What gender expression can look like in young children and how to support it blog header

What gender expression can look like in young children and how to support it

In a recent webinar, we were joined by Samuel Broaden, owner and founder of Honoring Childhood! Samuel joined us for an engaging conversation on strategies to discuss gender expression in early childhood. Samuel explored topics of what is gender, and how is gender defined in our early childhood classrooms. He walked us through how we as educators can reflect on our own biases and left us with strategies for how to create a welcoming and supportive classroom for all children. 

Watch the webinar that inspired this blog post here

Gender is a concept that is widespread in our world. We need to recognize our own bias in order to learn and accept gender identity in others. Reflection is a huge piece of the work we do with children. We need to reflect on who we are, the actions we are taking and the words we are speaking so that we can ensure we do not bring all of it into our work with children. 

The world already puts thoughts in children’s heads about what is right or wrong, we want to ensure each child can be accepted and celebrated for who they are. If we cannot recognize our bias, our privilege, and our deeply rooted feelings, we cannot expect to be able to fully support ALL children. All children matter. 

When we ignore certain words or tell children that certain words are “bad” or “words we don’t say”, we show them that there is something shameful or embarrassing about them which can lead to self-confidence issues as children grow.”

Gender expression in young children 

We know that children grow, learn and develop so much in these early years. This is also a time when they will begin their journey of gender expression and identity. They are not too young to understand gender constructs. It is imperative for us to support them through this journey in a non-judgmental and safe way. They need to know they are safe when they are with us. 

Here are some ways that children may be exploring gender and what it means in your classroom:

  • Exploring gender roles in dramatic play.
  • Using art to express how they are feeling on the inside.
  • Using music, dance, or props to explore different roles and different interests.
  • Asking questions and having honest conversations. 
  • Observing us and imitating to explore different body language. Therefore, we have to let them know that every expression is okay. 
  • Arguing with others about what is “for a boy” or “for a girl”. This can lead to learning opportunities through discussion. It might feel uncomfortable at first but it is so worth it and important for the connections you will develop with the children. 

How can you support gender expression in young children?

  • Examine and work through your own bias in a supporting and non-judgemental way. 
  • Have open and honest conversations. This is the most important thing you can do. 
  • Allow children to speak about their feelings. Let them know it is all valid. 
  • Talk about all types of people openly. 
  • Allow children to play as they wish, uninterrupted. Only join in play when you are invited by the child. 
  • Trust and believe children when they tell you who they are. Support and celebrate them. 
  • Be who you are with the children! They can learn so much from you. 
  • Don’t be afraid! 
  • Be a safe space for ALL children! 

As a parent or educator, you take on the role of an advocate to advocate for children who cannot speak for themselves. We have to be brave and cannot be afraid. Remember the importance of your role in these children’s lives, the honor you have, and what that brings with it. Allow children to discover who they are in the safe space you create for them. As they learn they can speak up for themselves, that they are valued and matter, we will create a generation of human beings who are loving, kind, supported, and connected to each other. 

Terminology to know

It is important for us to know the correct words to use with the children so that they know what to use for themselves. 

Cisgender: A term used to describe a person whose gender identity aligns with those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth.

Gender Expression: External appearance of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut, or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.

Gender Identity: One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither. It is how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.

Non-Binary: An adjective describing a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Non-binary people may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between, or as falling completely outside these categories. While many also identify as transgender, not all non-binary people do. 

Remember, it is OK and IMPORTANT to use and explain these terms and more to your children. It is so important to use real terms and language with children. We want them to grow up to be kind and accepting. This helps them to expand their minds and recognize differences and how we can show respect for ALL people!

Watch the webinar that inspired this blog post here

Want to learn more about important topics in early education such as hiring and retaining educators? Sign up for the next webinar below, it is FREE! Even if you can’t join live, you will be emailed the recording and slides just for registering!

Samuel Broaden

Samuel began his career in Child Development in 2005. Throughout his career, Samuel has worked in varying positions and aspects of the Child Development field. From being a teacher in classrooms with Infants to School-Age children to directing various childcare centers to his current job as a Quality Coach for Family Child Care programs and Child Care Centers. Through his work, Samuel has cultivated his own philosophy for how children grow and learn, which is deeply rooted in the importance of nature and the joy of allowing children to discover who they truly are. Through Honoring Childhood, Samuel hopes to inspire teachers, administrators, parents, guardians, friends, and the world to think differently about childhood and what it means and to work together to create a more kind and beautiful world. He currently resides in Oregon with his husband, Perry, and their dogs Oliver and Mazi.