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How to Support a Child's Gender Identity

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 18, 2021

Gender identity is the gender your child feels that they are. They might feel like a boy, a girl, or something else. If your child's gender identity doesn't match the gender they were assigned at birth, they may experience gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria is discomfort or stress your child may feel about their body or gender expression not matching how they feel inside. It may intensify around puberty.

How to Support a Gender Non-Conforming Child

If your child displays behavior that suggests their gender identity doesn't match their gender assigned at birth, here's how you can be supportive:

  • Affirm your child's gender. Rather than shaming or punishing your child's gender creativity, support it. Allow them to display it in whatever ways they are comfortable, whether it is at home or in public. Use the name and pronouns that your child chooses for themselves.
  • Stand up for your child. If people, including others in your family, mistreat or bully your child due to their gender expression, stand up for them. Let people know that discrimination, teasing, and other forms of bullying are not OK. You can also let your child know when it is OK to stand up for themselves.
  • Show disapproval of discriminatory media. If there is a slur or discriminatory joke in a book, TV show, or movie, let your child know you think those words are not OK.
  • Give your child access to LGBTQ+ media. Allow your child to look at age-appropriate books, websites, movies, and TV shows that have positive depictions of queer and transgender people.
  • Get support for yourself. It's normal for parents to have a difficult time when their child tells them they are gender non-conforming. You may mourn the child's gender assigned at birth, or have other thoughts that cause you distress. You can work on these issues with a therapist, or find a local support group.
  • Get support for your child. Transgender and gender non-conforming youth have much higher rates of suicide than their cisgender counterparts. If your child shows signs of depression, consider finding a therapist who works with gender-variant children. Make sure that any therapy programs selected are not "reparative" or "conversion" programs. These programs try to change children's identity back to cisgender.
  • Focus on your child's joy. You may have had ideas of your child's future based on their gender identity. It's important to release these fantasies and focus on what brings your child joy in the present moment. Build new hopes for their future based on their current gender identity.
  • Connect with others. Find other families in your area who have gender non-conforming children. You can also join a support group either in person or online.
  • Talk to your child's school. Before the school year starts, talk to your child's school administration and teachers. Establish which bathroom they will use and how the school will handle team sports and gym class. Let administrators know whether or not you want your child's gender identity shared with others. 

How Do You Know if Your Child Is Transgender?

Your child may start showing signs that they are gender variant in early childhood. By age two, most children are aware of the differences between boys and girls. By age three, many kids can easily identify their own gender. At age four, their concept of their own gender identity is usually solid. Even if your child isn't gender variant, exploring gender through play is normal for children of any gender. 

Your child may be transgender if:

  • They insist on urinating like the opposite gender.
  • They do not want to wear bathing suits or underwear associated with their assigned gender.
  • They display a strong preference for toys and hobbies associated with the opposite gender.
  • They consistently and persistently insist they are of a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth.

Resources From the LGBTQ+ Community

The following organizations have resources you may find useful in supporting your child's gender identity: 

PFLAG. The original name of this organization was Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Their organization now focuses on offering support to allies of everyone under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. They have more than 400 local chapters across the United States, and have specific programs for making schools safer for LGBTQ+ youth.

TransFamilies. This organization offers support and community connection specifically for parents of transgender and gender-diverse children. You can connect with other families or simply find resources on topics including medical care and your child's legal rights.

TransYouth Family Allies. This organization offers resources to families of transgender children and anyone who is a supportive person in a trans youth's life. Their site has many informational documents that can help you to better understand your child's experience.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Caring For Kids: "Gender identity."

HealthyChildren.org: "Gender-Diverse & Transgender Children," "Gender Identity Development in Children."

Human Rights Campaign: "New Study Reveals Shocking Rates of Attempted Suicide Among Trans Adolescents," "Transgender Children & Youth: Understanding the Basics."

Mayo Clinic: "Children and gender identity: Supporting your child."

PFLAG: "About PFLAG."

Transfamilies: "About Us."

TransYouth Family Allies: "ABOUT US: OUR MISSION."

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