Since gender dysphoria can lead to many problems including increased risk for substance use, parents need to know what it is and how to deal with it. There is significant controversy regarding children and teens who experience gender dysphoria. Some researchers believe that children are able to define their gender for themselves while others believe that they are too young to do so. Regardless of when children and teens experience gender dysphoria, parents teachers and counselors need to be aware of healthy strategies to deal with it.
Children tend to understand their gender and sexual identities around age four, though these identities may change throughout their lifetimes. While some children with gender dysphoria grow into adults who are 100% heterosexual or 100% homosexual, many are more fluid. Similarly, we are finding more kids who are fluid in their gender identity which also may change throughout a lifetime.
Brain Development Matters in Treating Gender Dyphoria
The American College of Pediatricians relates that 80-95% of children with gender dysphoria will “accept the reality of their biological sex by late adolescence.” Further, it states that giving children hormones or doing sexual reassignment surgery may be regarded as child abuse because children's brain are not developed enough to make these decisions.
The DSM-5, the manual of mental health issues, relates guidelines for gender dysphoria in children and also in adults and teens. It's important for parents to understand whether their child or teen meets the guidelines. Get help from a therapist that specializes in gender dysphoria and work with that therapist regarding the diagnosis. Having someone for your child, and perhaps, the family, to discuss issues is very important and validating for all.
Parenting Tips for Gender Dysphoria
So what are you to do? You can be a support without allowing major decisions to be made for the child/teen until he/she/they are an adult and can make their own decision. The best things to do include:
- Acknowledge their preferences regarding their gender status
- Use the pronouns that they wish to have used
- Call them by their preferred names (many will change their names to fit their gender identity)
- Allow them to dress as they wish (just like your other kids)
- Ask others to support the child in the same way
- Work with the school system regarding the gender concerns
- Support them in choosing the bathroom of their choice at school and in public
- Continually support them for all that they are
- Don't focus on gender identity – you don’t do that for your other children so why would you do this for your gender fluid child
- Set boundaries regarding what you will and will not support regarding the gender concerns (i.e., such as not being willing to have them start HRT)
- Meet with a physician specialist regarding gender issues
- Meet with a therapist who specializes in gender issues
- Explore how you feel about having a gender-variant child
Be Aware That Gender Status is Flexible
While you examine your own feelings and acceptance of your gender-variant child, you must also be aware that their gender status is flexible at this young age. It may well change as the child ages. However, there is a percentage of these kids who truly are transgender and continuing education and relating to the child about this is what needs to take place. Be a support; be an ally; listen; but also be smart about your interactions and your own education.