Parents who suspect their child is struggling with gender identity or are concerned this could be an issue as they grow should address the situation. There’s no sense in hiding from the subject or pretending this might be just a new or different phase of growing up.
What’s the best approach to talk about gender identity?
Don’t Make Assumptions About Your Child’s Gender Identity
When it comes to talking to your child about gender identity, it’s important not to make any assumptions. Each child is different and will understand and express their gender identity in their own unique way.
Be Open and Honest with Your Child about Gender Identity
It’s also important to be open and honest with your child about gender identity. Let them know that there are many different ways to express gender and that there is no one right way to do things. Be sure to respect your child’s wishes regarding their gender identity, and support them as they explore their identity.
The most important thing you can do is listen to your child and take their feelings seriously. If they’re telling you that they want to potentially change their gender, it’s because that’s how they truly feel. Don’t try to talk them out of it or tell them that they’re just going through a phase. This will only make them feel invalidated and unsupported.
Parents also shouldn’t feel uncomfortable talking to their children about gender too early or before they are ready to discuss sexuality. Gender identity isn’t about sexuality. Parents must understand the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, and understand that everyone has a sexual orientation separate from their gender identity.
According to pediatric endocrinologist Julia Cartaya, MD, “Sexual orientation is who you go to bed with, but gender identity is who you go to bed as.”
Respect Your Child’s Wishes
Your child’s gender identity is a deeply personal aspect of who they are. Just as you would respect their wishes regarding any other aspect of their identity, it’s important to respect their wishes when it comes to their gender identity.
How your child feels about their gender identity is incredibly important to them. Respecting their wishes is one way of showing that you care about and support them.
Ultimately, it’s your child’s body and they should be the ones who get to navigate what happens to it. If they want to transition, that’s their decision and you should respect it.
Support Your Child
Gender identity is one of the most fundamental aspects of our personality. It’s what makes us feel like we “fit” in the world, and it’s something that we start exploring from a very young age.
For transgender and gender-nonconforming children, figuring out their gender identity can be a challenging process. But with a parent’s support, they can grow into happy and confident adults. Here are three tips to help you support your child’s gender identity journey:
Update your mindset about gender. Many parents have grown up believing that gender is fixed and obvious and they struggle or resist new information that contradicts or challenges their beliefs. If you’re unsure about what it means to be transgender or gender-nonconforming, educate yourself on the subject. There are many great books, articles and blogs available that can help you understand your child’s journey. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to support your child.
Speak to a Family Counselor Familiar with Gender Identity Issues
There are many reasons why you might want to consider taking your child to see a counselor for help with gender identity issues. For example:
- Your child may be experiencing confusion and anxiety about their gender identity
- A counselor can provide support and guidance as your child explores their identity
- Your child may be facing discrimination or bullying
A counselor can help your child deal with the negative, or painful effects of discrimination and bullying and help them normalize the process of discovering their genuine gender identity.
If your child is the target of shaming or bullying, it can be a difficult and overwhelming experience especially if they believe they are alone; a supportive and consistent counselling experience helps your child develop a strong foundation of self love and self care.
Here are three things you can do to support your child and help them through bullying about their gender:
- Talk to your child about what they’re experiencing. It’s important to give your child a chance to share their experiences with you. This will help you better understand what they’re going through and how you can best support them.
- Reach out to the school. If your child is being bullied at school, it’s important to reach out to their teachers or the school administration. They can help put a stop to the bullying and make sure your child is safe.
- Seek out support groups or counselling. If your child is struggling to cope with the bullying, consider seeking out support groups or counselling. This can help them learn how to deal with the bullying and feel supported by others who are going through the same thing.
Your child may benefit from professional social transition support. A counsellor can provide valuable guidance if your child is interested in transitioning socially (e.g., changing their name and pronouns, dressing differently).
If you are considering taking your child to see a counsellor for help with gender identity issues, it is important to find someone who is experienced and knowledgeable about these issues. You can ask your child’s doctor for referrals, or you can search for counsellors online. When searching for a counsellor, look for someone who is “LGBTQ-friendly.”
If you or your child have any questions or concerns about gender identity, it’s important to seek professional help. A qualified therapist can provide guidance and support as your child navigates their gender identity.