Supporting Your Child with Gender Identity Issues
If your child is struggling with their gender or thinks they are transgender, here is our advice and information on what you can do and where you can get help.
What is gender identity?
People can often feel uncomfortable when talking about gender identity, sex and sexuality, and can get these terms confused.
A person’s ‘sex’ describes biological differences between the female and male genitalia. A child's sex is usually assigned at birth.
A person’s ‘gender’ describes a person's internal sense of their identity. For example, you might identify as a girl, or a boy, or neither – or a variation. The first person to develop an awareness of their gender identity is most likely to be the child itself.
There is an increasing recognition that for some people, gender is a spectrum, and that people may express themselves in many different ways, as being at one end or the other, for example male or female, or in the middle (non-binary). For others, where they are on this spectrum may change or fluctuate at different times. People who identify as non-binary may also refer to themselves as ‘gender fluid’, or ‘gender queer’).
A transgender person self-identifies their gender as being different to the sex they were assigned at birth. Questions around gender identity can emerge at any time. There is a wide range of reported experiences. Some individuals know from childhood that they feel mis-gendered, while others might not recognise this until adulthood. It might also be apparent to the parents from an early age. It can be unhelpful to describe being transgender as a choice. Gender identity is a deep-rooted, sense of self. Transgender people have been with us throughout the history of humankind.
We usually take gender for granted. Most people identify with either ‘she’ or ‘he’ pronouns but these labels are not by any means the sum total of anyone’s identity. Having a sense of identity is really important because it helps us to be resilient.
You may hear doctors referring to 'gender dysphoria', or 'gender identity disorder' (GID), 'gender
incongruence' or 'transgenderism', when they are diagnosing your child.
How can I help my child?
If you are someone who doesn’t feel certain about your gender, life can be very stressful, and there may be times when you feel that you don’t fit in anywhere. Young people experiencing gender identity issues can experience stigma, bullying, isolation and even violence from others. They might struggle with internalised unhappiness and using coping mechanisms like self-harm. But there are things you can do to help and to make your child feel supported.
These are things which can really make a difference:
- Your acceptance and support is vital for your child if they are confused about, or coming to terms with their gender-identity. Fear of negative judgement and rejection can be huge obstacles in your child seeking support.
- Your child might be questioning their gender. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are trans, but they may be. It is a journey of discovery and expression; go at their pace and try help them as much as you can.
- Find out as much as you can about the issues, including support in services, in school and in the community. You may need to be their advocate in talking to school, college or health professionals, if and when the time is right.
- Communication is everything; being open-minded is the best approach. Whatever happens, they are still your child.
- Be patient if they don’t want to talk about it and be supportive when they are ready.
- It’s understandable to feel upset, anxious, scared and experience a sense of loss if your child is transitioning. Being honest about that is really important. Sharing your experiences with other families in the same situation. There are organisations (below) who can help you with this.
- Ask your child how they want to be addressed - whether it's 'he'/'him' or 'she'/'her' or something else. If you make a mistake, correct yourself or allow yourself to be corrected, and continue to try. Most young people will recognise you are making an effort, showing them respect, and doing their best to meet their preferences.
- You don’t need to learn all the terms and language – your child will steer you, and it’s a good opportunity to show your support in being receptive to what they say.
- Be alert for signs of withdrawal, depression, self-harm or suicidal thoughts. If you notice any of these behaviours tell your child that you are there for them, and seek support from your GP.
- Respect your child's boundaries. It can be insensitive and uncomfortable to ask very personal, intimate or intrusive questions – so ask if it’s okay to ask, and respect the answer. Think about how you might feel if your parent asked you something deeply personal or intrusive.
- There is a vibrant online trans community - offering support and sharing experiences and ways to make your child feel more comfortable being themselves with or without medical intervention. This can include information on things like using make-up, dealing with negative reactions and finding things like gender-neutral hairdressers.
Gender Identity Development Service
The Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) is England’s only NHS service for children and young people experiencing difficulties in the development of their gender identity. The service has main clinics in London and Leeds, as well as satellite clinics elsewhere across England in places like Exeter.
GIDS has a staged approach to supporting young people. Every young person is different and will be treated as an individual. If your child is referred to GIDS, first they will have a full psychosocial assessment, which is usually three to six appointments with two experts. They will work with your child, and family, to explore your child’s understanding of their gender identity, and to talk about how their feelings may have changed over time, and how they might change in future.
Depending on your child’s age and the issues they want to explore, a meeting can be arranged with a paediatric endocrinologist either for possible hormone blocking treatment, or to help determine whether or not your child has started puberty.
Hormone blocking is a physically reversible intervention: if your child stops taking the blocker their body will continue to develop as it was previously. However, the full psychological effects of the blocker, or whether it changes the course of adolescent brain development, are not completely known. Blockers give young people time to consider their options and to continue to explore their developing gender identity before making decisions about irreversible forms of treatment.
In some cases, cross-sex hormones, (oestrogen or testosterone) might be considered, but these can only be prescribed from age 16, and after your child has spent a minimum of 12 months on hormone blockers. Cross-sex hormones will cause some irreversible changes to the body. For example, oestrogen will cause the growth of breast tissues, and testosterone will cause the voice to break. Any decisions to prescribe cross-sex hormones will not just take into account your child’s gender identity, but also their emotional wellbeing and physical health.
Where can I get help?
- Support for young people (up to 19yrs) with gender identity issues, and their families. Teens
- Forum and Parents Forum on their website.
- Email: [email protected]
- Phone: 0844 334 0550 (09:00 – 21:00)
- Mobile only: 0344 334 0550 (09:00 – 21:00)
- UK’s largest independent therapy organisation working with gender and sexual diversity clients.
- Working with the trans community, particularly specialising in supporting young trans people aged 8-25. Includes resources for trans and gender questioning young people, and their families.
- LGBT and anti-violence charity, incl. trans advocacy service. National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline runs a tran specific service, staffed by trans members of the team.
- 0800 999 5428 Tuesdays 13:00 to 17:00
- Information and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people.
- Helpline: 020 7593 1850 (Mon-Fri 09:30-17:30)
- MindEd for families is a website where you can hear about other parents’ experiences and find clear, helpful guidance on children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing
YoungMinds Crisis Messenger
- Provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK if you are experiencing a mental health crisis
- If you need urgent help text YM to 85258
- All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors
- Texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus.