ASK A MOM: pronouns, plane etiquette, and learning to tie shoelaces
WBTV's Molly Grantham tackles your parenting questions in this ongoing series
Q: Hi Molly! I need some advice on how to discuss gender identity and pronouns with my kids. My fourth grader was over my shoulder when I was filling out the new Student Information Form from CMS and didn’t understand why the school needs to know if he wants to be called a “he” or a “she.” I also have a second grader that hasn’t asked about it yet, but I know it’s coming and I want to know the best way to explain it to her. Help! —Name withheld
A: This is tricky. We can’t lean on past generations to ask how those parents explained gender identity pronouns.
I took your question to Jonathan Anslow, PsyD (read: he has a doctorate in psychology). He’s licensed and practicing at HealthQuest: Innovative Therapeutics in Ballantyne. He says—and he has “He/Him” on his email signature—one of the most important things a parent can do around “gender conversation,” is check in with themselves first.
“What I mean by this is, to try to consider the assumptions you might practice,” he says. “Or, the unconscious and subtle ways you might foist something on a child based on their appearance or sex assigned at birth. There are early studies that show individuals engaged in more hands on/action-oriented play if a baby was dressed in blue (whether the baby was male or not), and more cooperative/pretend play if the baby was in pink (whether the baby was female or not). So first ask yourself, ‘How do I identify?’ ‘How might I react if my child’s gender identity were different than what I thought it to be?’ or ‘Have I ever discouraged my child’s choice or preferences about something (clothing?), based on my assumptions about my child’s identity?’ These are all important questions for the parent to consider before having any conversation with a child.”
Once you feel that you can talk through your kids’ questions in a neutral, unbiased way, then consider where they are developmentally.
“Not just their age chronologically,” he says. “How mature are they? Some children are better equipped to process certain information. You don’t want a child to be more reactive or make a mockery or joke about the content. Keep in mind, they often know more than we think they do, and as parents we want to ensure they feel like they can come to us and get good information. We should want to promote their curiosity in a judgment-free zone. So, if they are joking about genders, try to encourage empathy about why that might be hurtful to other kids who are different from them. Try to connect them to a time when they felt left out to further encourage an empathic understanding of the concept of being ostracized and ‘othered.’”
If your child is mature enough to have the conversation, he suggests talking about how we are all born with biological traits that are male or female.
“They’ll know about the penis and vagina,” he says. “But sometimes a person happens to feel differently from their biology. If they are born with male parts, they might identify with more feminine qualities. If they have female parts, they might identify with more traditionally masculine qualities. Or, they might identify as ‘non-binary,’ meaning they could have traits of both and don’t identify in one particular way.”
He adds that masculine and feminine qualities might relate to how they style their hair, what they wear, how they speak, and what kind of activities they enjoy. “Feel free to explain that this can get confusing to others who do not think as they do,” he says. “Others might feel threatened or confused by such differences. But this conversation is also a great opportunity to remind our children that our differences are actually what make us interesting and are something to celebrate.”
Remember to emphasize that we all want to do our part to create an inclusive society where everybody can be who they are without shame. “You can say that a big part of how we can help these individuals is by asking for their pronouns, or addressing them in accordance to their preference,” Anslow says. “You can also help guide your child to stand up to bullying/harassing behavior and report it to responsible adults, showing gender-diverse friends that they are loved, respected, and not alone.”
Before you end any conversation with a child, make sure they know the channels of communication remain open. “Always ask them if they have questions,” he says, “and let them know they can come to you with any question they might have in the future.”
Q: Need some help with airplane etiquette. Let’s say your family couldn’t get seats together and your 6-year-old doesn’t want to sit 12 rows back with strangers. So you ask a stranger if they’d switch seats with you and they say no. That’s their right, but then you have a 6-year-old in tears and the flight is fully booked. Isn’t it just easier to be polite and help a parent out? —Jennifer
A: I’m betting 10 bucks this question isn’t hypothetical and based on a very real-life experience. So, Jennifer, to answer your actual question—“Isn’t it just easier to be polite and help another parent out?”—Yes. Absolutely. What adult wouldn’t shift a seat so a 6-year-old could be near a parent? But if someone doesn’t, then the real question is how to handle next steps.
Let’s start with the basics: It is that person’s right to sit in the seat they are in and paid for. Plus, you don’t know extenuating circumstances. So wasting time hating them and judging their lack of sensitivity doesn’t really help.
But there are ways to make this situation easier, says a Charlotte pilot for a major airline, who’s also the mom of two kids (for real—she’s amazing). She flies with her kids ALL THE TIME, often on standby as she doesn’t usually have to buy tickets.
