Q. Caitlyn Jenner is all over the news. How should I answer if my child asks questions about Bruce Jenner's transition to a woman?
A. "What we tell parents is to use factual language that is also developmentally appropriate," says Mandi Silverman, who grew up in Oakdale and is a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute in Manhattan.
For kids in elementary school, parents can say, "Caitlyn Jenner started her life as a boy, but he really felt like he should be a girl," Silverman says. Explain that he talked to doctors who helped him decide whether and how to change, and that is something that has made him very, very happy.
If they ask why he didn't just wear dresses, again, explain in simple terms. Say, "There are all different kinds of possibilities. Sometimes people just want to wear different clothes; sometimes people want to change their bodies and doctors help them with that."
If the child says that sometimes they want to do things traditionally thought to be the domain of the opposite sex, reassure them that doesn't necessarily mean that it's an issue of changing their gender. "It's important to let your child know that if they have some interest in things that fall outside of the pink, Barbie traditions of girls or the classic sports for boys, that doesn't mean that being a boy or a girl has to change," she says.
An adolescent can handle more specific information, Silverman says. Be sure to remind kids about the importance of acceptance, she says. "This whole phenomenon that's happened with Caitlyn Jenner, it's really about tolerance and acceptance. It's ultimately about individuals who want to live their lives as happily and healthfully as they can."
Allow kids to absorb the information, and remind them, "We can continue to talk about this and you can ask me whatever you want."