Pronouns these days are not what they used to be before. No longer is it just a rule in grammar that we teach in English lessons. They have now become the words that express how we view ourselves and other people.
It’s never too early or too late to teach your kids to use gender-inclusive language. The United Nations defines gender-inclusive language as “speaking and writing in a way that does not discriminate against a particular sex, social gender or gender identity, and does not perpetuate gender stereotypes.”
The inclusion of LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) in our communities has opened up a new awareness in our use of language. It has taught us to be thoughtful and caring in our choice of words so they feel welcome and respected. Using their choice of pronouns does not only affirm their gender identity but their overall sense of self and belonging at large.
Here are 3 ways you can teach your kids about using inclusive language…
- Be willing to listen - Listening plays a huge part in respecting other people. Asking questions tells people that you are willing to make space for them and hear them out. Teach your kids that by listening to other people’s needs, we learn to be more considerate of their feelings. We learn about the kind of support people need and how different it is for everybody. We become more aware of the ways we can help others. When we take the time to listen to others, we affirm that their feelings are valid, important and safe with us.
Asking LGBTQ+ people about the pronouns they use tells them that you are open to seeing them for who they are. However, it is equally important to pay close attention when they express hesitation because discussing pronouns could still be a private matter for some. Here is an informative pronouns guide from GLSEN, an American education organization focused on creating safe and affirming learning environments for LGBTQ+ youth.
- Be open to change - Mistakes will be made, that’s for sure. It’s normal for us to slip every now and then especially when we are trying out new ways of doing things, as in the case of using gender-inclusive pronouns and phrases. It will take time for us to adjust our language habits, especially those we have developed while growing up.
The first step is to teach the little kids while they are young. Model gender-inclusive language when you speak or choose gender-inclusive children’s books and media to read them. For older kids, writing exercises such as this pronouns resource by GLSEN can be regularly practiced at home. Teach your kids that it’s okay to question or challenge gender stereotypes that they encounter online.
- Recognize why it's important - When we recognize the importance of learning a new habit or behavior, we make a more conscious effort in committing to change. Talk to your kids about the importance of using gender-inclusive language and how our words can positively or negatively impact a person. Teach them to be mindful of their speech such as thinking before speaking and typing, or asking when in doubt.
Teaching our kids to use gender-inclusive language does not only serve to make others feel included and accepted. It also increases our children’s capacity to care and feel for others. It teaches them to have a voice when they, too, are treated unfairly. It molds them into being advocates and allies for a world where everyone belongs.