Your Gender-Expansive Child: Teasing

Most children get teased at one point or another in school. Sadly, teasing has become part of the social culture at schools and often goes on away from adult supervision. A gender variant child is even more susceptible to teasing given that they tend to behave or dress in a way that can be unexpected by other children or deemed by other children to be “different”. As most of us know, those that are “different” or in the minority are more likely to be teased, get teased more often, and often more severely than other children.

You know that one tone of voice children use when tattling? “MOO-ooomm, Johnny HIT Meeee!”. It’s universal. I’m convinced kids are born knowing how to use this voice, without ever having it modeled for them. Parents have a similar standard tone/cadence when warning their child about natural and logical consequences to choices. “Okaaayy, you can go on that water ride, but you’ll probably get soaked and feel cold the rest of the day!”. It just comes with the parenting territory. Letting your child choose behaviors while warning possible ramifications is a parenting basic.

Warning about being teased for being gender nonconforming gets tricky, however. Being gender nonconforming is not a behavior; it is a way a person is. Warning about teasing that may come from displaying a core characteristic/something the child cannot change is dangerous territory. Yes, the child can choose to act on or express their way of being, or choose to inhibit it. But they cannot change being gender nonconforming or transgender.  While I can appreciate and recognize a parent’s urge to warn and possibly prevent teasing that may come from a way of dress, behavior, or interest, this can quickly be translated to shame and self doubt. The problem is, in these scenarios we’re not talking about nose-picking or some other minor social infractions that a child can learn how to avoid. We’re talking about children being who they are, and who are doing absolutely nothing wrong. “Warning” the child  by saying something like “If you choose to play with ‘boy things’, you might get teased at school”, “Girls don’t usually have really short hair, so you might get teased,  but you can cut it if you want”, “Boys don’t usually walk or talk like that, but if you want to go ahead. Just know you might get teased” may not have the protective nature parents are going for.  In fact, it may teach the child to prescribe to what others say is the best way for them to be. Remember my Oxygen blog? Much like you wouldn’t “warn” a child about being teased for wearing an oxygen tank to combat oxygen deprivation, try not to warn your gender nonconforming child to avoid their natural gender expression.

I want to again acknowledge that most parents are coming from a very loving place when they explain what may lay ahead. My worry is that this can instill fear and dread in the place of blissful innocence. It may make the child LESS equipped to deal with the teasing that may come with being gender nonconforming.  If my parents had sat me down as a child and said, “Just so you know, little girls with hazel eyes sometimes get teased. Some people think hazel eyes are wrong and some people just don’t like kids with hazel eyes.  You can go ahead and wear those hazel eyes to school, but just know you might get teased”, I would have experienced childhood differently. I may have been fearful to let my true eye color show, even though I couldn’t change it. I may have looked at (or looked away from) everyone I met with just a little bit of suspicion or mistrust. I may have thought, “Is this one of the people who hate kids with hazel eyes?”. I may have chosen to grow up wearing sunglasses, even indoors. Many parents warn their children about being gender nonconforming much in the same way, even though it’s not something the child can change. Yes, the child could change their behavior to HIDE who they really are, but that’s not what we want for our children, is it?  Children become inhibited based on the response of others soon enough.

So, what’s a parent to do? Parents can help their child by unconditionally supporting who they are on the inside so they know without a doubt I AM AWESOME JUST THE WAY I AM.  This won’t prevent the pain associated with teasing, but it will help build the ego strength in the child so that they understand their basic worth doesn’t change based on what others say.

If your child asks you if you think they may be teased for wearing something, doing something, etc., be honest. Say “maybe”, and then discuss how the child might best handle it.  Communicate (even if you have to “fake it”) that you know your child will be ok even if they are teased. This energy is something they will absorb from you.

If your child comes home and reports being teased, ASK QUESTIONS; you don’t have to be the one with all the answers. This will help you get a feel for how much understanding your child has about the reasons behind the teasing. “Why do you think they teased you about wearing a skirt?” “Why do you think they said that?” (Not what they are used to, they don’t understand, they feel differently, etc.)

At dinnertime, bedtime, etc. ask your child about the best and worst parts of their day. If they report teasing, process it with them. Talk with them about how it made them feel, and how they can take care of themselves when they have that feeling. Discuss and practice possible responses based on the teasing so they feel more equipped should it happen again.

Last but not least, take care of yourself and your own feelings! Listening about your child being teased can be a very hard thing for a parent to take. Talk to your friends, talk to other parents, talk to a therapist. Remind yourself this is not something you can “fix” or prevent, but you are doing right by your child by nurturing his or her true self.

