Tuesday, 25 April 2023

How To Support A Transgender Child

How To Support A Transgender Child

As the parent of a trans-identifying child, I receive a steady stream of questions to my inbox from the parents, relatives and teachers of young people who have recently come out as transgender or have begun gender-questioning. The most common of which is always "How best to support a transgender child?"

This question fills me up with warm fuzzy feelings every single time because it shows me that - despite the hate we can often see in the media and dripping from the mouths of politicians - the vast majority of normal people want to support the LGBTQ+ youth in their lives without judgement.

When a young person first articulates feelings of gender dysphoria, it can be pretty scary...for you as well as for them. You don't want to say the wrong thing - you want to show your love and acceptance of them without overwhelming them. At the same time, your mind is likely racing with worry about what their future may look like and how accepted they're going to be by the society around them. This is totally normal. It's also normal to have questions and concerns - maybe you're worried about how sure they really are, concerned that it might be a phase or something they're being influenced into thinking, or maybe you're struggling to comprehend it because it's just not something you've come across before.

 Again...normal. You're not a bad person for having these thoughts. But the way you handle them is so important.

 And that responsibility can feel overwhelming. Believe me, I get it. 

 If I had to give one single piece of advice to anybody at the start of this journey, it would be to take it one day at a time. Don't jump ahead by trying to ingest ALL of the information you can find right away. That's a fast track ticket to overwhelm city. There's no hurry - you don't need to have all of the answers overnight. This is a marathon, not a sprint - so protect your energy, and take it slowly.

 Here are 5 simple and straightforward steps you can take to support the young person in question.

5 Ways To Support A Transgender Child

 1. Listen 

 As obvious as it sounds, this is the single most important thing you can do. If a young person has trusted you enough to tell you how they're feeling, then you're likely already doing something right. 

Let them know that they can confide in you whenever they need to, by actively listening - allowing them to speak freely, and trying to receive what they're telling you without judgement.

Thank them for confiding in you and let them know that you hear them, and you believe them. This is something adults often neglect to do, especially if a child is quite young. We can be so quick to dismiss things as a phase, that we forget to let our children know that we're hearing what they're telling us.

You don't need to reason with your child at this point, rationalise their feelings or try to explain them away - this is not something that they need you to fix for them. Just hear what they're telling you and let them know that you're happy for them to keep talking to you about it and that you are there to listen whenever they need you. There is so much power in simply listening, and this is truly one of the most powerful ways to support a transgender child.

 2. Educate

 Education on what it actually means to be transgender is so important but remember to be mindful of not jumping in too fast and overwhelming yourself...or anybody else! Instead, try to take a more mindful and measured approach...

 *Educate your child... Provide them with reading materials that address feelings of gender dysphoria in an age appropriate way - whether its children’s stories addressing how it might feel to be transgender, or first-hand autobiographical experiences from trans-activists aimed at young adults.

 A lot of people fear that providing young people with information on what it means to question your gender might somehow "make them trans" - this is simply not true. Reading about gender dysphoria is no more going to make your child trans than reading The Gruffalo is going to make them a hairy monster. You cannot "make someone trans". They either are trans or they're not...and if not, they will soon figure that out, either on their own or with the support of a gender dysphoria team later down the line. What educating your child on gender questioning WILL do is help them to feel less alone in their experience and assist them in figuring out their feelings.

*Educate those around them...Whether its siblings, grandparents, or classmates, having open discussions about what it means to be transgender can be crucial in helping those around you to be supportive. Again, reading materials can be very helpful with this - always ensure that you're selecting materials from transgender authors with lived experience.  

I found it helpful to discuss the statistics around suicide rates for unsupported trans youth with family members, as these really do very quickly drive home the need for affirmation and respect (48% of transgender young people have attempted suicide (1), but trans youth who are supported by at least one adult in their life are one-third less likely to attempt suicide (2)). 

Try to be open and encourage questions where possible but let them know that the child should not be burdened with these - instead, they can direct their questions to you (no need to worry about not having all of the answers, it's ok to say "I don't know the answer to that").

*Educate yourself...Again, take it slowly. One step at a time. 

Choose reading materials or podcasts from those with lived experience relevant to your own. If you're parenting a very young child with gender dysphoria, acknowledge that you still have a long time to go before any big changes need to happen so you can afford to take it super slowly. Choose educational materials from people who have lived experience of supporting young children through this period (this will help you to weed out scaremongering material from anti-trans journalists who can often disguise their work well as simply "informational" when in fact it is heavily biased.) 

If your child is older, then go for materials that will walk you through the things you're currently experiencing and look to trans-activists online for helpful short-form content to guide you.

You may find it helpful to join support groups for parents on social media or through forums such as Mermaids, and there are often local groups and meet ups with other families which can be invaluable too.

You may also want to speak to your family GP for some advice. Younger children are likely to be advised to follow a watchful waiting process, whereas older children might be referred to gender services for support and guidance. Rest assured that the process is slow, and nothing will be rushed. It's often a wise idea to get their name on the waiting list as soon as possible as these can be years long - their name can always be removed should they no longer need the service when their turn comes.

3. Follow

My number one rule has always been that my child is in charge of this journey. She is the one living this experience first-hand and only she can truly know what feels right for her.

You will likely receive a lot of unsolicited advice from people when your child comes out as transgender but the most important person to listen to (arguably the only one to listen to) is ALWAYS the child. 

Let them know that you will follow their lead - allow them to let you know what they need from you. Whether they would like to change pronouns, if they'd like to use a different name, if they want to wear different styles of clothing - let them be in charge of these changes. If you're unsure about how best to support them through any particular aspect of this journey, ask them directly what they need. The more you encourage them to be open with you and demonstrate your willingness to support and affirm them, the better.

4. Accept

One of the most common things I hear from parents is "I just want things back to the way they were before..."That is completely understandable, and I don't believe that anyone should feel bad about having those thoughts and feelings - it's impossible not to worry about what the future might hold for our kids, and we all just want the easiest and happiest life possible for them.

But the fact is, if they're already telling you that they don't feel comfortable with their assigned birth gender, there's no going back to a time before they said it. Any attempts you make to force things to stay the same could never possibly lead to anything good...it can lead to oppressed feelings and a child who is masking their truth, whilst deep down inside is left feeling unsupported and miserable - eventually something will have to give.

It is far better to pour your energy into radical acceptance - the practise of acknowledging that this may not be what you want, allowing space for your feelings of grief or sadness (whilst being sure to keep these away from your child), but accepting that this is the situation. Nothing can change it, so all you can do is move forward with acceptance and love, trusting that your child will have the best possible chance of happiness with your support.

If you're struggling with acceptance, I would recommend seeking some counselling for yourself to help you process your feelings in a safe space away from your child. I would also recommend seeking out examples of trans joy - I fortunately have always felt quite accepting of my child's gender identity, but even I find it incredibly helpful to see lots of examples of trans people living joyful lives when I scroll through my social media feed. There are many accounts to follow online which will help you to witness true trans joy.

I hope this has been helpful to anyone at the start of this journey. I know it can be an overwhelming time, but just remember that the most important thing is to listen to your child and let them know they have your love and support no matter what. 

Together, you can work out the rest - one step at a time.


1 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5178031/#ref13

2 - https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/trgh.2021.0079


How To Support A Transgender Child

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