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How to Support Your Transgender Child

Written By

Adryan Corcione

Dec 20, 2022

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If you're a parent of a transgender and/or nonbinary child, teen, or adult, FOLX offers parental consults through our Virtual Healthcare visits, where you can get information on how to support your child through any of the following processes: questioning, social affirmation, legal affirmation, medical affirmation, surgical affirmation. Schedule a VHC visit with a FOLX clinician today to learn more about gender affirming care options for your child, teen, or adult. Additionally, stay tuned for our parental support groups, soon to be available in our community content platform, INNERSPACE.

Queer and trans youth aren’t rare. According to the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy at the UCLA School of Law, there are approximately 3.2 million LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 8 and 18 in the United States. Today’s youth are some of the most gender diverse yet.

As both social and medical conversations become more advanced, we’re learning that there is a wide wide world of gender for persons of all ages to explore. If you’re a parent to a young person, there’s a possibility they could come out as transgender and/or nonbinary. Even if you are not a parent—such as a family member, friend, or someone who works with children and adolescents—being a supportive adult and ally is still important. 

How can you best prepare if your child comes out to you as trans and/or nonbinary? Understand that this person is the same person you loved and cherished as your child and family yesterday. Prepare to have a series of conversations and take your time to learn more about what your child is telling you and experiencing. Read below for some tips on navigating conversations as parents or allies of transgender children.

Articulate your love and support

First off, it’s important to express and reassure that you still love and care for your child no matter what their gender identity is, or may eventually be. As you talk more, both you and your child might be feeling many different emotions at once, including uncomfortable ones. It’s important to remember that they are still your precious child deserving of your unconditional love and support. Go out of your way to articulate and show your love and support. Reassuring you’re a safe person to talk with and who will always care can go a long way for any transgender person, let alone a child.

Reaffirming your love and their acceptance is a great start. “I love you” is a great and simple start. While this three letter phrase is always important to remind your child, it also helps to back up these words with action that affirms  them. Let your child know you support their authentic self and that you accept them for who they are. Additionally, thank them for sharing their feelings with you. Let them know it’s okay for them to not know everything, and that you will need time to learn more and catch up. While it’s difficult for a young person to hold space for their own identity, it’s much more difficult to be vulnerable with a caregiver, even if they trust you.

Ask for what your trans child needs—and show up

As a parent, it’s always helpful to master the skill of active listening, which means being present and engaged with what your child is saying rather than in your own head worrying or coming up with potential responses. Take a deep breath, sit tight, and pay attention to both the words and body language your child is sharing with you. One way to engage in active listening with your child is asking open-ended questions to encourage responses.

While you might have lots of questions, try not to bombard them with all your questions all at once.  However, keep in mind that posing questions—like those related to what they need in the moment— may encourage them to explore and experiment with what could be gender affirming. Some questions can include:

  • How can I help you? What do you need from me at home with family and at school with friends?
  • Would you like to try out new pronouns?
  • Would you like to try out a new name?
  • Are you comfortable in your clothes? If not, what kind of clothes do you think would help you feel more comfortable?
  • Do you want to talk with a medical or mental health professional about gender and options for support and care? 
  • Who do you want to share this information with, or not? Can I help with this process?

It may also benefit to propose different scenarios on where they’re comfortable with experimenting. You might ask whether they want to try out something new at home and/or with their friends and family first before school or elsewhere. Maybe they might not be comfortable coming out to anyone else, even to other family members, at the time. Don’t be offended if they may have already come out as transgender or gender diverse to friends or others. Offering your child the support and space to experiment with gender expression can help them gain the confidence to move forward with their new gender identity. 

Additionally, you should inquire about what kind of support they need outside of you, particularly with school, activities and health resources. Make sure to ask directly if they need help communicating your child’s gender identity to peers, teachers, administrators, etc. at their school. Additionally, ask if they want to pursue gender affirming medical or mental health care now or later; check in with them periodically as this can change over time and as youth start puberty. In states where there are legal restrictions on pediatric gender affirming care, know that there are national and online resources. If there are states that limit gender affirming care to transgender youth, it can be helpful to know whether a child wants to pursue gender affirming care later as an adolescent or adult. The earlier a parent seeks accurate medical information about gender affirming care, the more options they have for: support/resources, timely effective care, preserving emotional/mental health, and decreasing potential need for more aggressive future medical interventions or surgeries.

Lastly, inquire about their mental health. Even if they’re not actively experiencing gender dysphoria, it can be extremely beneficial for all youth experiencing big life changes to include a licensed mental health professional in their support team. If your child is open to seeing a professional—or any kind of health provider—just be sure they are competent in gender diversity and understand the complexity of the gender spectrum.

