4 ways to be an ally to transgender youth and their families

In the last two years, the ReadyKids Teen Counseling Program has seen an increase in participants who identify as transgender. Someone who is transgender has a sense of personal identity and gender that does not correspond with their birth sex.

Nationwide, about 0.7% of American teens identify as transgender, but nearly 2% of the participants in the ReadyKids Teen Counseling program have identified as transgender or gender variant. That’s an almost 200% increase than what you’d expect to see.

“There are a lot of variables that lead into it,” said Jordan Leahy, Teen Counselor. “People who are transgender are more visible than ever in our society, but there is also a political climate that is trying to deny they exist. This is increasing mental health needs.”

Coming out as transgender in your teen years comes with a variety of struggles, particularly with parents. For instance, studies show that familial rejection can lead transgender youth to engage in behaviors that put their health at risk, trigger depression and other mental health problems, and in the worst of cases – result in suicide. Furthermore, lack of family acceptance after coming out as transgender is one of the top reasons teens runaway or are kicked out of their homes by their parents. Among homeless youth, 20-40% are transgender, and most face discrimination when seeking even temporary shelter.

Support for Trans Youth Matters

However, familial support does the opposite. Parents who accept their child’s gender identity can act as a buffer against bullying and bias outside of the home. In other words, for some transgender youth, family support can be the difference between life and death. The ReadyKids Teen Counseling Program wants to help families and teens in this journey toward acceptance and support.

Here are 4 tips our counselors offer on how to be an ally to a transgender teenager.
1. Use their preferred name and pronouns

“A name is significant, and we don’t always have an understanding of that in our culture,” said Leahy. “If a person has chosen a new name for themselves, it’s usually because their given name is in some way hurtful. If you live in a home with someone who doesn’t acknowledge who you are and can be cruel to you for who you are, that has a huge effect.”

If you’re unsure which pronouns a person uses, listen first to the pronoun other people use when referring to them. If you’re still unsure, you can default to “they/their.” If you must ask which pronouns a person uses, start with your own. For example, “Hi, I’m Alex, and I use the pronouns he and him. What about you?”

Most importantly, if you mess up (as everyone who has known someone as a different gender for a long time is likely to do), quietly correct yourself.

“Many people are well intentioned and want to be supportive, but if you miss a beat and say something wrong and everyone can get hurt,” said Dee Keller, Senior Teen Counselor. “Mistakes do happen. It’s okay to go back. It’s okay to learn. It’s okay to do things differently.”

2. Break the connection in your mind between gender identity and sexuality

“When teens come out as transgender, this can be confusing, especially for parents,” said Leahy. “But gender identity is not the same as sexual identity.” Transgender does not mean gay or lesbian. Gender is about who you are, not who you are attracted to.

Trans Student Educational Resources has a helpful diagram called the “Gender Unicorn” which explains how gender identity, gender expression, what gender someone is physically attracted to, and what gender someone is emotionally attracted to all exist on a spectrum. For example, it’s possible to be born female, transition to male and still be attracted to men. It’s also possible to be born male, and later identify as genderless (part male, part female), but that doesn’t mean you’re A-sexual and not interested in a relationship. A wide variety of possible combinations exist, over 7 billion!

3. Be patient

A person who is questioning or exploring their gender identity may take some time to figure out what’s true for them. They might, for example, use a name or pronoun, and then decide at a later time to change the name or pronoun again. Do you best to be respectful and use the name and pronoun requested.

4. Become educated

Being transgender is no longer taboo. With people like Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black and Caitlyn Jenner from the Kardashians being open about their identities, trans people are more visible than ever. GLAAD has a number of resources to expand awareness of trans issues. Locally, the Cville Pride Community Network has a compiled list of resources as well.

Check out art, literature and films about trans people. Barnes and Noble has a helpful list of Young Adult novels about transgender characters, IMBD has a list of movies featuring trans main characters, and an online comic called “Assigned Male” has great cartoon strips about the daily challenges trans people face.

Support for Trans Youth Matters

As a parent, if you come to a point where you don’t know what else to do, the ReadyKids Teen Counselors are available to talk any time, 24/7 to any teen or parent of a teen in the Charlottesville area. Call (434) 972-7233.

