Your child’s diverse gender identity and your feelings

If your child tells you that they want to be a different gender from the sex they were given at birth, there’s no ‘right’ way to feel.

If the news is 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’s normal to struggle with supporting your child through a process that you might not be comfortable with or feel that you don’t fully understand. It can also be hard to live with uncertainty. Gender identity can be fluid, and your child might still be working out how they identify themselves.

You might also worry about:

  • what other family members or friends will think of you, your child and your family
  • how to keep your child safe, particularly if you live in a community where it’s not OK to be different from what people expect.

Looking after yourself when your child is gender diverse

It can help if you learn more about gender identity.

It’s also 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 coming to terms with their child’s gender identity. It might help to get in touch with a parent support group like:

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 accept 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 accept 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 also a good idea 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.

Other people’s reactions to your child’s gender identity: your feelings

It’s normal to worry about how family members or friends will react.

There’s no right way to tell other people, but 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 people at school or in the community know about their gender identity. Others find this makes things more difficult.

You might choose to tell family and friends face to face or you might want to write to them. 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 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.

You might also worry about what to say to strangers who comment on your child’s appearance or behaviour. For example, if someone asks or comments on your son wearing a dress, you could say, ‘I think it’s great when children can express themselves, and I’m really proud of my child’.