We are not born knowing what it is to be a boy or a girl or with an assigned gender; whether we like pink or blue or cars or dolls, but we are encouraged into a binary from a very early age. If your child begins to continually reject their gender’s stereotypical traits, it can be surprising and sometimes unexpected.
Understanding and supporting transgender children through this confusing time will be something that shapes both of you for life. Transgender issues are still widely misunderstood, so approaching support in a holistic and considerate way can help you tackle the unique challenges that you will encounter.
What is gender dysphoria?
What happens when we look in the mirror and our body doesn’t match the image we have of it in our mind? Specifically, gender is not defined by what our physical bodies look like, it’s how we feel on the inside. A person’s biological sex is assigned when we are born and our gender identity comes later when we develop our own sense of self.
Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person’s own gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. This can cause feelings of upset, discomfort and confusion. They could feel like a female in a male’s body, a male in a female’s body, have no connection with either gender (agender) or feel they are in-between or beyond both genders (non-binary). The NHS have a helpful guide about the condition here.
How would I know my child is transgender?
If your young person isn’t comfortable disclosing these feelings outright, there can be some signs to look out for. UK Trans Youth charity Mermaids say that showing non-conforming gender traits can be a sign, ‘along with a persistent, insistent and consistent cross gender identification’.
A child trying to express their identity can come in the form of:
- Saying that they don’t want to wear clothing specific to their gender
- Having a preference of /desire to own toys designed for the opposite gender
- Being uncomfortable having certain styles of haircut
- Being visibly happier when allowed to do something related to their aspired gender
- Continually referring to themselves as a different gender
Showing a few of these traits does not mean that your child is definitively trans, but being able to see the signs and trying to keep in tune with their behaviour can help any transition for a child. It is always positive to allow your child to explore these feelings in a safe and supported way. Try not to reject any behaviours that you see, as this may be a difficult time for everyone involved.
The AllSorts Youth Project sate that reaching out for support online is a very good way to find more information on how you can help your child and can often be a positive ‘turning point’. Raising a gender variant young person comes with unique challenges, the most important thing you can do is be there for your child.
Accepting that this is how they feel and showing them the love and care they need at this confusing time will help them to come to terms with their feelings in their own time.
Sometimes acknowledging and listening to your child when they open up to you can be the most important first step in navigating this unknown territory. If your young person has expressed to you that they feel different, let them lead the conversation.
- If your child states that they’d like a different name, try this at home and with family.
- Asking your young person how you can help to open a dialogue for both of you.
- If they want to start using different pronouns allow for this, equally using gender neutral pronouns they/them may be preferred.
- Be open and accommodating at home, let them choose clothing (like wearing dresses) to wear around the house if they aren’t ready to do this in public.
Listening and acting on ways to make your child feel more comfortable is a vital step in understanding and helping their voice to be heard.
Being able to support your young person unconditionally will strengthen your relationship and their confidence. Action for Children suggest that challenging transphobic behaviour from other family members or friends is a good start, backing children at meetings and at home or at school will show them that you are there.
Not everyone will be as understanding as you, so being able to use opportunities to share what you know can help to enlighten others who may show intolerance. Asking whether your child would like their school to know can be helpful, if they can have adults who they can confide in may make them feel more comfortable at school.
Making information easily available to young people can be a way to build their confidence in their identity. Encouraging your child to attend LGBT+ youth meetings where they can meet others with similar experiences can help to feel less isolated.
LGBT+ rights charity Stonewall reports that 60% of trans youth have experienced physical assault. A lot of the time this is because of the reactionary nature of the general public. Verbal and physical abuse against transgender people is sadly common, so helping to educate those around you can be a good start to encourage tolerance.
Acting as a role model for your friends and family can help to further inform, you’re trying to create an environment in which your child feels comfortable and this will start with those closest around you both.
Getting support for not only your child, but for yourself as well will empower you to advocate for them. Joining parent forums and support groups will be an effective way to make sure you’re also getting the support you need during this period. If you feel you are in the position to share your experience with others, joining online forums and attending meetings will provide support and resources that both you and your child will find valuable.
There is plenty of content online for you to research, learn new skills and read others’ stories. We’ve included a list of helpful websites below to help both you and your children through this journey.
- Action For Children: UK children’s charity
- Allsorts Youth Project: Run LGBT+ youth groups with resources for parents & young people
- LGBT+ Youth in Care: Resources for LGBT+ youth in foster care
- Mermaids: Support for transgender youth and parents
- Pink Therapy: Independent therapy organisation for LGBT+ youth
- The Proud Trust: LGBT+ youth network with plenty of resources and youth groups across UK
- Trans NHS: NHS’ twitter account to promote trans inclusion
- Stonewall UK: LGBT+ rights Charity lots of resources and advice
- YoungMinds: Mental health support for young people
Compass understands that every young person has their own diverse story, we provide support, resources, and relevant training for all our foster carers. If you’d like some more information about fostering with us you can request a digital brochure here.