomes apparent,
as well as the orientation of their classmates and friends. This makes
adolescence an important time in your childís life for you to discuss
anti-gay prejudice and to model healthy behavior. Whatever your own values
and beliefs, itís important to always discourage harassment or violence.
Your child or one of his friends may tell you, "I think Iím gay."
Listening carefully helps teenagers feel safe to talk with you about their
feelings. It took courage for him to begin this conversation, and it will
take courage on your part to follow up. This can be a confusing and
difficult time, and your child needs to hear again and again that you love
him or her no matter what.
The teenage years can be a lonely time for gays and lesbians as they
begin to deal with their emotions and sexual feelings. In social settings,
like high school, they might feel like they are the "only ones." If there is
a teen in your life who is gay, lesbian or questioning their sexual
orientation or gender identity, let them know about three groups, the Gay,
Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
www.pflag.org, and Human
The Internet has become an important way for gay teens to learn and to
talk to other young people dealing with the same hopes and fears. In many
cities, there are meetings for gay and lesbian teenagers. Supervised by an
adult - often a counselor - these meetings provide opportunities for gay
teens to meet each other and talk openly about their feelings in a safe
environment. This can be a big help in reducing their isolation, which can
be harmful to the mental health of gay youth.
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