Educate yourself

Because LGBTQ+ rights are often an afterthought in school and many settings—or completely erased or subject to bias and discrimination—it’s important to understand affirming terminology and frameworks that are medically safe and accurate surrounding gender diversity. All major professional societies, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Psychological Association endorse the gender affirmative care model. If you’ve been unfamiliar with the trans rights movement until now, this is the perfect time to start. Ultimately, it’ll be up to you to educate yourself. Additionally, both medical and mental health professionals who provide gender care can also help provide education. As you gain knowledge and skills, you're helping ensure your child’s current and future health as well as safety.

Set aside time to research online or even hit your local library if they have an LGTBQ+ section. Encourage your child to come along with you. In the meantime, here are some resources to steer you in the right direction: 

The goal is to provide your child with a safe and loving home and place to explore their authentic self, whoever and however that might be. Depending on your child’s age, they might not have a clear vision for how they want to show up in their new gender identity. Other children are very clear on exactly how they view themselves or want to disclose or express. Take your child’s lead on what comes next. Help find and expose them to positive transgender representation in media or otherwises. Help them understand all their options for affirmation and care, which may be just socially affirming change such as name, pronouns, clothing, hair, or may include medical options like totally reversible puberty blockers or partly reversible gender hormone therapy.  

Seek community support

It’s critical to seek not just information, but also community support outside of just your family and friends. Family acceptance (including chosen family) is an incredibly important first step, but unfortunately, trans and nonbinary youth can benefit from having all spaces that they live and interact in be safe, welcoming environments.

School is an important space for all youth and can sometimes be more difficult for trans and nonbinary youth to navigate. Check in with both your child about bullying and safety in school. Check in with the school resource and support team about resources and policies at the school. Schools that have Gay Straight Student Alliances (GSAs) are more likely to be schools where gay or TGD kids feel safe and supported, as well as experience less bullying or victimization. If there is no GSA, consider how one might get started in your child’s school. 

Some parents have additional concerns about whether or not their faith based community will be accepting. While there are certainly religious people and organizations that don’t tolerate or welcome trans and nonbinary people, there are many faith communities that do. If you or your child’s relationship to a faith community is important, there are ways to honor trans and nonbinary identities within many faith based communities. 

Be sure to research what local or regional community resources are available in your area and state. Nationally, there are resources available like:

Specific faith-based resources

Take time to understand your own feelings

Just like each child may have a different experience with gender, each parent hearing and learning more about their child’s gender experience might bring up different emotions.

It’s critical to honestly explore you and your partner’s feelings honestly and reactions privately/independently from the child to clarify how to best support your child. Like many aspects of parenting, this isn’t done directly with the child, but instead, in appropriate adult/parent settings where you, as a parent can, receive information and support to actively listen when you’re with your child.

A child’s disclosure of their trans and/or nonbinary identity may be perceived and received differently by different family members. Supporting a trans and/or nonbinary child sometimes strains marriages, relationships, and families. Some parents and families can get more resources and support with counseling. Others choose group work in person or online. Others read and learn more from a variety of medical, media, and social resources. Seeking not just information, but also community support outside of just your family and friends is important for parents as well as the child. 

We also recommend reading 4 Ways Parents Can Process Their Feelings After Their Kid Comes Out As Transgender by Sam Dylan Finch on Everyday feminism.

Acceptance, support, and celebrate your amazingly brave and strong child!

The medical and mental health evidence is wonderfully strong and clear. There is persistent consistent, insistent previous as well as current data telling us that the gender affirmative model of care and parent acceptance/support is critical to current and future health of trans and nonbinary people

Cultivating consistent support for love, affirmation, and celebration of all diverse identities, including gender identities, is a responsibility for parents, those who work with children/adolescents, and anyone who believes in human civil rights. Offering opportunities to celebrate their unique and most authentic self is as important to trans and nonbinary youth as is as working to reduce risk and offer support. Trans and nonbinary children have many reasons to celebrate. Some important milestones may include: 

  • Coming out to important people in their lives
  • Name changes on legal documents, school identification, etc.
  • Gender marker changes on legal documents, school identification, etc.
  • First appointments for gender affirming medical or mental health services
  • First doses of puberty blockers or gender affirming medications

These are all potential important milestones and achievements that not only you can support as a parent, but you can share in the joy and celebration with your child.

Parenting a trans and/or nonbinary child might seem challenging. However, over time, many parents realize that it’s a beautiful opportunity to honor and commit to their child’s authentic self within a safe, accepted place in their family. Every child deserves a safe home, affirming caregivers, secure resources, supportive health development, and permission to grow into their strongest self. Parents have that critical role to help guide their kids into a safe, healthy, and strong childhood/adolescence.  

If you're a parent of a transgender and/or nonbinary child, teen, or adult, FOLX offers parental consults through our Virtual Healthcare visits, where you can get information on how to support your child through any of the following processes: questioning, social affirmation, legal affirmation, medical affirmation, surgical affirmation. Schedule a VHC visit with a FOLX clinician today to learn more about gender affirming care options for your child, teen, or adult. Additionally, stay tuned for our parental support groups, soon to be available in our community content platform, INNERSPACE.

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