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Supporting your child in their gender exploration


August 31, 2022 Sexual and Gender Diversity


Par Geneviève Cantin

Psychosocial worker

As a parent or guardian, you may have many questions about your child's exploration of their gender.

First of all, you should know that this is not a new or unique phenomenon, and you are certainly not the cause. Did you know that gender non-conforming people and those who identify with a gender other than male or female have existed throughout the ages, all over the world? This is not a disease or the result of bad parenting. It is simply part of human diversity.

Your role as a parent

Your role as a parent is to offer love, support, and guidance to your child as they grow. No matter where your child is in their exploration process, their self-esteem and overall health depends on this.

Still, you may feel confused, or struggle to accept your child's gender identity or expression. You may have had ideas about what your child's life path would look like, ideas which you can no longer hold on to. It is important to understand that your child is exactly who they are supposed to be. You may, however, have to let go of your assumptions about the child you thought you had.

Every journey is unique

Having a gender creative child means learning to live with uncertainty. For many parents, this is not an easy thing to do. Yet, even if we want to be prepared, there are no rules to follow: every journey is unique. No two children explore their gender in the same way.

Thus, it won't be possible to know the next steps until your child identifies their needs and shares them with you. Also, identity is a dynamic thing; it can fluctuate over time. So it's best to cope with the uncertainty. Try to follow your child's lead and let them discover who they are at their own pace.

Having a gender-creative child means learning to live with uncertainty. For many parents, this is not an easy thing.

Open and honest communication

For your child to develop authentically, they need to be given real opportunities to discover and grow. Establishing and maintaining open and honest communication with your child is essential. Ask questions, show an interest in how your child sees themselves, what is going on inside them, their needs and wants. In this way, you demonstrate your desire to be on the same team as your child.

Tip: Before and during a discussion about your child's identity or gender expression, practice being aware of your emotional state. If you feel that your thoughts are no longer clear or your body is tense, end the discussion as gently as possible. Address the situation when you feel you have regained your composure and are once again emotionally available.

Give them the opportunity to choose

Next, it is important to allow them to choose, without pressure or judgment, any characteristics, interests, or behaviors that allow them to express their gender. For example, clothing, hairstyle, toys, activities, movement and speech patterns, room decorations, etc. Try to be aware of the stereotypes associated with them, so that you don't perpetuate them or even lead your child to be critical of them.

Tip: Instead of putting the brakes on your child's exploration to protect them, you can help your child prepare for negative reactions or comments by practicing responses together. It can be reassuring to identify safe places and people when needed.

What about you?

Supporting your child's gender exploration, while deconstructing your preconceptions and dealing with uncertainty, is a lot of work. You may experience a mixture of emotions, including shame, disappointment, fear, sadness, anger. For many parents, the challenges can be even more difficult when they are dealing with fears for their child's safety, cultural beliefs and expectations, and their own discomfort with gender expression.

Whatever your situation, reaching out for support can help you through these challenges. You are not alone in your experiences. Allowing yourself to share them with people you trust, other parents who are going through similar situations, or with a professional in the field can do a lot of good. And remember that by seeking support for yourself, you will be providing better support for your child.

References (in French)

Central Toronto Youth Services (CTYS), Famille en TRANSition : un guide de ressources à l’intention des familles des jeunes transgenres (2e édition)  
Gender Spectrum, Parenting Your Gender Expansive Child : Supportive Parenting