Your child’s diverse gender identity and your feelings
If your child tells you that they identify as a gender that’s different from the sex they were given at birth, there’s no ‘right’ way to feel.
If the news feels sudden and unexpected, you might feel shocked. Even if you’ve wondered about your child’s gender identity for a while, it might still be confronting to hear your child put it into words.
Some parents talk about feeling grief or loss at the thought of ‘losing’ the son or daughter they thought they knew. Other parents feel guilty and wonder if it’s their fault. And some parents feel relieved, especially if their child has expressed a gender-diverse identity from childhood.
It might take you some time to work through your feelings. That’s OK. There might also be some challenges to navigate, including the reactions of family, friends and people in your community. As you go through this period of adjustment with your child, your love and support for your gender-diverse child will help your child feel a sense of belonging and have a positive outlook.
Looking after yourself when your child is gender diverse
It’s important to get support for yourself, especially if you’re worried or feeling anxious. Your GP is a good place to start. If your GP isn’t familiar with or supportive of gender diversity in childhood, it’s OK to find another GP. You can get a referral to a GP from a gender clinic.
Many families have experienced or are experiencing similar challenges adapting to their child’s gender identity. It might help to get in touch with a parent support group like Transcend or Parents of Gender Diverse Children.
And learning more about gender identity can help too. For example, knowing that gender identity can be fluid, and that your child might still be working out how they identify themselves, can help you support your child.
Most children grow up thinking of themselves as a girl or a boy and don’t question their gender. But some children and teenagers in all cultures identify as a gender that’s different from the sex they were assigned at birth.
Supporting siblings of gender-diverse children and teenagers
Many families say that their other children are the first to support and affirm their gender-diverse sibling. But siblings can also feel upset and struggle to understand and adapt to the changes.
Talking with your other children about their feelings and how the situation is affecting them can help a lot. For example, you might ask, ‘How do you feel about your brother wanting to use a new name?’ or ‘Are other children talking about it at school?’
Some children find it hard to adapt to the changes and might tease their sibling or use hurtful names. If this happens, it’s important for you to stop the name-calling and guide your other children towards more positive behaviour.
You can also help your children understand what’s happening to their brother or sister. For example, you might say, ‘When Tom was born we thought he was a boy, but he doesn’t feel like a boy on the inside’. For younger children you might need to explain several times.
If you’re worried about your other children and how they’re coping, speaking to your GP is a good first step. The GP can refer your child to a mental health professional.
It’s important to protect and respect your gender-diverse child’s privacy at all times. But if all your children agree, it might help to tell staff at your other children’s schools what’s going on. This way, staff can offer support if they notice that your other children are having a hard time.
Handling other people’s reactions to your child’s gender identity
It’s important to respect your child’s wishes and tell other people only if your child wants you to. Some children and teenagers find it’s easier when extended family, people at school and people in the community know about their gender identity. Others find this makes things more difficult.
If your child is happy to share information about their gender identity, the way you tell people can influence their reactions and help them embrace your child’s identity.
For example, you might choose to tell family and friends face to face or you might want to write to them. And before you tell family and friends, it can help to think about what you expect from them. You might like them to use your child’s preferred name and pronoun.
If friends or family react negatively or have questions, you could give them some information about gender diversity, or tell them that you’re happy to answer any questions.
Sometimes strangers might comment on your child’s appearance or behaviour. This might be uncomfortable or upsetting for you. Thinking in advance about what to say can help you handle your feelings about people’s comments. It can also help you express your love and support for your child in a way that feels right to you.
For example, if someone asks or comments on your gender diverse child wearing a dress, you could say, ‘I think it’s great when children can express themselves, and I’m really proud of my child’.