Kids are clever, and when it comes to learning, they’re sponges. Discussing gender with them should not be hard. Here are suggestions, with kids under 9 years of age in mind.
Keep it specific. Talk about a specific person. Beginning with the range of possible gender identities can overwhelm or needlessly make gender seem abstract. You will get to discuss the spectrum but it’s not the place to start. Begin by talking about something tangible, about Ryan, or Ashley, a relative, a friend, or whomever to set a foundation.
Teach in increments. Whether you start with getting a kid used to changing names and pronouns to refer to someone or the dangers of disclosure/outting depends on circumstances. Does your child have someone starting their transition in their lives? Start with changing names and pronouns.
Familiarity should come before depth of knowledge. Much like it’s not wise to start with the spectrum, don’t worry about the long vocabulary list. Actually, set it aside for a moment. Focus on getting the kid familiar with the most relevant ideas and words to Ryan, or Ashley, their relative, friend, or whomever. You don’t need to teach the phrase “correct pronouns” to teach the use of correct pronouns. “You know how most people use he or she? Ashley doesn’t use those. Ash uses they. So when we talk about Ash, we talk about what they did, during their day.” As part of teaching in increments, that might be a great place to end the discussion the first time Ashley’s gender or transition is brought up.
Ask open ended questions, these foster engagement. Go beyond yes/no questions, favouring inquiries such as “Do you understand?” Encourage self-reflection with something along the lines of “if you ever changed your name, what would you change it to?”
Affirm as you go. We humans forget and make mistakes, we easily slip back into previous patterns. Check-in between conversations. “Can you remind me? Does Patrick use he or she?” Can we talk about mummy’s body at school?”
Keep it age appropriate. This isn’t an adult taking a gender theory class for credit. Simplicity is a good way to establish a solid foundation on which they can build as they grow. A child under 10 years old is unlikely to ask about a trans person’s genitals. Don’t introduce the topic.
Discuss consent. Model consent in discussing other people’s bodies. This should go right along side teaching consent of bodily autonomy. Most of us teach consent to kids without using the word consent. We model asking before tickling or giving a hug or a kiss. We in turn ask them to ask before tickling, giving a hug or a kiss. Similarly, teach the importance of only discussing the bodies of people who’ve said it’s ok to do so. Model asking for this permission, and respecting people’s responses as you do with not tickling, hugging or kissing people without consent.
This sets the child up to succeed in understanding the importance of not disclosing someone’s zombiename if they know it. Or discussing physiological changes they might notice in someone transitioning with their friends in the schoolyard.
If the topic’s come up because say one of their parents is going to undergo genital reconstruction, you can keep it as vague as you would for a parent undergoing any other type of surgical intervention. You probably focus on the parents upcoming absence from home, but that they will return feeling better, they might take things easy for a while and need a little extra chicken noodle soup, or whatever is common in your family. Again, keep it to what’s relevant to the child.
Frame transition as something positive. As part of doing this, as well as asking open ended questions that foster engagement, ask for ways to celebrate someone’s transition!
Approach it piece by piece. Focused on what’s relevant. Be age appropriate. Celebrate trans people and the child’s progress in understanding.