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Gender Lesson: For Schools

I created this “gender lesson” for teachers to present in schools based on the needs of gender nonconforming children I see in my private practice and those I read about online. Please share with any and all classrooms/teachers! Below is the lesson, and following that will be a PDF with the lesson and a list of “expectations” that can be posted in the classroom.

This lesson was created in particular for those teachers who have gender nonconforming children in their classrooms. However, it is my belief that this curriculum is needed in ALL classrooms, to change society’s stereotypes, reduce stigmatization of children, decrease bullying, and increase acceptance of each other.

This lesson is to be presented at the very beginning of the school year to set standards of expectations for behavior, and can be reviewed as needed throughout the school year. It should be appropriate for grades K-5; please modify as needed. Role plays are included at the end of the lesson for comprehension reinforcement. Give the child the scenario and have them attempt the correct response first; give suggestions as needed. Lastly, please hang the attached rules in your classroom as a reminder of the acceptance that is expected.

For a very long time, people have been separating things into what girls like and what boys like. A lot of people think these things are very different, and call them “boy things” and “girl things”. Have YOU noticed that?

What are some things some people might say are “girl things” or “boy things”?  What might some people say are “girl toys” and “boy toys”?

The truth is, all children get to pick what they like, and everyone likes different things.  Repeat after me: There is no such thing as a “boy thing” or a “girl thing”. Some kids are boys who like things that other people think are for girls. Some kids are girls who like things that other people think are for boys. It can hurt their feelings if you or someone else says something to them about it, or acts like there are rules about how someone should be. That would be like saying only girls can eat ice cream, and only boys can eat jelly beans!! That would just be SILLY! Sweets and treats are to be enjoyed by everyone, just like most things in life. 🙂

Are there certain colors that some people think only girls like and colors that only boys like? Most people think girls like pink and purple, which is ok, but it’s silly to think that ONLY girls like pink and purple! There are plenty of boys out there who like pink and purple, too. Lots of people think only boys can like blue! Girls can like blue, too. All the colors of the rainbow are for everyone, and it’s fun that we all get to pick our favorite. You don’t want anyone telling YOU what your favorite color should be, do you??

Some people also have very strong ideas about how boys and girls should look and dress. Is it ok for some girls to have short hair, and some boys to have long hair? Of course it is!  How someone chooses to dress is up to them, too. Some girls wear skirts and dresses, and some girls wear shorts and pants. Some boys wear shorts and pants, and some boys wear skirts and dresses.  This may surprise some people, but it certainly isn’t wrong.

How someone dresses and wears their hair is a part of their “style”. Everyone’s style is different! What if everyone were to dress and look exactly alike? BOR-ING!  The next time you see someone who wears their hair a little different than you expected or is wearing something that surprises you, be kind and say, “I like your style”.

How wonderful would it be to have a classroom (or a WORLD) where kids just get to like what they like? Are you ready to help create a world like that?

One of the most important things to remember is to be KIND to one another. Ask yourself how you would feel if you were the other person. Be sure to avoid saying anything that would hurt someone else’s feelings. If you can see another kid likes something, don’t tell them why they shouldn’t. Remind yourself, “different people like different things”, “it’s OK to be different”, and “I am accepting of others”.

If you hear someone telling another kid there are rules about how to play, how to be, or how to dress, stand up for them! Remember, you are helping create a world that is more accepting. Nicely tell the other person what you have learned from this lesson. You can say something like this:

“That’s their style, and I like it.”

“Anyone can play with anything.”

“Everyone is different. Different people like different things.”

“Please don’t tease my friend. I like him/her just the way he/she is.”

Remember:

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A “BOY THING” OR A “GIRL THING”!

All toys are for all children.

Colors are for everyone.

People are different, and everyone likes different things.

Everyone gets to pick how they wear their hair.

Everyone gets to pick the way they dress.

Everyone gets to pick their own style.

Role Plays:

Act out the RIGHT way to handle the following situations:

You are playing house, and a girl wants to be the dad.

You hear someone teasing a boy about wearing a skirt.

A group of boys playing soccer tells a girl, “You can’t play! No girls allowed!”

You’re having a tea party and a boy wants to join in.

You see a girl getting teased for having short hair.

You see a boy wearing a pink backpack.

In Our Classroom…

We are kind to each other.

All toys are for all children.

Colors are for everyone.

Everyone gets to pick their own style.

Being different is OK.

We stand up for others.

GENDER LESSON PDF