What to do if your child is questioning their gender
- If your child is questioning their
genderand you haven't had the same experience, it can be difficult to know how to help.
- Online research and support group can help, but you should also ask your child what they need to feel supported since everyone is different, therapists told Insider.
- Don't crack jokes or set limits on how your child outwardly expresses themself. Don't assume what your child needs or how they feel.
If your child is questioning their gender, you might feel confused or worried, especially if you haven't had the same experience.
But offering a judgment-free environment to your child as they discover who they are will help them feel supported and more confident, according to Kristie Overstreet, a psychotherapist and creator of The Dignity Model.
"I think for parents, a lot of times they feel like they've got to have the answer," Overstreet told Insider.
But when it comes to a child questioning their gender, it's best to put the problem solving aside and focus on listening.
"I want parents to know you don't have to figure it out. You just got to listen and see what they need. And if they say they don't know what they need, then you can say, 'All right, let's talk about it more. What's coming up for you? What does it mean to you?'" said Overstreet.
Don't make assumptions
It might be your instinct to make assumptions when your son wants to wear dresses or your daughter prefers to forgo them altogether.
But putting your child in a category will impede any productive and helpful conversations, according to Overstreet.
That's because gender expression and gender identity are different, and a person's outward appearance might not "match" the gender with which they identify.
A person questioning their gender might decide to change how they dress so their appearance is more aligned with societal expectations of gender, but that isn't always the case.
"It doesn't mean that this kid is transgender or non-binary because they're questioning. It's an exploration for them to kind of figure out their sense of self as it relates to their own gender," Overstreet said.
Trust your child, and ask them what they need to feel supported
If you're unsure how to help, simply ask your child what they need from you to feel supported and safe.
Maybe they want help finding a therapist that affirms their gender, or they need some encouraging words, or some help navigating online resources.
Ask open-ended questions like, "Which pronouns should I use when I refer to you?" or "How can I help you explore this side of yourself?" to keep the conversation non-judgmental, Overstreet said.
Above all, trust your child's feelings and instincts as they continue to explore their gender, sex therapist and psychotherapist Veronica Chin Hing told Insider.
"We trust a child when they say what foods they like or don't like, and we trust them when they say they're attracted to a person in their kindergarten class or wherever. Parents employ a lot of trust, and it falls short when it comes to gender variance and sexuality and sex," but that shouldn't be the case, Chin Hing said.
Conduct your own research
Take time to reflect on your own biases on gender norms to make the process easier for you and your child, Chin Hing said.
"If you think it's gender related, I would encourage you to take a minute and sit down and sort of flush that out. Why is it gender related? Why has that been the conclusion that you're drawing?" Chin Hing told Insider.
Overstreet recommended GLAAD, a queer anti-discrimination advocacy organization, which has FAQs and other resources on its website.
For a more visual learning experience for both parents and children, Chin Hing suggested the "Gender Unicorn."
It's a model created by the national organization Trans Student Educational Resources to show the many ways a person can view their gender.
It helps to communicate that we don't all fit into two genders. It also illustrates that a person's gender, sex, gender expression, and attractions don't have to match up to be valid.
Join a support group
It's important to get help yourself, Overstreet said.
"If parents don't take care of themselves, don't find someone to talk to, don't have the resources to figure out how they feel about it and not be judged for how they feel about, it's going to make it harder for them to support [their children]," she said, adding that Facebook and PFLAG are two places to find other parents in similar situations.
Avoid using humor
In uncomfortable situations, you might try to lighten the mood with a joke. But when it comes to conversations about your child's gender, leave humor at the door.
"I have not heard it received well in any case I've worked with, or with any client I've worked with," Chin Hing said.
Joking can make an important and serious conversation about gender feel trivial when it's not.
Speak in an honest, straightforward manner
Do your best to listen to your child's experience and ask questions without judgment.
Chin Hing encourages parents to view the experience as a team effort with their child.
"Off the bat I would encourage you to look for very transparent, very honest intentional words to convey what you need and how you feel, and collaborate on this conversation around gender identity," she said.
Don't limit your child's self-expression
It's natural as a parent to want to shield your child from negative experiences, bullying, and abuse.
But limiting how your child expresses themself can do more harm than good, according to Overstreet.
"It's important that parents give the right to a kid to be able to express themselves without judgment," she said.
"Pose" actor Indya Moore previously told Insider's Canela Lopez they felt most supported in their childhood gender exploration when adults in their life trusted them to make decisions for themselves.
"When you trust us, you affirm that we are capable of love. When you are vulnerable with us, you teach us how to be vulnerable," Moore said.
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