Gender is a hot topic today and I get a lot of parents asking me how they should go about letting their child explore their gender. My answer is always the same: children are already exploring gender and every other aspect of their existence. As the adults in their lives we play an influential part in encouraging, discouraging, or destroying this natural exploration.
This blog isn’t dedicated only to parents with transgender and gender non-binary children. This blog is for all parents because all children explore their gender.
I promise that these four steps are not difficult and that they can be applied to many different areas of parenting. Take a moment to read this blog and then I encourage you sit with your thoughts and feelings.
1. Talk Openly
For some parents this is a difficult task because it includes you speaking openly as well, not just your child. Creating an environment of safety and no judgement is crucial in a healthy parent-child relationship especially if you want to talk about sensitive subjects.
When you are in a conversation with another person you can always tell if you are the one doing all of the work, right? Of course we can, we know when someone is just giving us surface level information and/or attention.
Guess what? Young children can pick up on that too!
Most people don’t like being the only person sharing information in a conversation with someone they love and want to feel safe with, especially in vulnerable conversations.
So, take a deep breath and get ready to share openly with your child. I’m not saying tell your whole life story. Be present and share your thoughts and feelings.
Take Note: If the idea of sitting with your child and having an open conversation with them is causing feelings of unease then I encourage you to find a nice, quiet, place alone and process these feelings. You are not alone in these feelings. We teach parents in our culture to “talk to your children” not “talk with your children.” Well, guess what? The two aren’t mutually exclusive in parenting and are extremely powerful when combined.
2. Listen Actively
This is a concept that I talk a lot about with my clients, their parents, school officials, basically anyone and everyone who I’m with. There is a difference between hearing someone and actively listening to them.
If you’re in a conversation with someone and they are looking around and saying things like, “yeah,” “uh huh,” “totally,” then they probably aren’t listening 100% to you and definitely not retaining the information.
If you’re in a conversation with someone and they are making eye contact, asking questions, empathizing, and letting you know they are with you in that moment, then they are probably listening actively.
We can all feel this difference when having a conversation with someone. In fact I would bet that you pictured a person in your head for each example. The way people communicate and listen to us as fellow humans stay with us in our minds and instinctively tell us if we should be vulnerable with them again in the future.
Oh, and guess what? Young children can pick up on that too!
Being present with your child and actively listening to them will let them know that they can keep coming back and be vulnerable with you. We always hear people can, “You can talk to me about anything,” but that privilege has to be earned and isn’t automatically given to you just because you’re their parent.
3. Ask Thoughtful Questions
This is a big one! You can ask questions! However, I encourage you to ask yourself a question in your head before asking your question out loud. “Am I asking this for them or for me?” When you’re talking about exploring gender or any other part of your child's life you should be asking questions that benefit them not you.
Questions like, “Is this normal?” “Are you sure you’re not just confused?” or “Why” will not translate well to your child. These are not questions they should have to answer. They shouldn’t on the hot seat.
“How would you like me to support you?” and “Can you tell me what you need?” are good question that will open a conversation for you to have with them.
It is not your child’s responsibility to answer your concerns. Ask questions for their benefit over your own. They came to you and are including you in their world. Don’t take that for granted by trying to understand your own.
There are many services out there that are dedicated to providing parents the support that you need.
4. Explore Freely
Gender is fluid and looks differently for every individual. There is not a “correct” way to express your identity. Gender should be as unique as you. Allowing children to find their own style, expression, and identity allows them to explore themselves and gather a better understanding of who they are and the world around them.
Setting boundaries is not a bad things or frowned upon. Just remember to ask yourself, “Am I setting these boundaries for them or to make them fit into what is expected of them?” Our culture has certain expectations when it comes to gender and it is easy to fall back on them.
However, letting your child explore clothing styles, names, pronouns, toys, and anything else relating to their gender will not hurt their development. It will foster independence and confidence in themselves while showing them that you love and support them.
You are the guiding force in your child’s life. They look to you for understanding and support just as much as structure and discipline. Being open and supporting with your child’s desire to explore themselves will foster a stronger understanding of self and a better relationship between you and them.
Reach out for additional support for yourself and your child. There are plenty of professionals, like myself, and organizations who have dedicated their life and careers to helping and advocating with the gender community.
Take a look at my resource page for some local, state, and federal resources. Also, Psychology Today has a listing of mental health professionals who see transgender and gender non-binary clients. I am also more than happy to provide referrals to professionals that I know personally.
Below are some books and organizations that I refer to parents. Please contact me for additional resources.
Please click on the artwork to be taken to an external site for additional details.
PLEASE CONTACT ME WITH ANY QUESTIONS OR IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SETUP A FREE 30-MINUTE CONSULTATION.
About my Blog
I love providing people with information. So in my blog you will find posts on topics such as: community resources, media suggestions, parenting questions, and informational posts.