Puberty: how trans or gender-diverse children might feel
All children go through big physical changes in puberty. For example, children’s breasts, labia, penises and scrotums get bigger. They grow hair under their arms and on their faces, and they get more hair on their arms and legs. They start having periods and wet dreams.
Some trans or gender-diverse children are OK with these physical changes. That is, they’re OK with their bodies developing differently from the bodies of other children of the same gender.
Some trans or gender-diverse children feel comfortable with their physical body being a certain way. But they might also want to wear clothing, style their hair or express themselves in ways that are common for children of their gender.
Some trans or gender-diverse children feel anxious or distressed about the physical changes of puberty. These children might experience gender dysphoria for the first time, or their gender dysphoria might get worse. For example, children might worry about:
- whether their physical body will look different from their gender – how will they feel being a boy with breasts or a girl with a deep voice?
- whether their physical body will function differently from their gender – how will they feel being a boy who has periods or a girl who has wet dreams?
- how puberty might affect their peer relationships – how will they feel when friends of the same gender develop breasts or a deeper voice and they don’t? Will they be bullied or rejected for being different?
Talking about puberty with trans or gender-diverse children
All children need information and support to handle the changes of puberty.
Regardless of your child’s gender, it’s important to have open and honest conversations about bodies when your child is young. These conversations send the message that you’re comfortable talking about what bodies look like, what bodies do, how bodies change and so on.
These conversations are especially important if your child is trans or gender diverse. They make it more likely that your child will come to you to talk about their body. They also make it easier for you to start conversations as your child gets closer to puberty.
When you want to talk about puberty with your child, you could ask your child what they know about how their body will change. By actively listening to your child, you’ll get a sense of how your child feels about puberty and its effects on their body and identity.
If your child has questions, answer them as best you can. Be honest if you don’t know the answers. Tell your child that you’ll find out and come back to them.
Talking and listening can help you and your child work out what your child needs to express or affirm their gender identity as they move through the physical changes of puberty.
If your child doesn’t want to talk to you about puberty, that’s OK. You could leave it for now and try again another time. Or you could suggest that they talk to someone else instead. For example, they might like to talk to a family member, friend, teacher or GP.
When you’re talking about the physical changes that happen in puberty, it might help to use phrases like ‘people with ovaries’ or ‘people with testes’ rather than ‘girls’ and ‘boys’. This is because your child might not see themselves as the sex they were assigned at birth.
Support and information about puberty for trans or gender-diverse children
You and your child can get information and support about puberty and gender diversity from many sources. These include:
- a GP, either your own or one who specialises in working with trans or gender-diverse children
- a specialist paediatric gender support service
- a specialist who works with trans or gender-diverse children
- a psychologist or counsellor who has experience working with trans or gender-diverse children.
Puberty is gradual – it doesn’t happen overnight. Your child doesn’t need to make decisions about every aspect of their identity straight away. But your child’s options for affirming their gender can change over the course of puberty. If your child is worried about puberty or showing signs of gender dysphoria, seek help early to talk about options.
Practical tips for supporting trans or gender-diverse children going through puberty
Some of the things you can do in puberty are things that you’d do at any time to support your trans or gender-diverse child. For example:
- Let your child choose how to express their identity – for example, through their name, pronoun, hairstyle or clothes.
- Talk with schools, sports clubs and so on about creating safe, respectful and inclusive environments for your child.
- Encourage your child to join an LGBTQ+ club or Allies club at school.
- Step in if your child experiences bullying or discrimination at school or sport or anywhere else.
- Talk with your child about staying safe when they’re out in public.
There are also particular things that you can do to help your trans or gender-diverse child navigate the physical changes of puberty in a healthy and happy way.
Clothing, accessories and personal care
If your child feels self-conscious or uncomfortable about the way their body looks or works, these tips might help:
- Look for products like sports bras, chest binders or compression shorts. These can make breasts, penises or scrotums less noticeable or more comfortable.
- Look for gender-neutral personal care products – for example, period-proof underwear in gender-neutral designs and patterns and neutral or fragrance-free deodorants, hair care products and so on.
If your child is supposed to do puberty classes at school and the classes are segregated according to binary genders, try these ideas:
- Ask the school whether these classes can be all-gender classes.
- Look for all-gender puberty classes outside school.
If your child’s changing body means their sporting abilities are different from those of other children of the same age and gender and they feel uncomfortable, these tips might help:
- Ask your child’s club or association about their policies and practices for including trans or gender diverse children and ensuring children’s safety and comfort.
- Ask your child’s club if they have different kit options to suit different body shapes.
- If your child is still uncomfortable playing sport, consider gender-neutral sports or competitions or LGBTQ+ sporting organisations.
Toilets and change rooms
If your child is worried about toilet privacy or safety, these tips might help:
- Talk to your school or sports club about modifying change rooms to create private spaces – for example, with cubicles or room dividers.
- Ask your child’s school or sports club about designating at least one all-gender toilet space. It should have cubicles for privacy, as well as sanitary disposal units and dispensers with period products.
Support groups like Transcend, Parents of Gender Diverse Children and Minus18 can give you practical information about things like clothing, accessories and personal care products. Human Rights Commissions can also help you with advocating for your child’s rights.
Looking after yourself
You might have mixed and varied emotions about this time in your trans or gender-diverse child’s life. For example, you might feel proud of your child’s bravery, resilience and courage. Or you might feel worried for your child and uncertain about their future.
It’s important to get support for yourself too, especially if you’re worried or feeling anxious. Your GP is a good place to start.
Other parents of trans or gender-diverse children can be a good source of support and information. 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. You could also read more information and resources for parents of trans or gender-diverse children at Transforming Families.