“Trans kids are more vulnerable. We want to have the space to welcome these kids,” said Keller. “The runaway risk and family conflict is high for LGBT kids, having a supportive family is a huge resilience factor. We hope to equip families and teens.”

The ReadyKids Teen Crisis Hotline is a free service that can be reached at any time by calling (434) 972-7233.

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Any experienced parent or early childhood educator knows that the best toys aren’t toys at all. The best toys are average household objects. Keys, cardboard boxes, television remotes are all far more interesting to kids for their play possibilities than the toys in their room.

The same can be said for our fall appeal envelope! The envelope is 100% recyclable as a #5 plastic. But before you recycle it, upcycle for some at home fun with kids. You can do this craft right now with nothing more than a picture and permanent marker. Reimagining a family photo is great for expanding thinking skills. Drawing also helps to develop fine motor skills, and removing and realigning the family photo within the envelope improves visual motor integration.

Drawing on an envelope may look like a silly, easy thing to do. But sometimes it’s the silliest, easiest things that we remember the most.

upcycle plastic envelopes



Each ReadyKids program tackles a community challenge.

Our Relationship Ready programs help to prevent and treat toxic stressed faced by over 3,500 children in the greater Charlottesville area.

Our Learning Ready programs recognize the need for positive educational experiences in a child’s first five years, when 90% of a child’s brain development occurs.

The need is great, but we believe that with a little help that children, families and the greater Charlottesville community are resilient.

Click on our Annual Report to learn more about how ReadyKids helped get kids ready for life this year!

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A HUGE thank you to the volunteers that came out to ReadyKids this morning for the United Way TJA Day of Caring!

Employees from UVA Imaging, UVA Information Technology Services – ITS, UVA College of Arts & Sciences, LexisNexis, Rivanna Station, and Old Dominion National Bank helped us:

Thank you. It was a lot of work, but our volunteers did a wonderful job keeping the morning running smoothly all with a smile on their faces. Volunteers are such an important part of ReadyKids. They should know how special they are!

 

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Toddler Rule #1: Dump Everything, picture of child dumping sand from a bucket

First Baptist Preschool has been a steady presence in the Charlottesville early childhood scene for decades.  Their early childhood educators have an average of ten years of experience working with children.  They were one of the first preschools to join the Virginia Quality Initiative in 2008, when it was a pilot program.  Still, every fall, before their students come back to school, they set up a training with the Growing Minds program at ReadyKids.

“I think if you don’t have trainings you get a little stale,” said Ann Easton, Director of First Baptist.

But this time, Easton put out a challenge to the Growing Minds trainer, Stephanie Massie.  Prior to her role at ReadyKids, Massie had been both a childcare center director and a preschool teacher.  Easton felt confident she could handle a challenge.

“I don’t want it to be boring,” Easton said. “I want shock value.  I want wow factor.”

Massie thought about that for a while.  How do you add shock value and wow factor to a training on developmentally appropriate curriculum? It seemed an impossible task.

Then, she remembered something she had heard from Eddie Harris, the Fatherhood Specialist at REAL Dads, another ReadyKids program.

“Stop being a resource.  The answers are in the room already.”

Instead of lecturing on child development, Massie decided to capitalize on the strengths of these already experienced teachers.  She started her session with two questions.

The first, “What do you want to see from the kids you teach?”

And the second, “What do you NOT want to see from the kids you teach?”

The answers were predictable.  The teachers wanted to see listening, engagement and wonder.  They didn’t want to see toy dumping, tattling or defiance.

Kids Do Well if They Can

Massie handed them the “Milestones of Child Development” book, a standardized tool for Virginia early childhood educators to help align a child’s developmental needs with what they’re being taught in preschool.  After they looked over the book, Massie showed a video by Ross Greene, a child psychologist, who says, “Kids do well if they can.”

“’Kids do well if they can’ is only a life shattering philosophy if you consider the more prevalent philosophy, ‘Kids do well if they wanna,’” said Ross Greene.  “But consider this, ‘Why would a kid not want to do well?’”

Massie turned to the two-year-old teachers, a notoriously difficult age to teach, and said, “So, what can a two-year-old child do well right now?”

