In this blog, child psychologist and author Dr. Ginger Welch champions the significance of celebrating, accepting, and affirming all children and families in your classroom during Pride Month and beyond.
You are so proud of yourself!
When you say that to a child, can you picture a little face beaming up at you? Eyes crinkling at the corners, a wide smile, or a happy squeal accompanying the feeling of pride, of being pleased with what they've done or who they are. Far from the ego-inflating emotion we often hear about, pride in early childhood simply means a sense of competence, confidence, and joy. It's a good thing. This feeling that they are worthwhile, good, and loved is something every child deserves. Unfortunately, these are not feelings that have been encouraged in every child and, historically, many children and their families have experienced shame, harassment, and worse. June brings us an opportunity to put shame to the side and put Pride in the forefront.
June is Pride Month, and with it comes celebrations of LGBTQIA+ individuals and families. Pride Month, at least in part, helps remove the shame that same-sex families have been told they should have and instead celebrate them. Should all families be celebrated? Definitely. But do families who have been threatened and marginalized for generations need and deserve a little more? They do, and Pride Month is one way to do this.
It takes a lot of Pride to make a difference to generations who have been told to be ashamed of who they are. It takes a lot of Pride to learn to feel safe in a community where one has felt threatened. It takes a lot of Pride to let go of a façade and be okay with who one really is. Pride is self-esteem. Pride is connection. Pride is safety. Pride means going the extra mile to let a child who is at high-risk for being bullied and shamed know that they are okay. That their family is okay. Pride is proactive.
Pride Month tells children that they have nothing to be ashamed of because of who their parents are. That they have nothing to hide because of what their family looks like. That they don't need to pretend to be something they aren't so people will like them. Different families are not "bad" families.
For all these reasons, we celebrate Pride Month.
Because we advocate for the best for every child, we celebrate Pride Month. So, how do we do this in early childhood? Like all of our celebrations, we take our cues from the children and their development, starting with play. On a daily basis, we encourage children to play with toys that interest them, and not only with those that are designed for their gender. We encourage children to group play figures as they imagine, and not into artificial family or racial groups. We facilitate children's creative play by taking gender stereotypes out of pretend play. Early childhood does Pride well!
In June, though, when we make special effort to lift up and recognize children and their families who have been marginalized, what else can we do?
Consider trying some of these activities to let families know that you support them:
Create a Warm Welcome
It is always important that we show our acceptance of children and their families, but sometimes we have to say it. Pride Month is a great opportunity to explicitly say, "You are welcome here!" Letting families know that you are acknowledging Pride Month is a great first step. Pride isn't just something that happens "out there" for other families.
- Try putting up a safe place or ally sticker in your office to let families know they are safe and welcome here.
- Educate families. What is Pride Month? Can you include facts on a monthly calendar or newsletter?
- Dispel myths. No, we're not converting people. We are supporting children's emotional health.
- Embrace the symbols. The rainbow is a ubiquitous symbol of Pride, and is very appropriate for bulletin boards, smart boards, or newsletters this month.
- Host staff development activities around Pride. Acknowledge that you might not know which families or staff members may still be experiencing shame, harassment, or stigma.
- Talk about families or have a family picnic. All children have families, and this month is a great opportunity to celebrate them all. Two dads? Fantastic. One mom and one dad? Beautiful. One grandma? Excellent. Foster parents and a birth mom? Right on. Remember, Pride is not about making one family type superior. It is about giving extra support to those families who have historically been shamed. The child with one mom and one dad has seen lots of pictures and stories making them feel proud. Let's show that same respect to all of the families.
Still not sure? Focus on the child's experience. You're not happy for this child? Tell them they look so happy. You don't like their family? Tell them they seem so loved. Children no more need our judgement on their families than they need our critique of their stick-figure art. Adults do not have the right to introduce shame into children's lives.
- Encourage family drawings. Avoid limiting them to "parents" or "people you live with." It can be fascinating to see who children include in their family!
- Rainbow art of all kinds. Enough said.
- Explore occupations. This can stimulate conversations about what boys can do and what girls can do, and address early stereotypes.
- Be a model. As you play, be mindful of the gendered-rules you might inadvertently place on children by "correcting" them. Be mindful, too, of the language you use around children; does it tear down or mock other people? Do you joke about not being able to tell a "boy" figure from a "girl" figure? Do your sighs, eye rolls, or tone reveal how you judge families with same-sex parents? Our jokes, body language, and word choice are all teaching children about what is acceptable behavior.
Read All About It
Consider including some of these quality books in story time, having parents come in as guest readers, or creating a family resource lending library:
- Harrison Dwight, Ballerina and Knight by Rachael MacFarlane — A story of a little boy with interests that don't conform to gender norms.
- Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love — A little boy sees beautiful mermaids and wants to be one.
- And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell — Two male penguins become parents through adoption.
- It's Okay to be a Unicorn! By Jason Tharp — A unicorn learns that what makes him different makes him special.
Whatever activities you choose, remember that there is no recipe for doing Pride Month "the right way." Pride Month is about celebrating and supporting our LGBTQIA+ families, and there are countless ways to do that in the spirit of healthy development.
When you create an atmosphere that helps children feel pride in themselves and their families, you are fighting generations of shame and stigma and helping to lay the foundation for a healthy emotional life. Be proud of your work, and help your families have Pride in themselves, too!
About the Author
Dr. Ginger Welch is a former early childhood educator and current licensed psychologist and infant-mental-health mentor who has provided early intervention and early childhood mental-health services for over twenty years. As a full-time clinical associate professor at Oklahoma State University, she conducts research on early childhood trauma and child maltreatment and routinely presents at national conferences, including the National Association for the Education of Young Children and Zero to Three. Dr. Welch is the author of the resource books How Can I Help? A Teacher's Guide to Early Childhood Behavioral Health and The Neglected Child: How to Recognize, Respond, and Prevent.
More from This Author
Gender Identity in Preschool Children
Gender Identity in Preschool Children Part 2: Communicating Inclusively with Parents and Caregivers
Gender Identity in Preschool Children Part 3: Uncomfortable Questions
Kids and the Art of Coping