When your transgender child comes to you as a parent, the first thing you should do as a parent is what you have hopefully done throughout your childhood – convey your love and support for them and for who they are. Finding out what this love and support looks like and sounds like, will trip up some parents.

So I talked to Dr. Diane Chen, Child Psychologist and Behavioral Health Director in the Family Department of Adolescent and Adolescent Medicine at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, on how parents can best support their transgender children.

The first conversation

If your child shares with you that they are transgender, the best way to start is by thanking them for sharing this with you and expressing your love for who they are, regardless of their gender identity.

“The most important part is to convey to the child that they are loved for whoever they are with. [and] Who they will be in five or ten years, ”says Chen. “Communicate this persistence of love and support … so that support is not tied to identity.”

She says parents often regret the way they react during that initial conversation because while some parents have long suspected their child is transgender, many other parents are surprised by the information. And that surprise could lead them to think of things like, “Are you sure?” Accept. or “This seems to have come out of nowhere” or “Maybe this is just a phase.” When it does, Chen says it is never too late to correct the course and sit down with the child again.

By doing so, you acknowledge your initial surprise as well as the courage it took to start this conversation with you. Sorry for not knowing how to better support them during this time and start over. One of the worst things a parent can do (aside from being completely disapproved, of course) is pretending that the conversation never happened or waiting for the child to bring it up again.

“Teens will say,” Well, I’ve tried to get to my parents several times and here are the different ways I’ve tried, “says Chen.” It didn’t always go as planned, but then they did [the parents] never circled again. That’s why I always encourage parents to come back and chat with their child whenever they feel like they’ve missed this boat. “

Illustration for article titled How To Support Your Transgender Child

Follow their lead

Transgender children will want or need different things depending on their age, stage of development and personality. If you are unsure of exactly how to support them, just follow their lead first. Chen says that for a child who is transgender and generally seems happy – with no discernible academic, social, emotional, or behavioral changes – it might be enough for now to simply support them and let them be like them are. Instead, if they are having problems in any of these areas, there may be other interventions that are beneficial to them.

“We don’t want to push a child to change socially if they are not ready or want to, because that can be stressful in and of itself,” she says. “I think it could certainly help if parents talk to their children about the opportunities that are available to them.”

So if a child who was assigned a woman at birth tells their parents that they are a boy, the parent may respond by saying, “Okay, what does this mean for you?” Followed by questions about whether they are comfortable with the Names they are currently using are familiar and whether they are still familiar with their pronouns or whether they want to start using different pronouns.

Parents can talk to their children about what changes they would like to make at home or at school, or with extended families or friends. These types of conversations can help parents figure out what transition-related support their child is looking for.

Depending on the child’s age and stage of development, there may also be medical interventions that can help prevent gender-specific dysphoria, Chen says. You should talk to health professionals about these options, which can begin as early as the onset of puberty.

Illustration for article titled How To Support Your Transgender Child

When your child didn’t come out to you

Some parents may suspect their child is transgender based on clues they saw during childhood or maybe because they experimented with different types of gender expression – but parents may not be sure if (or how) they should speak to you about it. Chen says what a parent should do depends in part on the child.

“I think parents are experts on their own children,” she says. “Do you have a more inhibited, temperamentally shy child who may not come to you with such confidence? Or do you have that kid who … generally says whatever is on their mind? ”

Even in the eight years since Chen began working in the field, she has seen a surge in various books for children of all ages that feature characters with a variety of gender identities and expressions that can help spark those conversations. But there’s also a balance that parents should try to strike here.

“You want your child to know that it is safe to research and play with gender in a way that is comfortable for them, but you don’t want to pressure a child to find out what gender identity they have” , she says. “I think this is the most important piece to remember – just because a child exhibits gender or gender behavior doesn’t necessarily mean they’re transgender or ultimately identify as transgender. So I think it’s also important to give kids space to explore without trying to box kids. “

You want your child to know that it is safe to research and play with gender in a way that is comfortable for them, but you don’t want to put pressure on a child to find out what gender identity they have.

More resources

Everything we’ve discussed here is really just the beginning of your journey as a family, and chances are that you will need solid resources and support in the future. Here are some organizations and books to help you get started:

Finally, it’s a good idea to do some research and find a local support group to connect with other parents in your area and give your child the opportunity to meet other gendered or transgender teens. You can start by looking for one PFLAG chapters in your area.