In case your little one comes out to you as transgender, the very first thing you ought to do as a father or mother is what you’ve hopefully been doing all all through their childhood—convey your love and assist for them and for who they’re. Determining what that love and assist appears to be like and appears like, although, is the place some dad and mom get tripped up.
So I talked with Dr. Diane Chen, pediatric psychologist and behavioral well being director for the Household Division of Adolescent and Younger Grownup Medication at Lurie Youngsters’s Hospital of Chicago, about how dad and mom can finest assist their transgender kids.
The preliminary dialog
In case your little one shares with you that they’re transgender, the very best response you can provide them is first to thank them for sharing that with you and to categorical your love of who they’re, no matter their gender identification.
“A very powerful piece is conveying to the kid that they’re beloved for whomever they’re at this second, [and] who they’re 5 years from now or 10 years from now,” Chen says. “Convey that consistency of affection and assist … in order that the assist isn’t tied to identification.”
She says dad and mom typically have regrets about how they react throughout that preliminary dialog, as a result of whereas some dad and mom might have lengthy suspected their little one is transgender, many different dad and mom are shocked by the data. And that shock might immediate them to say issues like, “Are you certain?” or “This appears to have come out of nowhere,” or “Perhaps that is only a section.” If that’s the case, Chen says it’s by no means too late to course-correct and sit down once more with the kid.
Once you do, acknowledge your preliminary shock, in addition to the braveness it should have taken for them to start out that dialog with you. Apologize for not figuring out find out how to have higher supported them throughout that point, and begin over. One of many worst issues a father or mother can do (in addition to outright rejection, in fact) is to fake just like the dialog by no means occurred or watch for the little one to deliver it up once more.
“Adolescents will say, ‘Effectively, I attempted to come back out to my dad and mom a number of occasions, and listed here are the a number of methods I’ve tried to do it,’” Chen says. “It didn’t all the time go as deliberate, however then they [the parents] by no means circled again round. So I all the time encourage dad and mom, in the event that they really feel like they missed that boat, to come back again and have that dialog with their little one.”
Follow their lead
Transgender children are going to want or need different things, depending on their age, developmental stage, and personality. So if you’re not sure how exactly to support them, start by simply following their lead. Chen says for a child who comes out as transgender and seems generally happy—with no noticeable academic, social, emotional, or behavioral changes—simply supporting them and letting them be who they are may be enough for now. If instead they are struggling in any of those areas, there may be other interventions that would be beneficial to them.
“We don’t want to push a child to transition socially if that’s not something they’re ready for or that they want, because that in and of itself can be stressful,” she says. “I think it could certainly be helpful for parents to speak with their children about the range of possibilities that may be available to them.”
So if a child who was assigned female at birth tells their parents they are a boy, the parent might respond by saying something like, “Okay, so what does that mean for you?” with follow-up questions about whether they’re comfortable with the name they’re using right now and whether they are still comfortable with she/her pronouns or if they’d like to start using different pronouns.
Parents can talk to their kids about what changes they’d like to make at home versus at school or with extended family or friends—these types of conversations can help parents figure out what transition-related supports their child is seeking.
Depending on the age of the child and their developmental stage, there may also be medical interventions that can help prevent gender dysphoria, as well, Chen says. You should speak with medical professionals about those options, which can begin as early as the start of puberty.
If your child hasn’t come out to you
Some parents may suspect their child is transgender based on clues they’ve seen throughout their childhood, or perhaps because they’ve experimented with different types of gender expression—but the parent may not be sure whether (or how) to address it with them. Chen says how a parent should proceed, in part, depends on the specific child.
“I think parents are experts of their own children,” she says. “Do you have a more inhibited, temperamentally shy child who maybe is not going to be as assertive in coming to you? Or do you have that kid who’s … generally saying whatever is on their mind?”
Even in the eight years since Chen began working in this field, she says she has seen a rise in diverse books for kids of all ages that feature characters with a variety of gender identities and expressions, which can help prompt these conversations. But there’s also a balance parents should try to strike here.
“You want your child to know it’s safe to explore and play with gender in a way that feels comfortable to them, but you don’t want to put pressure on a child to figure out what their gender identity is,” she says. “I think that’s the important piece to remember—just because a child exhibits gender-expansive or gender-diverse behaviors doesn’t necessarily mean that they are transgender or will ultimately identify as transgender. So I think it’s also important to give children space to explore without trying to fit kids into boxes.”
You want your child to know it’s safe to explore and play with gender in a way that feels comfortable to them, but you don’t want to put pressure on a child to figure out what their gender identity is.
Everything we’ve discussed here is really just the beginning of your journey as a family, and chances are good that you’ll need some solid resources and support going forward. Here are a few organizations and books to get you started:
And finally, it’s a good idea to ask around and find a local support group to connect with other parents in your area and provide opportunities for your child to meet other gender-diverse or transgender youth. You can start by looking for a PFLAG chapter near you.