Your child’s gender identity and your feelings
If your child tells you that their gender is different from their assumed gender based on their sex characteristics at birth, there’s no ‘right’ way to feel.
The news might feel sudden and unexpected to you. But your child might have been thinking about their gender and preparing to tell you for a long time. Even if you’ve wondered about your child’s gender identity for a while, it might still feel 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. Many worry about supporting their child in a world that doesn’t understand gender diversity. Many also feel isolated, particularly if they don’t know any other trans or gender-diverse people. And some parents feel relieved, especially if their child has had mental health problems.
It might take time to work through your thoughts and feelings. That’s OK. There might also be 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 is very important for your child’s wellbeing.
Looking after yourself when your child is trans or gender diverse
It’s important to get support for yourself, especially if you’re worried or you find it hard to understand your child. 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 recommendation from a gender clinic.
You’re not alone, even if you feel isolated. Many families have experienced or are experiencing similar challenges adapting to their child’s gender identity. Peer support can help you feel connected and give you hope for the future. You could try getting in touch with a parent support group like Transcend, Parents of Gender Diverse Children or Transforming Families.
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 their assumed gender.
Supporting siblings of trans or gender-diverse children and teenagers
Some families find that their other children are the first to support and affirm their trans or gender-diverse sibling. But siblings can 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 ways of talking.
You can also help your children understand what’s happening with their sibling. For younger children you might need to explain several times. Depending on your child’s age, you could do this using picture books, movies or TV shows. For example, try books like The gender fairy or My princess boy or TV shows like First Day, Sex Education or Umbrella Academy.
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 trans or gender-diverse child’s privacy at all times. But if all your children agree, it might help to tell a trusted staff member 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. For example, you might like them to use your child’s preferred name and pronouns.
If friends or family react negatively or have questions, you could give them some information about gender diversity, direct them to useful websites or tell them that you’re happy to answer any questions. This can feel exhausting, but you don’t have to convince everyone to support trans or gender-diverse people. You can focus just on ensuring that people are respectful around your child.
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 trans or 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’.