How parents can better support their transgender children

Parenting Transgender Children

Being a parent can be the most rewarding yet challenging role in life, but this can be especially true if your child identifies as trans or transgendered because these identities have not been recognized or represented the way cis-gendered identities have. This means that as a parent, you have little to no resources to turn to for guidance on how to adequately respond to the needs of your trans or transgendered child.

Em Matsuno, a research fellow at Palo Alto University, wants to relieve parents of trans and transgendered youth of some of their worries or doubts by developing an online training program that aims to help parents better understand their trans children.

Through the development of the Parent Support Program, Matsuno has identified ways parents can be better advocates for their children who identify as trans, transgendered, or nonbinary.

Common challenges for parents of trans kids

Fear is a prevailing emotion for parents of trans kids. For fear of their child getting bullied at school, they may prevent their kids from wearing what they want. Or perhaps they are so afraid of not knowing how to respond to their child so they don’t respond at all.

Parents, too, may face rejection or criticism from their traditional or conservative extended families for supporting their trans youth.

What does the research say about parental support?

According to a 2016 study, trans children who are supported by their parents experience similar mental health outcomes as cis-gendered children. This indicates that being trans isn’t a precursor to depression or suicidal thoughts, but that the lack of support is what leads trans kids to be more at risk of mental health issues.

Parents are advised to support trans children by using their preferred pronouns, defending them, even to their own extended families, and by educating themselves. Matsuno emphasizes that it’s okay for parents to feel sad or anxious, however, they should find their own supports to help them through that. If they are constantly expressing their emotional difficulties to their trans child, then it can make their kids feel as though they are to blame for their parents’ distress.

If parents are unable to find a local community of other parents who are going through similar experiences, then online support groups are a great alternative.

What can parents say to show support when their child trans child comes out?

When a trans youth comes out, it’s important to recognize and appreciate the bravery required to do such a thing. Underscore your gratitude by thanking them, and make sure to reassure them of your love explicitly.

Common missteps are stating that they are confused, or asking too many questions like “How did you know? When did you know?”

Although it’s natural to be curious, quick successions of questions imply unbelief or disapproval. Instead, parents can try asking “Is it okay for me to ask some questions, or do you need some time?”

Simple Ways to Start Supporting Your Transgender Child
  • Always use the name and pronouns that align with your child’s gender identity.
  • Be your child’s advocate – call out transphobia when you see it and ask that others respect your child’s identity.
  • Educate yourself about the concerns facing transgender youth and adults.
  • Learn what schools can and should do to support and affirm your child.
  • Encourage your child to stand up for themselves when it is safe to do so and to set boundaries when necessary.
  • Assure your child that they have your unconditional love and support.
Final advice

Though parents will often want to know their children, demanding certainty may foster anxiety. Instead, learn to be tolerant of ambiguity, uncertainty, and fluidity. Remember that things won’t always be clear and that children will need time to explore and change. The most important this is to allow children the freedom of being who they are.

Study source: NIH.Gov: What do we know about transgender parenting?

Additional resources: HRC.Org: Transgender Children & Youth: Understanding the Basics

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