In honor of Pride Month, it’s time to help parents better understand and embrace transgender children, whether they have a child of their own with gender dysphoria or they know a transgender child in their community.
A recent study found that children even as young as 3 years old have an innate sense of their gender identity and strong feelings about how they want to express their gender. 3 years old!
This means talking about gender identity and expression needs to happen very early on, much earlier than many parents realize. It’s an ongoing conversation that parents need to meaningfully and intentionally address with their kids on an evolving, age-appropriate basis.
For parents who may shy away from discussing gender identity with young kids, please know that our kids are already receiving messages about gender roles on a daily basis, both on a conscious and subconscious level.
And if you don’t add your voice to the conversation, you are missing out on a major opportunity to support and guide your kids during their most formative years. We can no longer ignore this crucial topic when talking about sex, love, and equality with our kids.
So how can parents help support and educate their kids about transgender issues, while still being age-appropriate?
Be mindful of your language. If you know someone who uses ‘they’ pronouns or you are talking about celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner, make sure you use the correct pronouns and speak respectfully of their gender transition. Your kids are listening and very clued into the way you talk about other people, and your words will echo in their minds for years to come.
Allow gender exploration. If your son wants to play with dolls or your daughter has a love for construction toys, it doesn’t mean that they are transgender. In most cases, kids just want the freedom to play with the toys that most interest them, or wear the clothes that feel the most fun and pretty to them. So don’t automatically assume that your son is actually a girl because he likes to paint his nails or wear dresses. This could just be normal and healthy exploration, which you can support by being non-judgmental and welcoming to his harmless play.
Listen openheartedly. While you should not assume that an interest in ‘girl toys’ means that your son is transgender, you need to be an active listener and on the lookout for signs that your child is trying to tell you something. Often kids will sort of ‘test’ out their parents by broaching their hidden feelings in an abstract or roundabout way in order to see how Mom or Dad might react to them being transgender. So choose your words carefully and give your kids your whole focus when they are talking to you—they might be saying more than you realize at first glance.
Say no to gender roles. Whether your child is a boy or a girl, the best way to encourage healthy development is to allow your child the full expression of their humanity. Harmful messages like ‘boys don’t cry’ cause deep societal damage and can complicate your children’s feelings about gender and equality.
Use your child’s correct names and pronouns. If your child has a new name they want to try out, or they want to be referred to with new pronouns, you really need to support this process. If you’re struggling to let go of your child’s birth name or accept this huge transition, don’t burden your kids with your process. Rather, seek out a therapist and work out these issues privately. Remember, you’re still the parent, and as such, you need to be the source of unconditional love and support.