The teachers turned to the section for physical development of children 18-months to 36-months and found this sentence, “fill a container with small objects and dump them out repeatedly.”

Legos scattered on a hard wood floor

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

The teachers looked up a bit sheepishly.  Dumping toys, a behavior they didn’t want to see in kids, was exactly what two-year-olds can do well.

“We found that’s something that child must need,” said Easton.  “Just think about all the feedback [a child] gets if he dumps a box of Legos on a tile floor.”

Massie then stood up in front of the group, lifted a big container of balls above her head and flipped it over – dumping the balls and sending them bouncing around the classroom.

“You could see the discomfort immediately,” said Massie.  “I invited them to try dumping things themselves.”

Each teacher practiced dumping their own bucket of toys and reflecting on what the satisfaction was – hearing the sounds the toys made when they hit the ground, the physical input of going from heavy to light, and the feeling of success after persistence. Then, as a group, they talked about what annoyed them about dumping toys as adults, and how to remedy the situation.

“If the noise is what bothers you,” said Easton, “let’s think of ways you can give [a child] a way to dump without the noise.”

Focusing on Strengths

Children lift sticks in the air as teacher plays guitar.After that, Massie felt like the teachers gave their own training.  They began looking up each of the “bad” behaviors in the Child Development book.  Tattling.  Preschoolers are learning to “demonstrate progress in expressing needs and opinions by using words and asking for help when needed.” Defiance. Preschoolers are learning to “demonstrate the ability to initiate activities.”

“I could physically see the dots connecting above their heads,” said Massie. “I was in a zone with stars in my eyes.  It was in that moment I realized that I got the wow factor.”

Massie had been giving trainings for years, trying to emphasize that usually ‘bad’ behaviors are ‘developmental’ behaviors.  But the wisdom to stop being a resource and let the people in the room find the answers themselves changed the conversation.

“Allowing us to come up with different ways of handling things in the classroom always makes an impact,” said Easton. “We just love working with ReadyKids.”

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The events of August 2017 in Charlottesville were deeply upsetting within our community. While we do not know what the anniversary of these events will hold, we can expect that August 11-12, 2018, and the days afterwards may bring up difficult thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in both adults and children.

Children look to the adults in their lives to understand their world and how to respond, especially during upsetting and traumatic community events. Even children as young as 2 and 3 pick up on family, social, and community stress. Kids are very good at noticing emotional changes in their caregivers, but do not know how to make sense of what is happening on their own. Talking with and supporting your child can help them cope better during this time.

Possible Ways Youth May be Impacted:

  • Media exposure to the violent events of last year. Children are impacted by what they see, particularly when seeing familiar places as the setting for violence and offensive symbols.
  • Anniversary Reactions are common after traumatic experiences.
  • Possible Community Violence. The community is preparing for potential violence during anniversary events.
  • Reawakened community division, including hateful actions and words toward minority groups, can impact children of all ages.

Signs of Stress and Anxiety:

  • Fearfulness: Increased fear, clinginess, and difficulty separating from caregivers.
  • Somatic complaints: headaches, stomachaches, tiredness.
  • Sleep Difficulties: nightmares, trouble falling asleep, or not wanting to sleep in own bed
  • Regression: Acting younger than their age.
  • Changes in Play and Activities: Young children may act out their fears or what they have seen in their play. In older youth, changes in interest in activities or social connections.
  • Trauma History: Youth with a past trauma or exposure to violence, mental health concerns, or special needs may be more vulnerable to the impact of these events.
  • If your child’s behavioral and emotional changes do not begin to improve after a few weeks, you may want to talk with a professional such as a Pediatrician, School Counselor, Spiritual Leader, or Counselor.

