Your daughter just told you she is transgender — now what? As a parent or caregiver there may be numerous questions, fears, and concerns in hearing these words. This is normal. Raising a transgender child isn’t something parents are necessarily prepared for. The good news is, you are not alone, and you can have a positive impact on your child’s gender journey.
First, Educate Yourself.
While every transgender individual has a different experience, understanding you and your child are not alone in this journey is important. Fortunately, many advocacy resources exist including organizations, groups, books, and blogs supporting parents of transgender children. Use these resources to support you in your journey.
Also be aware, your child’s experience is unique. Respect that. Ask them questions about their experiences and simply talk to them. They do not expect you to have all the answers, but knowing you are there to learn along with them is important.
It’s Not Just a Phase.
Your child is not deciding what gender to be, they are sharing with you what their gender is. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (2018), by the time children are two-years-old, they are conscious of physical differences in gender. When they reach age three of three they can easily label themselves as boy or girl. And by age four their sense of gender identity is stable.
Your child did not decide this on a whim. Chances are they have known this from a very early age. Don’t allow your fears to drive your interactions. Don’t ask your child if they are “sure”. This can feel undermining and rejecting.
Gender Identity or Gender Expression?
Remember, gender identity and gender expression are not one in the same. Gender identity is who they are while gender expression is how they express who they are. If your son enjoys dressing up as a princess, this does not necessarily mean he is transgender. It is common for children to explore their gender expression through play. For example, you do not have to be a girl to enjoy stereotypical feminine clothing and toys, or a boy to enjoy sports and frogs.
Providing your child with an environment of diverse gender roles and encouraging opportunities for everyone is a great way to support the exploration of gender roles and different styles of play. Some ideas include providing a wide range of toys for your child to choose from, offering children’s books that support non-stereotypical gender roles, and allowing children the power to choose their friend groups and activities.
Remember, an individual’s experienced and expressed gender identity may be fluid and shift over time.
How do I know if my child is transgender?
Transgender people may express a conflict between their physical gender and the gender in which they identify. This is known as gender dysphoria.
If your child is experiencing gender dysphoria, they may:
- Insist they are a different gender.
- Get upset or angry if they are called a boy or girl or anything gender specific.
- Show signs of anxiety — not doing well in school, tantrums, take part in activities.
- Ask you to call them by a different name or use a different pronoun like he, she or they.
- Ask questions about their gender — “Why do I have girl parts? I’m a boy.” or “Can I be a daddy instead of a mommy when I grow up?”
If your teen is experiencing gender dysphoria, they may:
- Show signs of depression — not want to take part in activities, particularly activities that are gender specific.
- Show signs of anxiety — especially in social situations.
- Tell you they feel unsure about their gender or that their gender identity differs from their assigned sex.
- Ask you to call they by a different name and use a different pronoun like he, she, or they.
- Self-harm — scratching, biting, or cutting themselves.
If your child shows signs of gender dysphoria you may find benefit and support in contacting a transgender-affirming therapist to further support your child in their gender journey.
Seek and Offer Support.
The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS) found that 81.7% of U.S. transgender adults reported seriously thinking about suicide at some time in their lifetime. Clearly, this can be a frightening statistic for a parent.
It is important to understand that these statistics can plummet given your child is provided with early intervention and family support. Supporting your child in their gender identity and seeking gender-affirming care can often relieve some of their distress.
How can you support your transgender child?
- Use words to show you love and support them- encourage them to explore different clothing, hairstyles, or activities all without judgment.
- Ask questions to show you care — “What can I do to support you?”, “Is there anything I can do to make things easier?”, or “I’m interested in hearing what this has been like for you. Would you tell me more about it?”
- Learn the terminology — Remember, gender identity and gender expression are not the same. Sex and gender terms are often used interchangeably, however there are differences in the terms.
- Use correct names and pronouns. This will help your child feel recognized for who they are.
- Encourage them to speak about it — do not encourage silence or secrecy.
- Require respect from others in your life — You may not have all the answers for everyone but setting boundaries to treat your child with love and respect is more important than others comfort.
How can you support your child’s social transition?
- Allow your child to wear clothing that affirms their gender.
- Support your child in adopting a hair style that affirms their gender.
- Use their gender-affirming name and pronouns and ask others to do so as well.
- Encourage them to use bathrooms and other facilities that match their gender identity.
You love your child and you want to help. In order to better support your child, it is important that you find the support and help you need. A mental health professional can assist you in working through your thoughts, fears, grief and other emotions.
Remember, transitioning is a big event for the entire family. A family therapist can not only assist you and your family in balancing concerns, fears, and emotions, they can also provide affirming care for your child. The most important advice: Love and accept your kids for who they are. Continue actively loving your child through it all.
So, how do you help your transgender child walk through this world? You do it by loving them, supporting them, affirming them, believing in them, and celebrating them.
Additional Support for Parents
There are many organizations to support parents of transgender children. Below, I have provided a few to consider:
- The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) promotes evidence based care, education, research, public policy, and respect in transgender health. They provide education and resources for youth, schools, and families.
- The Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Children and Youth page includes resources for families, community members, school officials and more.
- Gender Spectrum offers information and training for families, educators, professionals, and organizations, helping them creating gender-sensitive and inclusive environments for all children and teens.
- PFLAG is the first and largest organization in the country that supports the families, friends and allies of LGBTQ+ people. PFLAG has local chapters across the United States, including groups specifically for families with transgender children.
Galupo, M. P., Pulice-Farrow, L., & Ramirez, J. L. (2017). “Like a constantly flowing river”: Gender identity flexibility among nonbinary transgender individuals. in Identity flexibility during adulthood (pp. 163-177). Springer, Cham.
James, S. E., & Herman, J. (2017). The report of the 2015 US transgender survey: executive summary. National Center for Transgender Equality.
Rafferty, J. (2018).
Gender Identity Development in Children. American Academy of Pediatrics
Retrieved from https://www.aap.org