Recently I have been asked if I could write a blog about how to answer kids’ questions about marriage equality.

In many ways the answer to this question is simple and is applicable for any question that a child asks.

  1. Make sure that your child/ren know that it is ok for them to ask you any question.
  2. Listen to the question
  3. Answer the question simply and honestly, in line with the child’s level of understanding
  4. Use the correct terminology
  5. Leave the door open for them to ask a further question, listen and again answer that question simply and honestly, and on it goes.

So to address the topic of marriage equality and the diversity of families that this entails, the following is an attempt to flesh out the above 5 points and try to help you with your conversations with your children.

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Children at BEPS are full of wonder and curiosity; we teach them to ask questions; they want to know everything; and they often look to their parents for answers. So in terms of marriage equality: how might you use these headings to talk to your child/ren when they come home and ask about something that they have heard in the playground; heard you or other adults talking about; or if they have seen something on line, TV or advertised in the street, that they don’t really understand?

  1. Make sure that your child/ren know that it is ok for them to ask you any question.
    No topic is taboo, no question is silly and you are available. It can be difficult to tear yourself away from what you’re doing to focus on your child’s question, but how you respond is crucial in building this relationship. To them, it is an indication of whether they can count on you when they have an important question or they want to tell you about something that happened or they heard. It might be about something they are embarrassed or worried about and they need to know that you will be there.
  2. Listen to the question:
    This is a really important part of any conversation. Are your children asking what a particular word means? Or are they asking for information about the topic?
    Children will hear opinions from a variety of adults during their everyday activities such as, sport, shopping, or through their friends. They will get lots of mixed messages. Listen carefully when your child/ren come to you and try to focus on empowering them to use words and make choices that are thoughtful and develop empathy.
  3. Answer the question simply and honestly:
    You don’t need to provide a lengthy explanation of the history of marriage to explain marriage equality to your children. The Human Rights Law Center put it simply as, everybody having “the same opportunities for love, commitment and happiness and being able to marry the person they love”. (https://www.hrlc.org.au ) You might prefer a different definition.
  4. Use the correct terminology
    A Plebiscite, according to Google dictionary is “the direct vote of all the members of an electorate on an important public question such as a change in the constitution”. Not a definition that your average primary school student will understand. You might prefer the simpler definition from ACON (http://www.acon.org.au) “A plebiscite is a nationwide vote to gauge public feedback on a political proposal.” You might even want a simpler version as suggested by The Gilbert + Tobin Center of Public Law (part of University of NSW Law) who describe a plebiscite as “a popular vote on an important public question” http://www.gtcentre.unsw.edu.au/node/3675.If you think that your child/ren might ask you what a plebiscite is, you need to find a definition that suits you and make sure it is in ‘kid friendly’ speak.

    Don’t be afraid to use words such as “gay” and “lesbian.” Your children will hear these words at some point, and it’s better that they hear an accurate definition from you, rather than an inaccurate and potentially hurtful definition from someone else. Through discussion, you empower your children to have a better understanding of the words and use them in an appropriate and positive way.

  1. Leave the door open for them to ask a further question, listen and again answer that question simply and honestly.
    The question might not come instantly. It may take a day or two. Try to answer the questions, when asked and give your child time to digest that. If they want more information, they will come back.If you don’t know the answer, that’s fine. Model positive learning in a real context. Ask your child ‘How will we find out?’ ‘How current is this information?’ ‘How reliable is the source?’

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I think that the students at BEPS know that all families are different. We have the preps bring in photos of their families. Some families have two parents (2 Mums, 2 Dads or 1 of each), some have one. Some married, some not. Some children live with grandparents, aunts and uncles, or foster parents. Some children are born to one mum, but live with another.

No matter the family combination, someone usually has to work. The family has rules, chores, family meals, children argue and get into trouble and they have outings just like other families. No two families are the same. All families are different, and those differences should not be used to tease or exclude another child. If children live with their grandparents or other caregivers, is that a reason to tease? Of course not. The same goes for children living with same-sex parents. We all have the right to feel welcomed and respected.

My final point in this blog is a sincere request that all adults in the BEPS community take care of themselves and extend support to others around them, whether that is family members, adults in the BEPS community or our neighbours. The Plebiscite will affect our LGBTIQ+ families through uncertainty, anxiety and targeted advertising. Please treat each other with dignity, empathy and look after each other.

All teachers at BEPS have been provided with a guide from rainbow families (https://gallery.mailchimp.com/de049052958b35666153d2a3d/files/55f2093e-b9f1-4ce9-86c7-8f39ae58566c/Supporting_LGBTIQ_parents_and_their_children.pdf)  that gives 10 ways to support kids at school through the postal plebiscite. We will do our best to support children from Rainbow families through this extremely difficult time and continue to make BEPS a safe and inclusive school.

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The following resources may be useful:

Safe schools: reflects BEPS and the Education Departments commitment to providing a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for your children to learn and grow. http://www.education.vic.gov.au/about/programs/health/Pages/safe-schools-coalition.aspx

Australian Psychological Society: talking with children and young people about marriage equality and related issues. http://www.psychology.org.au/Assets/Files/17APS-PI-ME-LGBTQI-C-IS-P1.pdf

ACON: Staying Strong during the marriage equality debate: http://www.acon.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Staying-Strong-Tips.pdf

The Australian Human Rights Commission: have a page on Marriage Equality at http://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/sexual-orientation-sex-gender-identity/projects/marriage-equality

Rainbow families: Staying healthy in the fight for equality: https://gallery.mailchimp.com/de049052958b35666153d2a3d/files/caf5a239-dacd-41a3-83e0-2dfdc165bdb8/Rainbow_Families_Plebiscite_Guide.pdf

 

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