Tips for Supporting Kids

  • Set aside time to talk: Find a time when you are calm and not distracted to talk with your child about what is going on. Tell the truth, avoid graphic details, use age-appropriate language, and speak in simple, clear ways.
  • Focus on Listening: Children need to be heard, even when you do not have all of the answers. Ask about their thoughts and feelings, and focus on responding to their questions or concerns.
  • Model positive coping: Monitor your own stress level so that you can be calm and in control around your child. Find healthy ways to cope and express your own emotions when your child is not nearby. If your child wants to talk when you are upset, schedule a later time to follow up when you are ready.
  • Limit Media Exposure: Minimize or restrict TV and social media exposure of graphic and violent content. Talk with your child about what they see, including how older youth engage in social media.
  • Plan positive activities: In difficult times, kids especially need to feel connected and to engage in comforting activities.
  • Reassure Safety: Emphasize ways that adults are keeping them safe, including Helpers in the community, without making unrealistic promises.
  • Maintain normal routines and rules: Consistency and structure provides stability and comfort for kids. Talk with your child ahead of time about schedule changes.
  • Positive Expression of Values and Emotions: Difficult times can provide rich opportunities for sharing your values with your kids. Older youth may benefit from helping activities that allow them to express their values. See back for healthy ways to express emotions.

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We are excited to announce that the program previously known as Child Care Quality will be transitioning to be known as Growing Minds! 


Here’s the thought process behind the change:

  • The term “child care” does not accurately capture the diversity of all the early care and learning programs ReadyKids serves. We also partner with child development centers, preschool programs in public elementary schools, corporate and university-based centers, faith-based preschools, Head Start, family day homes, and other specialized learning programs.
  • “Child care” diminishes the valuable work of early childhood educators.  Children are learning all the time, in every environment.   We recognize early childhood educators as professionals, tasked with preparing children for school and life success.  Terminology matters.
  • “Growing Minds” reflects both the growth that early childhood educators experience to change their practices (their minds have to expand to assimilate new information and skills), and the impact on the children. Productive play and high quality interactions with adults actually grow children’s minds!

Growing Minds will continue to offer the same services improving the quality of early child-care and preschool settings by offering coaching, training and support to early childhood teachers and directors.  We hope that you will practice saying the new name with us!

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Many of the fathers in the ReadyKids REAL Dads program face an uphill battle when it comes to building a relationship with their kids.  They’re often coming out of jail, they’ve missed important milestones in their child’s life, they have to pay child support, and they’re struggling to find employment and housing because they have a felony on their record.

“It can beat you down,” said Eddie Harris, REAL Dads Fatherhood Specialist.  “It’s easy to give up.”

With so many obstacles, why not give up?

“Children need their fathers,” said Harris.  “Something we don’t recognize as a culture is that fathers also need their children.  It’s a connection deeper and stronger than any relationship they’ll ever have.  Their children are a part of them.”

Three fatherhood experts weigh in on how to keep engaged with your kids, even when things are stressful.

  1. Be an Example of Resilience

Whether or not you had a good dad, your child needs a great dad.  You can be that for them, no matter what your history is.

“Never give up,” said Harris.  “You have to be persistence and patient and willing to evolve into someone responsible and loving.  Regardless of the situation or the circumstances, you have to fight for your relationship. This has to be more important to you than anything else.  Own the relationship you have with your kids, and make it better.”

  1. Meet the Child Where They Are

Remember the wonder and the innocence of childhood?  It’s a magical time with fewer worries and clearer priorities.  Allow yourself to see the world through their eyes, it’ll help you feel a little lighter.

“If your son or daughter asks you to play, build with blocks or draw – stop and do it,” said Jon Elliot, organizer of the Charlottesville Fathers Eve event.  “Those moments go miles in building and strengthening your relationships.  It’s more important than anything you are in the process of doing, and way more fun.  When they are older, those moments will be fewer and farther in between, so enjoy them while you can.”

  1. Do Something

If you’ve been fighting with your kids, this is an especially important one.  Nothing generates conflict faster than boredom, and it’s important to remember that his goes for Dad too.  If Dad is bored, he’ll be far less fun to be with and far less patient with kids being kids.  Here’s a few suggestions of activities kids enjoy – read a book together, play a board game together, play ball, go to a park, see a movie, grab a piece of paper and a pencil and play tic-tac-toe or hangman.

“Don’t wait for the kid to take the lead, they’re looking to you as the adult,” said Alex Jarboe, an experienced Boy Scout Den Leader.  “Have a plan and multiple backup plans.  What you think will take 30 minutes might take 10, or it might not be as fun as you thought.  Always have options to fall back on.”

