Supporting your child with their gender identity

If your child or teenager is exploring their gender identity, you might have questions about what it means and how to support them.

It’s OK to not know all the answers. Start by taking time to understand and listen. Try to avoid putting pressure on your child or yourself to feel a certain way.

What gender identity means

Gender identity is how someone feels about their gender. Someone’s gender identity can be different to what you think their physical appearance suggests, and the sex they were assigned at birth. They may want to express this identity in how they behave or dress. They could also be unsure and need some time to work it out. 

Gender identity is different from a person’s sex or sexuality. Sex is usually assigned at birth and describes biological differences based on genitals and DNA (male, female or intersex). Sexuality (sexual orientation) is about someone’s feelings and attraction towards other people. 

What gender dysphoria means

Gender dysphoria is when someone feels there is a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity. It is their experience of this mismatch that can make them feel discomfort or distress. Not everyone who explores their gender identity has gender dysphoria.

If these feelings are strong, it can affect how they live their everyday life, and sometimes lead to anxiety or depression. Not all children and young people exploring their gender identity will experience gender dysphoria.

If you think your child may have gender dysphoria, the NHS has information on support. 

Try to understand your child’s experience

Some children and young people may be curious about their gender identity and want to explore what feels right to them. They may not have a fixed idea of what this is yet, but are open to understanding more about who they are. They may feel excited, relieved, or that they are being more honest with themselves. Others can feel distressed when trying to understand their gender.

If your child is finding it hard, they may appear anxious or withdrawn, or display challenging behaviour. They can also experience bullying, isolation or difficulty coping with their feelings. They may:

  • feel confused
  • feel shame
  • worry that they’re a disappointment
  • fear rejection
  • hide how they’re feeling
  • struggle with social pressure to be a certain way
  • worry about being misgendered

Gender identity and gender dysphoria are not mental health conditions, but some children can develop mental health issues if they have difficulties as a result of their gender identity or gender expression. Challenges that can affect their mental health include feeling like they have to hide who they are or that others don’t accept them.

Talk to your child about gender identity

Create a safe place for your child to talk openly about their thoughts, feelings and worries. If your child is exploring their gender identity, they might feel nervous about your reaction. Ask them what they need from you to feel comfortable and safe. Let them know you love them and will be there for them.

Try to avoid saying you’ll love them “no matter what” as they might hear that you love them despite their identity. Instead, you could say something like, “This makes you who you are. I’m so pleased you shared this with me.”

Your child may not want to talk. Don’t push them. Tell them that you will be there when they’re ready.

Respect your child’s feelings

You may not agree with your child’s choices or fully understand what’s happening. You might find it difficult to hear some of the things they tell you. But respecting them will help them to build confidence and feel supported with their decisions.

Be aware of your responses

Be aware of how you respond to your child’s feelings. If your child comes out to you, listen and acknowledge what you have heard. Don’t dismiss their identity. Avoid sharing your opinions, even if it feels difficult – this probably isn’t what your child needs from you in that moment.

Remember that your first reaction can lay the groundwork for how your child expects others to respond. It’s OK to ask questions, but don’t ask too many at once if emotions are high. Your child may not be able to answer straight away.

Learn pronouns and gender terms

Language and terms describing gender identity can often change. It can be helpful to understand certain terms that your child may use when talking about gender identity. They may ask you to use some of these to better reflect who they are.

Pronouns are how you would refer to someone – for example, she, he, they or them. If your child has come out to you, you might want to ask them what pronoun they would like you to use. Try to follow their wishes. It may take some time for you to get used to this, and mistakes will happen.

Don’t worry if you get it wrong. Correct yourself and move on. If you feel you need to you can apologise to your child, but don’t make it into a big issue.

Other useful terms related to gender identity include:

  • cisgender (cis) – someone whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth
  • transgender (trans) – someone who’s gender identity doesn’t align with the sex they were given at birth
  • non-binary – those whose gender identity doesn’t sit comfortably with boy, girl, man or woman
  • gender fluid – the idea that a person’s gender identity or expression is not permanent and can change (for some people, being gender fluid is their gender identity)
  • transmasculine – a trans person who identifies with a masculine gender identity more than with a female gender identity
  • transfeminine – a trans person who identifies with a feminine gender identity more than with a masculine gender identity
  • gender non-conforming – anyone who doesn’t conform to gender norms or stereotypes
  • dead name – the birth name of a transgender person who has changed their name as part of their gender transition

Think about their safety

Consider your child’s safety and how they feel in different social situations. It may not always be appropriate or feel safe or comfortable to use their chosen identity. If you can, ask them what they would like you to do.

Learn about transitioning

When someone comes out as a different gender identity to the sex they were given at birth, they may want to take steps to transition. This is the period when someone begins to live as the gender they identify with.

It may involve them acting in a different way to what you’re used to. For example, someone who is transitioning from man to woman or boy to girl might start wearing dresses or makeup for the first time. But everyone expresses their identity in different ways.

Some trans people will take medical steps for their transitioning, such as taking hormones. This helps them develop physical characteristics of their gender. This can relieve gender dysphoria, but most people will be offered psychological support first. After the age of 17, they may be referred to a gender identity service where they can discuss further options. Medical steps to transitioning can often take a long time to access, especially for young people.

Help them around other family members

If other family members don’t react well to your child’s identity, try to put some rules in place about voicing opinions to help protect them. Let your child decide who they want to tell and who to have contact with.

Find support

Make sure you and your child have the support you need. For example, some parents or carers feel a sense of loss when a child changes identity and it might help to talk to someone. Your child may also need someone to help them work out what their feelings mean to them.

Contact your GP or school to find out about support in your local area, if your child is happy for you to do this. You can also look at:

  • Young Minds: online information and advice on mental health, and a helpline for parents
  • Stonewall: information service offering guidance and information for LGBTQ+ people and their allies
  • Brook: lists LGBTQ+ support groups around the UK
  • Trans Unite: lists local trans support groups around the UK
  • Proud Trust: advice for parents and young people, including an instant messaging service
  • National Autistic Society: information on autism and gender identity
  • Deaf Rainbow: guidance to British Sign Language gender terms
  • Pink Therapy: directory of therapists for the LGBTQ+ community
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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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