Gender is not as simple as boy or girl and is composed of many parts. A child’s sex assigned at birth is an assignment or classification given to an infant based on physical anatomy. Gender identity is an individual’s sense of being male, female, neither, both, or other genders. For many individuals, their sex assigned at birth and gender identity match (i.e. they are cisgender). For other individuals, sex assigned at birth and gender identity do not match (i.e. they are transgender or gender expansive).
Transgender and gender expansive youth face a number of challenges in the community due to stigma and discrimination. They are at high risk for mental health issues including suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression when they are not supported in their identities.
Here are some suggestions to help parents and caregivers best support their transgender and gender expansive youth. Regardless of where your family is on the gender journey, these ideas can help you provide the most supportive environment for your child.
1. Listen, validate, and accept: Parental acceptance is the single largest protective factor for transgender and gender expansive youth. Youth who have support from their families have similar mental health rates and diagnoses when compared to cisgender peers. Provide a space for your child to have open conversations. Ask open ended questions like: “How do you describe your gender?” or “What does gender mean to you?” Follow your child’s lead and provide a supportive stance. Use the name and pronouns that your child prefers.
2. Find support for your child (if needed): Your child might feel like they would like support from the community or from mental health providers, though it is certainly not required. If they do, look for clinicians who provide gender affirmative care. You might want to find a team of gender affirming providers including primary care, psychology, and endocrinology if your child is medically transitioning.
3. Require respect within the family and promote pride in your child’s gender identity: Always promote that family members and friends use preferred name and pronouns for your child. Celebrate your child’s identity and encourage others to do so.
4. Advocate: Transgender and gender expansive youth have a number of different challenges that they face on a day to day basis. For example, these children and teens might not know how to talk to their school about their preferred name and pronouns, what restroom to use, or how to correct someone who is misgendering them. Parents can play a huge role in helping advocate for their child by talking to the school administration or becoming more involved within the transgender community. Learn as much as you can through reading and take part in advocacy groups.
5. Find support for you: It is normal for parents to have their own emotional processes around their child coming out as transgender or gender expansive. It is important for parents to find their own support if they feel as though they are struggling with their own reactions. Parents can join support groups aimed towards parents or confide in friends and family.
Samantha Busa, PsyD, is a licensed psychologist and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. She sees patients for evaluations, individual therapy, and group therapy as part of the Gender & Sexuality Service at the Child Study Center, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone. She also conducts individual and group therapy for anxiety disorders, mood disorders, tics and Tourette disorder, trichotillomania and body-focused repetitive behaviors, and school refusal using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy, and habit reversal training.