How to Talk to Your Kids About Caitlyn Jenner

4 minute read
Updated: | Originally published: ;

After Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair, she became arguably the most visible transgender person in the world. It’s nearly impossible to go to the grocery store or CVS without seeing her face on every tabloid cover. And if you’re seeing her everywhere, that means your kids are too, especially because of her connection to the Kardashians.

But how do you explain Jenner’s transition to your children when they ask why a man is becoming a woman? Here, experts weigh in on the best way to have the conversation with your children of all ages.

To start: Michael LaSala, associate professor of social work at Rutgers University and a family therapist, says before you talk to your kids about this, you need to think about it yourself. “Parents need to do a self-inventory as to how they feel about the topic and to get straight in their minds what their feelings and thoughts and ideas are about transgender issues in general,” he says. “It behooves parents to become as educated as possible on the topic before talking to their children about it.”

Elementary school: With elementary-age children, it’s best to keep the explanation very basic, says Dr. Elijah Nealy, a clinical social worker who specializes in the transgender community. “Sometimes children are born in little girls’ bodies but they know in their hearts that they’re really a boy,” Nealy explains. “And sometimes as they grow up a doctor can help them become a boy. Young elementary age kids don’t need any more explanation than that.” In fact, Nealy says that the conversations with the young children may actually be the easiest – “My experience has been that they are able to comprehend that often much more easily than adults.”

See The Life of Caitlyn Jenner

1976 Olympic Games. Montreal, Canada. Men's Decathlon. USA's gold medal winner Bruce Jenner.
At the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Bruce Jenner won the gold medal in the decathlon, setting the world record at 8,616 points.Getty Images
Bruce Jenner celebrates during his record setting performance in the decathlon in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.
Jenner became a national hero following his Olympic win and was later inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame in 1986.Tony Duffy—Getty Images
NBC Sportscaster - Bruce Jenner
Jenner became an NBC Sportscaster in the late 1970s following his Olympic performance in Montreal.NBC/Getty Images
Bruce Jenner and Linda Thompson
Jenner married actress Linda Thompson, above, on Jan. 5, 1981, following his divorce with Chrystie Crownover.Getty Images
Nancy Reagan With Celebrities
Jenner was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child. In October of 1985, he received the Outstanding Learning Disabled Achiever Award from then-First Lady Nancy Reagan alongside stars such as Cher and Tom Cruise.Getty Images
Bruce Jenner
Jenner was a successful race car driver in the 1980s, though in a 2013 interview he said, "I was a lot more badass runner than I was a driver.”Ann Clifford—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Bruce And Kris
In 1991, Jenner married Kris Jenner, previously Kris Kardashian, just one month after she finalized her divorce from Robert Kardashian. The two had dated for only five months.Maureen Donaldson—Getty Images
Kardashian Jenner Family Portrait
Their marriage merged two already large families, evident here in this 1991 portrait.Donaldson Collection/Getty Images
Bruce Jenner
After his sports career, Jenner, seen here at a celebrity golf event in 1993, had a number of small acting jobs and television appearances.Stephen Dunn—Getty Images
"Cinderella" Release on Video
The family poses at an event in 1995, the year Jenner and Kris welcomed the first of their two children together, Kendall Jenner.Ron Galella—WireImage
Former US gold medal decathlete Bruce Jenner (C),
Kylie Jenner was born two years later in 1997. The girls can be seen here on the red carpet in 2000, long before they covered magazines and appeared on TIME's Most Influential Teens list.Scott Nelson—AFP/Getty Images
E! Entertainment Television's 2005 Summer Splash Event - Arrivals
Jenner, seen here in 2005, would re-enter the spotlight thanks to Keeping Up With the Kardashians, which first premiered in 2007.Steve Granitz—WireImage
Bruce Jenner
Jenner spoofed his reality-star fame with a commercial for Tropicana Juicy Rewards in 2010.AP
The Tonight Show With Jay Leno
Jenner and Kris, here at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 2011, announced their separation in 2013. She filed for divorce the following year.Kevin Winter—Getty Images
Bruce Jenner On "Extra"
Jenner poses with a box of Wheaties in 2012. He appeared on the front of the box first in 1977 after his Olympic gold-medal win, then in 2012 when Wheaties rolled out a retro series.Noel Vasquez—Getty Images
Brandon And Leah Album Release Party For "Cronies"
Jenner appears with two of his sons, TV personality Brody Jenner and musician Brandon Jenner, who records with his wife as Brandon & Leah, at an April 2013 release party.Chelsea Lauren—WireImage
Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - October 20, 2014
Jenner walks with step-daughter Kim Kardashian in October of 2014 — about five months after rapper Kanye West became his son-in-law.Bauer-Griffin—GC Images
Bruce Jenner Vanity Fair Caitlyn transgender
Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, appeared as a woman for the first time on the cover of Vanity Fair's June 2015 issue, photographed by Annie Leibovitz.Annie Leibovitz—Vanity Fair
The 2Caitlyn Jenner 2015 Espys Arther Ashe Award015 ESPYS - Show
Caitlyn Jenner accepts the Arthur Ashe Courage Award onstage during The 2015 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 15, 2015 in Los Angeles.Kevin Winter—Getty Images

Middle school: Nealy says parents should approach the conversation with middle schoolers the same way they might with their elementary school children: sometimes people are born in the body of a boy but feel like they’re a girl. But to add more detail to the explanation, parents can start to teach their kids of this age about the difference between sex and gender. In general, sex is biological and gender is a personal identity. Nealy says you can explain this difference and the trans community to adolescents by saying, “For most people, the way they feel about themselves matches the sex that was assigned at birth, but for some people their own internal sense of themselves doesn’t match. Those people are called transgender, and they often transition so they can live in a way that fits.”

High school: If your kids are a bit older, around high school age, it may be the actual transition that they’re curious about, the ‘how’ of Bruce becoming Caitlyn. In that case, Nealy says you would need to make sure you had “accurate information in terms of transgender people being able to take hormones that help them look more like a man or a woman, or that they also might have surgeries.” LaSala cautions that kids of this age are more socialized and might be quicker to judgment or ridicule when they hear about a transgender person: “With older kids it may be important to have a talk about people and differences and trying to understand them rather than judging them and putting them down.”

Overall, Nealy says it’s best “to let the children guide the questions. I often start with the more basic information and then with a high school student would let them set the pace at which they want more information.” LaSala also has an overriding strategy for children of all ages: “Parents of all of those age groups,” he says, “need to be as straightforward and honest as possible.”

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