Many parents are concerned about attempts to indoctrinate their children into lifestyle choices that go against their own values. This came to the fore during the controversy with the book ‘I am a Rainbow’.
The Catholic News reached out to former teacher, counselling psychologist Anna-Maria Mora who has been a counsellor to children. She was asked about the role of parents in discussing sex and gender ideology with their children and the influence parents have in the face of conflicting messages in the society.
Q. At what age is it appropriate to discuss issues surrounding ‘gender’ with children?
A. When a baby is born, parents and the community which welcomes this baby, look at the baby and see the traditionally and medically accepted signs that the baby is either male or female.
Male babies have penises and female babies have vaginas. That is just what they are; they are not yet known as sexual organs. There are rare cases where children are born with both organs. We must know at times Nature goes awry. In these cases, parents decide to wait and see their child’s orientation as he or she grows, and the relevant surgery is done.
Of course, a baby’s gender is governed by two hormones: estrogen which determines femininity, and testosterone which determines masculinity. This can also go awry, if certain types of medication are taken or there is depression or mental health issues which can cause disruption of hormone development.
We have many examples of how Nature takes a disruptive turn within the womb. Then we began school and learned about neuter gender.
Theorist Erikson stated that there is a crisis to overcome in Infancy (ages 0-2 years); babies have a crisis of trust.
Going to the refrigerator to get ingredients to cook and feed themselves is not possible. They have to trust that those around them will come to feed them, hug them, and make them feel good about themselves.
Then we move to Early childhood (ages 2–4 years) and this is when our babies become very aware of themselves, physically and emotionally. They now look
at themselves in the mirror and realise that they are separate beings, and they internalise: “I can do this by myself.”
We observed babies in their cribs, exploring themselves in their previous stage. Now that they are walking around and seeing themselves in the mirror, they may realise that something is different.
Long ago, when I was a child, I never saw my Mom or Dad having a shower –parents hid their naked selves from their children. Then as societies evolved, realisation hit adults.
Psychologists, and human behaviour specialists said that hiding the reality of human growth and development from children is not healthy. It is natural and healthy for children to be curious about the differences observed.
Male toddlers play with their sisters and are even allowed to bathe together, as early as 2–4 years. They begin to have questions and parents must be able to respond to the question re: the human being and differences between the brother (male) and sister (female). This is when the discussion about ‘gender’ begins.
There are many sensitive and well-thought-out colouring books and reading books for children which explain the differences.
Many parents have friends in the US. You can get the following book to assist parents to answer the questions which 3 to 5-year-olds have about the differences between girls and boys and the reason, “that woman’s stomach is fat”: Straight Talk: Sexuality Education for Parents and Kids 4-7 (Susan Chamlin, Penguin Books, 1987).