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Little Ones with Big Questions

Parents and educators often confront questions and statements they may not feel fully equipped to respond to in the moment in the intricate journey of raising children. Similarly, teachers and staff may not feel equipped when a child asks a question or makes a statement that parents or others may find inappropriate or controversial. Our desire to lead and teach within an ELCA school or learning center creates an opportunity to serve within a community that is affirming and welcoming to all and offers an environment grounded in grace.

Many school leaders have witnessed a surge in parental concerns and inquiries about how we approach gender and gender identity in our schools and learning centers. With their boundless curiosity, young children are prone to asking tough questions that can catch adults off guard. However, being prepared is key to navigating these discussions in a constructive and inclusive manner.

When faced with such questions, remember that an immediate response is unnecessary. Consider taking a moment to consider the question further. Don’t hesitate to say, “I am not sure; let me look into that.”

If a child’s grownups approach me or a teacher about a tough topic, I remember that I don’t have to respond immediately. I take the time to do my own research, contact local experts in the topic, and get support from my team.

Preschool Director, MN

In our quest for knowledge and guidance, we can turn to institutions such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, and our state’s research-based children’s hospital. Additionally, we can tap into the expertise of our rostered leaders and local higher education institutions, seeking insights from experts who understand both the local culture and the latest research trends.

Collaborating with these experts allows us to explore resources for our staff and gain valuable insights into best practices for addressing sometimes controversial and difficult issues. Furthermore, we can explore the policies of our local public school district and the ELCA, recognizing the importance of aligning our practices with broader community standards.

As part of your commitment to fostering inclusivity, consider developing an organizational policy on inclusion. A comprehensive policy will serve as a guiding framework for your daily practices, encompassing various aspects of religion and diversity, including gender and identity.

“We value all children having the freedom to like and participate in a wide range of interests, and so we avoid stereotyped language and activities, including gender stereotypes, and we lovingly challenge children to stretch beyond the stereotypes they sometimes express or act out.  We openly discuss fairness and unfairness and help children to develop and practice the skills they will need throughout their lives to stand up for themselves and others in the face of unfairness or prejudice.” 

Early Childhood Center, MN

Despite our best efforts to prepare, we acknowledge that tough questions from children (and adults) are inevitable. We’ve provided a list of resources to assist you and your staff in handling these inquiries sensitively and effectively. The list is far from exhaustive but will be a starting point for your professional development journey.

In navigating tough questions, your approach should be rooted in grace, empathy, respect, and a commitment to learning and growth. By working together, we can create a nurturing environment where all children feel seen, heard, and valued for who they are.