How to support your gender-diverse child: Your questions, answered

teen holding transgender flag
There’s only one surefire way to know whether your child is gender-diverse: Ask them. (Adobe Stock)

Your daughter cries every time you try to put her in a dress. Your teenage son begins going by a stereotypically feminine name. Your child asks you to start using “they/their/them” as their preferred pronouns. They’re not alone: According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 2 percent of high school students now identify as transgender — and that number doesn’t account for younger kids who may identify as transgender (“trans”), non-binary, or otherwise gender-diverse.

It’s understandable, then, for families to have a lot of questions. Here, we answer some of the most common concerns, with insight from pediatric nurse practitioner Sarah Pilcher and psychologist Kerry McGregor, both with the Gender Management Service (GeMS) at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Q. How can I tell if my child is transgender or non-binary?

Parents may wonder about their child’s gender identity if they start changing their appearance, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re trans. “Gender expression and identity are two different things,” says Pilcher. “Some cisgender girls are just ‘tomboys’ and some cisgender boys just like painting their nails, for example.” There’s only one surefire way to know whether your child is gender-diverse: Ask them.

Q. What’s the best thing I can do to support my trans child?

Listen to your child and follow their lead. Studies suggest that family acceptance of LGBTQ+ youth helps protect against depression, substance abuse and suicide, and is associated with better health and self-esteem. “You don’t have to fully understand your child’s gender identity to be supportive,” says McGregor. “But you can meet them where they’re at by using their preferred name and pronouns.”

Q. Should I legally change my trans child’s name and gender?

This can be a tricky issue. There can be benefits to making your child’s preferred name and gender legal, but you should consider the future medical ramifications of doing so. For example, changing your transmasculine child’s name and gender on insurance forms may make it harder for them to receive coverage for Pap tests and other gynecologic care later on. If you want to learn more about this process, you can reach out to GLAAD’s Pop-Up ID Project for free legal assistance.

Q. Should I tell my child’s school that they are trans?

Every child is different. Some kids and teens really want to transition socially, while others may feel more anxious. Ask your child if they want to come out at school — if so, work with the school administration. Keep in mind that some schools may never have had an “out” trans student and may need guidance, but that guidance shouldn’t fall on your family’s shoulders. “The school has the obligation to protect your child, respect their name and pronouns, and provide safe access to restrooms,” explains McGregor. In Massachusetts, the Safe Schools Program is a good resource for teachers and administration; your state may offer something similar.

Q. Should I seek professional care for my child?

Again, you should follow your child’s lead. If they seem distressed, angry, sad, or otherwise upset, they could be experiencing gender dysphoria and may benefit from an appointment at GeMS. “We’re not being directive about a child’s gender journey, but we do think families should expose their child to a variety of gender expressions and experiences so they can make informed decisions as they get older,” explains McGregor. “At GeMS, we have the same goal as your family: We want your child to be happy and healthy.”

Learn more about GeMS.

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