How do you explain the concept of gender to kids?

I know my daughter’s young — she’ll be four on Sunday — but it seems that she may have already been exposed to some rigid standards when it comes to gender. I’m guessing it’s from the other kids at daycare.

I think it’s really interesting when she calls a toy a boy or a girl and what she names it. I like asking her why she identifies it that way. She loves dinosaurs right now and she says all t-rexes are boys and triceratops are girls. When it comes to cartoon characters, she says boys talk louder than girls. Girls talk softly. I brought this up again just yesterday and she said you can always tell a girl by her eyelashes. Then again sometimes so just says “I don’t know” or “poop” and then laughs. 

How do I tell my daughter that there are more genders than boys and girls and that sometimes your body doesn’t match your brain — and that all of that is okay? Considering what she may be picking up at daycare I feel I need to approach this subject sooner rather than later.

When I was pregnant I wanted a girl so bad. I really did. My husband and I both lost our mothers and we decided if we ever had a daughter we would name her after them — so we had her name picked out years before she was born. We were so excited that we got to use that name. I don’t know if I will ever tell my daughter this because I don’t want her to feel bad or rejected if she identifies as a gender other than female.

I’m guessing a conversation about gender is ongoing over time. I feel the same way about talking to my daughter about sex. I definitely want to start both of these conversations before she starts school next year.

Have you ever talked to kids about gender? How do you feel it should be approached?


  1. yannoupoika says

    You already recognize your child as your “daughter”. Raise her up to be a strong and confident woman. Our culture will want to bombard her with whatever the “57” varieties of gender there are to pick from. What’s in your heart?

    • ashes says

      What’s in my heart is for my daughter to be open and respectful to everyone regardless of their gender. I also want her to know I support her in however she identifies.

      As her mother, I will do my best to help her find answers to any questions she may have and show her the importance of empathy.

  2. tardigrada says

    Our daughter just turned 3, so is a bit younger than yours. We try to avoid stereotypical things such as constantly telling her how pretty she is but rather try to emphasise more “boyish” traits – the girl compliments, she will get anyways. Otherwise, we try to expose her to as many strong and non-binary/neutral characters as possible. She does love horses, unicorns etc, so we got books in which the boys were riding and caring for them. In dinosaur books, we change the names of the boy-main characters to hers, so she identifies more with them. This doesn’t mean at all that she isn’t allowed the more traditional ones but we try to balance it. The same way, we work around typical gender roles such as daddy goes to work and mumma stays at home playing and cleaning.
    And we talk to her about it when she’s open for it. If she’s old enough to ask questions about genitals, I think she can handle us adding a short sentence about that not all women have vaginas and that being a boy isn’t the same as having a penis. So far, that’s working and I hope it sticks. One of her babies has a male-female double name, another one is a girl despite being anatomically correct male. All human babies are just babies to her. Never girl or boy and she won’t let anyone tell her otherwise.

  3. Katydid says

    @tardigrada; I raised one of each, and was appalled at how early in their life the sexism started at the girl. Even well-meaning people buy into the whole “pretty princess” thing as if swanning around in a pink (because of course it’s pink) dress is all that girls should like. Mine did (and still does) identify as female but was completely appalled at the kids’ glamour makeup parties at the mall (that was a thing in the late 1990 – mid 2000s) and as her parent, I was appalled that the role models of her tween years were the “I’m flaunting myself but you BETTER NOT TOUCH because I’m just a little schoolgirl!” types. And don’t get me started about the whole fundagelical creepy “fathers marry their daughters in a weird ceremony and guard their virginity by giving them a ring” thing that made it to mainstream culture.

    In some ways, I think the culture now is more open for girls. That stupid princess thing will seemingly never die, but there’s a tv show with a transgender woman who’s portrayed as smart and funny and resilient, and one of the men is attracted to her in a genuine, sweet way.

  4. says

    When I was 6 years old, in kindergarten I had the following conversation with a girl:
    “When parents get a new baby, how do they tell whether their new child is a boy or a girl?”
    “Baby boys and girls scream differently.”
    “Are you sure? I’d guess that baby girls have long hair while baby boys have short hair.”

    In kindergarten none of us had any clue about the anatomical differences between boys and girls. Instead, girls where children who wore pink dresses, had long hair, and played with girl toys like dolls. Boys were children who wore blue pants, had short hair, and played with boy toys like cars. In kindergarten kids adamantly policed each other to make sure nobody dared to display any gender inappropriate behavior. For example, boy toy corner was in one side of the play room while girl toy corned was in the opposite corner. Even approaching the inappropriate toy corned was forbidden for kids. If some kid touched the wrong toys, other kids harassed this child.

    Conclusion: you have to teach your child at least something about gender in order to counter the horrible ideas a child is bound to pick up from other kids.

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