“I’m truly an expert on this,” she says. “Our kids will sit anywhere now, but we had plenty of years where our daughter almost lost her mind if she had to sit next to a stranger, especially a male. Most of the tickets available to our family are usually middle seats scattered about a plane.”
If you can plan ahead, buy tickets that already have assigned seats. This can be more expensive, but it’ll also save you the headache. If you’re already at the airport without assigned seats, talk to the gate agent before you board.
“If the flight is completely full, their hands may be tied, but sometimes they will still call people to the podium to see if they can make the switch before you get into the boarding madness,” she says. “If the flight has seats available, they can usually do this for you with no problem. If the flight is full and the gate agent is of no help, and you’re now like Jennifer having to ask another passenger, make the switch as attractive as possible. If your seat is closer to the front, an aisle, or a window, offer them that seat to sweeten the deal. They aren’t going to want to exchange their comfortable aisle seat for your child’s middle seat. After all, they probably paid more for that feature when they purchased their ticket. Or, if the person next to your child is unwilling to switch, someone around your child’s seat is usually willing to switch, even if it’s a middle for a middle. Your child is usually comforted to know you are right in front of or behind them.”
Iif all else fails, my brilliant friend offers this: “You can always let your child cry and scream when they realize you are far away from them on the plane. That usually produces a seat swap in less than three minutes!”
Good luck out there. Flying is never stress-free.
Q: My 9-year-old still can’t tie his own friggin’ shoes! It’s not completely his fault, he’s grown up with Crocs and Velcro, but this is getting absurd and wastes SO MUCH time in the mornings and before soccer! Is there a way to teach him how to tie laces that doesn’t end up in tears? Or should I just let him wear Crocs forever? —Meeghan
A: When my child wouldn’t stop wetting the bed much later than other children, I asked my pediatrician about this, complaining that it was absurd and time-consuming. She basically told me to chill out.
“This is something the child will learn,” she says. “It’s not like learning to read where, sadly, if no one takes time to help someone get better, they might never learn. Physiologically, a child will learn to stop peeing in their bed at night. Just keep working with them, encouraging them, not getting frustrated at them, and someday, they’ll grow out of needing a Pull-Up.”
She was right. I chilled out, and eight months later it was no longer an issue.
Which is why I called my pediatrician about your dilemma—shoelace tying—to ask if her advice was similar. It was. At some point, she says, your child will learn to tie shoes. It won’t be a long-term issue through high school. But she hears this struggle from many parents, and when a child can’t tie their shoes by age 8, 9, or 10, it can cause tense mornings.
You can find endless advice on the internet, but one site that jumps out is a company that promotes a no-tie shoelace. It says most kids master shoe-tying by the end of first grade. For those who don’t, the struggle “boils down to executive dysfunction.”
“Executive functioning skills involve a child’s ability to focus, plan ahead, follow steps in order, and coordinate their movements,” the site explains. “Tying shoes requires a strict sequence of steps, varying amounts of pressure, cross-lateral motions, and coordinating both hands independently. That’s a lot for anyone to keep track of! Executive dysfunction is a symptom of many conditions, ranging from Autism Spectrum Disorder to ADHD. If you have a kid really struggling to tie shoes, consider a developmental consultation or therapist.”
The best way to teaching shoe-tying is breaking the process down.
“Encourage your child to slow down and work on one tying-related skill at a time. That might mean spending a few weeks learning to tug on their laces to tighten them… yes, before you’ve tied a single knot. Work on one skill until your child has achieved mastery, and be sure to provide positive support and encouragement each step of the way. Celebrate each success, whether it’s a first knot or a successful bow. If tying shoes the traditional way is taking a while, consider introducing an alternative method. Many children grasp onto the ‘bunny ears’ method, as it has fewer steps.”
My 12-year-old still ties her shoes with the “bunny ears” method. Her friend taught her in 1st grade. Now in 7th, she’s still uses that technique for soccer cleats. Whatever works.
But if you’re just over it and don’t want to waste “SO MUCH time in the mornings,” try lace-free shoes. You can find multiple stylish alternatives to traditionally woven laces online.
Hope this helps.
How are we already a month from Halloween? Costume catalogues are in the mail and candy displays in store aisles. Hang in there, friends… it feels like we’re moving fast. Send any questions you might have for next month through the homepage of Charlotte Parent. Happy to tackle whatever is on your mind.
Until then, see you tonight at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 11 p.m.
MOLLY GRANTHAM is an anchor, author, and mom of three. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram, or catch her on WBTV News at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 11 p.m.