General Considerations for Parents and Guardians
While parents and guardians have a great influence over their children’s lives and can help shape they way in which they behave, they cannot change their child’s gender identity. It is not defined by behavior, it is who they are. However, what a parent can do is accept their child for who they are and help them to cultivate a positive self-image.
What are Affirming Parenting Practices
Affirming parent practices are those that help the child explore their own gender identity and develop strength and confidence.
- Creating a supportive and respectful family environment and a safe place at home is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your child’s health as they struggle with their gender identity
- Openly express support of your child’s gender expression and identity through using their chosen name/pronouns allowing them to choose the clothes they want to wear, play with the toys they wish, and engage in the activities they enjoy
- Stand up for your child and do not tolerate negative comments about them.
- Show commitment to your child and maintain open communication, assuring you support them.
What are Unaffirming Parenting Practices
Unaffirming practices are those that do not recognize or affirm the authentic self, blame for being who they are, or even those that go as far as punitive or abusive.
- Physical or verbal abuse puts the child at further risk of homelessness and suicide as they do not feel safe in their own home.
- Excluding your child from family activities for reasons of feeling embarrassed, or forcing them to conform to “gender-normative” dress and behavior; will lead to further isolation.
- Prohibiting them from seeing supportive friends and community members. This can cut them off from an important support system and lead to further isolation and other risk factors.
- Treating your child with disrespect or allowing it from others shows them they cannot count on your support, which is crucial.
- Suppressing your child’s identity or hiding them makes them think that something is wrong with them.
- Masking your child;’s identity with “gender conformity” sends the message that something is wrong with them.
How do I Know if This is Just a Phase?
For some kids exploring gender expansiveness may just be a phase, but for some it may not be. If it is insistent, consistent, and persistent, then the child may be transgender.
If they identify as a gender that is not in alignment with their assigned sex than it is unlikely that will change, and most people have some sense of their gender identity between the ages of 2-4yrs old.
It is also fairly typical that gender identity may come into question around the time of puberty which can be confusing for the child as well as their family. While puberty is a time of general confusion it is important to look for patterns that are insistent, consistent, and persistent.
What About My Feelings?
Feelings of guilt- This can be a common feeling but research supports that gender is formed in the brain at birth and child rearing techniques have absolutely no bearing on the formation of gender identity.
It is also common to experience loss and/or grieving during transition as though one is losing a son or daughter. Parents and Guardians should recognize this, and allow this process, while coming to terms with their child’s authentic self.
There may be a feeling of uncertainty as one’s child explores gender-expansiveness. Caregivers should be aware that it can be a process, and acknowledge the existence of gender fluidity, and give their child freedom and support as they discover themselves.
Supporting all the Children in the Family
It is important to treat both your trans and cisgender children with equity, despite the unconscious bias that may form.
Talking with Extended Family and Friends
This can be a daunting obstacle as many relatives may be in different stages of understanding gender identity and expression. Common practice is to call or write them about it before meeting them in person. Let them know you are supportive of your child and recognize that it may take time for them to understand and the concept may be entirely new for them.
Remember that once you share information concerning your child’s gender it is out there for good. Therefore, you should be extremely careful and thoughtful of when you should disclose this information.
When a child does not conform to traditional “gender norms” it is often that they are mistreated, bullied, or victims of violence. This is a reality and it is in great part the responsibility of caregivers to make sure that the risk is minimalized and the children are protected from harm.