During this Father’s Day month, thank you to all of the hard working dads building relationships with their kids.  You make a difference every day.  If you are interested in learning more about the REAL Dads program, contact Eddie Harris.

Help More Dads and Kids

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When you decide you want to volunteer with kids, we know there are lots of options in and around Charlottesville.  Why choose Play Partners over something else?  Play Partners teachings preschool-age kids literacy skills, active listening and focus through play and story-telling together.  We’re a little biased, but we think it’s the best volunteer gig in town.  Here’s ten reasons why volunteering with Play Partners is an experience you’ll love.

10.  Two is better than one

At Play Partners, you’ll never be left on your own to figure things out.  You will always be paired with a more experienced volunteer to guide you through the day.  “This is my first year.  I feel like I had a huge learning curve, but I feel better at the end than I did at the beginning, thanks to my [volunteer partner],” said one Play Partners volunteer.

9.  Following the children’s lead

While the Play Partners staff will always give you lots of ideas for leading a session, there is also room to bring your own ideas and follow the children’s interests.  “It’s fun to hear children use words like ‘dozing,’ which is certainly learned from a book we had read,” said a Play Partner volunteer.

8.  On the school schedule

You’ll always have summer and holidays off, which is perfect for a parent with kids in school or college.

7. Substitutes available

If you go on vacation, have surgery, or just don’t feel well, there are substitutes available to cover for you.

6. Manageable time commitment

A typical Play Partners session is an hour long, once a week.  Add in another thirty minutes to an hour for planning and preparation, and you’re donating about two hours a week of your time to preschoolers in Charlottesville.

Those small hours add up.  Last year, Play Partners’ 26 volunteers donated over 1,059 hours to ReadyKids.

5. Hilarious, adorable kids

You get to spend time with, and build relationships with, sweet, funny, creative 3 to 5-year-olds in family and professional day care centers who are at risk of falling behind their peers in school.  “It is obvious these 4-year-olds do not have the vocabulary and number skills of my 4-year-old granddaughter,” said one Play Partners volunteer. “Our sessions help to make up the inequality.” Last year, Play Partners served over 100 children at eight child care providers around Charlottesville.

4. Awesome volunteer management staff

Christy and Ali, the Play Partners volunteer management staff, are nurturing and caring.  They will answer any questions you have, support and guide you through each week.  “Everyone at ReadyKids is so appreciative and pamper us!” said one Play Partner volunteer. “The art supply closet was wonderfully stocked with essentials and new fun things to try.”

3. Free trainings

The Play Partners program provides structured, ongoing trainings including how to support reading development, building brains, teaching movement activities, and helping children through transitions.

2. Book love

You’re helping kids to learn to love books, and to build their own home library.  Each month, each kid in the classroom you work with will get to take home a copy of the book you taught them that month. Last year, the Play Partners program gave away 1,027 books.

1. Building a new generation

Play Partners builds literacy skills in kids.  “One of the things I love about Play Partners is that we are trying to make an impact on the kids while they are still young,” said Ali Davidson, Play Partners Assistant. “We are trying to catch these kids before the gap widens and they head down a path that is irreversible.” 86% of children who participate in the Play Partners program demonstrate post-test emergent literacy skills as evidenced by scoring at or above age level for vocabulary.  Literacy skills are tied to a longer, healthier life.  In addition, poor reading skills are linked to teen pregnancy, substance abuse, incarceration, and welfare dependence.  Helping to bridge the achievement gap to children arrive at school at the same level as their peers has a lifelong impact.

Tell me more about Play Partners! Sign me up! I want to volunteer!

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Here at ReadyPeeps, we open doors to bright futures for peeps!

In all seriousness, the staff at ReadyKids work hard every day to open doors to bright futures for kids.  But last week, they got a little silly at our Agency Retreat.  A bonding activity for teams was to create Peeps dioramas of their programs based off of the annual Washington Post Peeps Diorama Contest.

Take a look at the creativity among the teams and how well they portrayed ReadyKids’ programs in a miniaturized way.  It might give you a “peep” into our work!  (Ha!  See what we did there?)

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