Think your child might be trans or non-binary?
It’s natural for very young children (under the age of 5) to show an interest in clothes or toys that society tells us are more usually associated with the opposite gender.
With toy stores dedicating whole floors to colour-coded boys’ or girls’ toys, as just one example, it’s not surprising that parents may expect a child to closely match traditional expectations of how male and female genders should behave.
You may be worrying that your child’s exploration of different gender preferences and behaviours is not “normal” or you may feel that such explorations are somehow your “fault”. However, none of this is the case.
We now believe that gender identity is on a spectrum, with male at one end, female at the other and a “diversity” of gender identities in between. These can include male and female, non-binary or even agender (no gender).
A young child’s exploration of different gender identities is quite common and, in most cases, will fade. However, in some, it will continue into later childhood and adolescence.
When should I seek help for my child?
Children develop and change quickly as they grow up. The majority of children who seem confused about their gender identity when young will not continue to feel the same way beyond puberty.
However, you should ask for help if your child is strongly identifying with the opposite gender and this is causing significant distress to them or your family.
Signs of distress in a child can include anxiety, withdrawal, destructive behaviour or depression. It’s also likely that such behaviours will have been noticed at school.
You may seek support for your child before puberty starts, which can be as young as age 9 or 10. The physical changes that occur at puberty, such as the development of breasts or facial hair, can increase a young person’s feelings of unhappiness about their body or gender.
Who can help?
Your child’s GP can refer them to the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. Other NHS professionals, teachers, local support groups and relevant charities, and counsellors can refer them too.
GIDS is the NHS service specialising in providing gender identity development support tailored to the needs of children and adolescents, and takes referrals from anywhere in England. Its principal clinics are in London and Leeds.
The multidisciplinary team at GIDS works with family members, children and young people to help manage any anxieties and ease emotional, behavioural and relationship troubles associated with gender identity.
After an initial assessment, you and your child are seen by the team at GIDS. The team will help you keep your child safe and reduce any stigma around exploring their gender identity.
The team will also discuss with you the support and consultation they can offer to other agencies and services that may be involved, such as the nursery or school, and local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHs) as appropriate.
If your child continues to be upset or confused about their gender identity and is nearing puberty, you and your child may be seen more often by the team at GIDS.
Possible treatment options will be discussed, such as talking therapy and treatment with hormone blockers, which will pause puberty while your child thinks through their gender identity.
However, thinking about hormone blockers is only one aspect of a highly complex area, and each child or young teen will have different needs and goals for how they wish to express their gender.
Will my child grow up to be trans or non-binary?
In many cases, gender-variant behaviour or feelings disappear as children get older – often as they reach puberty. Many will go on to identify as gay or lesbian.
Children who do continue to feel they are a different gender from the one assigned at birth could develop in different ways.
Some may feel they do not belong to any gender and may identify as non-binary. Others may want to dress in the clothes associated with the opposite gender from time to time or on a regular basis.
A small number of children who have continuing, strong feelings of a different gender identity will go on to live full-time in a gender different from the one assigned at birth.
How can I support my child?
Children sometimes worry that if they tell you how they feel, you won’t love them anymore. It’s important to accept your child and let them know you love and support them, whatever their preferences are.
If you feel anxious or uncomfortable, you’re not alone. You may blame yourself because you think it’s your “fault”, but it’s important to remember gender identity is nobody’s “fault”.
Many young people and parents find talking to other parents and children who have had similar experiences a great help.
It’s also important to remember that you, as a parent, need support too. You may be experiencing feelings of loss at your child wishing to live in another gender, or you may be anxious about their future and the effect on the rest of your family. The charities listed in the TranzWiki are there to help you, too.
You and your GP can find a wide range of information and support on the GIDS website.
Read more about gender identity in teenagers.