Now that children are announcing openly that they are transgender at earlier and earlier ages, parents who want to support their children no matter who they are sometimes wonder how they can create a gender-friendly environment for their children. These parents sometimes worry that they’ll confuse their children if they go too far in one direction and impose gender roles on them if they go in the other. Gender identity and expression are challenging areas for parents to guide their children through; however, there are some things you can do to make it easier.
Let Your Child Express Him Or Herself
The best thing you can do to support your child is allow the space to express his or her personality. There are some girls who are less traditionally feminine or even masculine, and some boys who are less traditionally masculine or even feminine. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your child is transgender. Some children just don’t fit the expectations for their gender, and some change their gender expression as they get older. By allowing your children the space to be themselves, you send them the message that whoever they are is acceptable to you. Thus, if your child is gender-variant or transgender, he or she will have the confidence and ability to come to that conclusion eventually.
This is often harder for parents of male-assigned children than female-assigned children because in American society, it is far more acceptable for a girl to be a “tomboy” than for a boy to enjoy expressing a feminine side. Some parents may opt to allow their male-assigned children to wear dresses at home but not at school because of concerns about safety. It is all right to do this as long as your child is not overly upset about not being able to express a feminine (or masculine) side at school. If the issue becomes very emotional for your child, you may want to seek professional help to determine what your child’s gender issues are.
In general, though, allow your child to do the following:
- Play with toys he or she enjoys, regardless of whether they are typical for your child’s gender.
- Dress in a way that is comfortable for the child as long as it meets your standards for appropriateness.
- Engage in extracurricular activities your child enjoys, regardless of whether they are traditionally associated with his or her gender.
- Walk and talk in a way that is natural to your child, even if it makes the child seem more masculine or feminine than you expect.
- Decorate his or her room using posters, wallpaper or colors that appeal to the child regardless of gender associations.
Of course, as the parent you also have the right to decide a particular form of self-expression is not appropriate. In order to make sure that you aren’t rejecting something because of gender, ask yourself if you would still feel it inappropriate if your child were the opposite gender. If you wouldn’t, you may want to leave it alone.
Make Transgender People and Issues Part of Your Daily Life
Many children who are transgender or gender-variant don’t realise that there’s any such thing. These children may think something is “wrong” with them or try to hide their gender identity from their parents and themselves.
The best way to stop this from happening is to incorporate transgender people and issues into your life. If you happen to have friends who are transgender, don’t shy away from including them in family events. If your transgender friends are comfortable with people knowing that they are transgender, you can explain to your children in age-appropriate terms about your friends’ history or let your friends tell them. If you don’t know any transgender people, don’t worry; you can also make being transgender part of your life by talking about it if it comes up on television or reading stories about gender variant children to your children.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
By far the best thing you can do to support your children’s gender identity is practice good communication skills. Talking to your children about gender identity issues is not any different than talking to your child about any other issue–it’s just that it is uncomfortable for parents sometimes.
Don’t force any particular identity on your child. Instead, use your listening skills to help your child feel comfortable telling you anything–including his or her feelings about gender. If you listen non-judgmentally to your child’s feelings about any topic he or she talks about, you will foster trust. This will allow your child to tell you if he or she has gender variant feelings. (For more details about what to do if your child says he or she is transgender, check out this post.)
If you set a foundation of communication, acceptance and authenticity when interacting with your children, it will be much easier for them to express who they are, regardless of their gender identity. So rather than focusing on whether you are creating a safe environment for a possibly transgender child, just create a safe environment for your child regardless of his or her gender identity. This will help your children–whether trans, cis or in between–to develop confidence in themselves and the ability to trust you with their feelings.
I don’t just advise people about transgender issues–I live an openly transgender life. If you’d like to work one-on-one with a confident, happy member of the transgender community to improve your relationship with your transgender child, please contact me to schedule an initial consultation.