Blog

9 Don’ts and Do’s when Talking with your Child about Gender Identity

I have a 3 years old daughter, and she loves anything pink and sparkle. But one day, she woke up and told us that her name was Alex and she was a cowboy. I was perplexed to whether she really meant it, only to find out that she wanted to be Cinderella 2 hours later.

But for a lot of parents out there, this is not just an one time thing. It is a reality that they have to live with days in days out. I knew stories about a boy: the moment he could talk, he told his parents that there was a mistake; That he was a girl born into a boy’ body; That his parents should put him back into the womb. What do you do then?..

Sexuality and gender identity is not always “one or the other.” Not every child would consider themselves a male or female gender identity. Many children (and adults) feel like they are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex or Queer (LGBTIQ), or they may still be figuring it out. Parents might have a mixed feeling of embarrassment, denial, worry, support, acceptance and understanding. None of these feelings are right or wrong, since it is a tough road to navigate. However, you are not alone in your experience of raising a LGBTIQ child. The list of Don’ts and Do’s below can be helpful to approach your child about the topic.

#1 – DON’T ask them if they are sure about their identity. This implies that you don’t trust your child’s own feelings and thoughts about themselves and their own bodies.

DO ask your child how they want you to refer to them. Finding the language that works both for you. It shows that you respect your LGBTIQ child even if you may never fully accept their identity or expression.

#2 – DON’T try to fix them. When your son begins wearing a dress, you might want to stop him from doing that. However, you will make your child miserable, and it won’t get him to change. Rather, you need to start accepting him rather than trying to make him be someone that made you more comfortable.

DO let them to come to their own conclusions and their own decisions. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you agree, sometimes you don’t.

#3 – DON’T ask them to “dress properly” or “act normally.” It sends a message of shame and implies that they need to change in order to fit in or to be accepted.

DO let your child feel safe at home to be who they choose to be. Allow them to choose the clothes they wish to wear, how and with whom they play, their favorite toys, how they wear their hair, etc. Make the home a sanctuary of security and support for your child will help your child to handle the hardships they may face outside of the home.

#4 – DON’T be overly supportive either. Just because your son likes to wear your high heels occasionally does not mean you should run out and buy him a pink tutu.

DO express love to your child. Tell them that you want the best for them. And that you will do anything to help them to be happy with themselves.

#5 – DON’T tell your child to hide their gender identity or expression. It tells them that there is something inherently wrong them. If you worry about their safety, think about ways you can protect your child while still letting them know that you support them.

DO prepare them for what to expect. It is important to let our kids know that people with gender differences often deal with a lot of hate and rejection. If your child wants to wear nail polish outside the home or in front of other people, tell him that they might feel uncomfortable and make fun of him for acting like a girl. If he still wants to wear it, at least he’ll know what effect his decision might have on others and himself.

#6 – DON’T blame the child for any discrimination they face. They do not deserve any mistreatment or cruelty from other people.

DO ask for respect within the immediate and extended family. Require and accept only kindness and respect for your child. While you may not be able to change people’s opinions, you can certainly dictate how you expect others to behave and speak around you and your child.

#7 – DON’T tell them that it is just a phase and it will pass. This implies that your child doesn’t know themselves and you dismiss their attempt to be honest with you. Their sexuality may have been something they have thought about for years. Instead, try asking them how long they have felt this way for.

DO be supportive. Children who go against the grain might be subject to teasing, so it’s crucial that they know their parents love them and will provide them with a safe place for them. They will be more resilient to deal with criticism when their parents are on their side.

#8 – DON’T make your child to see a professional unless they want to. The vast majority of kids who experiment with different genders do not need psychological help. However, if your child seems more fearful, sad, or angry than usual, or if he starts making excuses not to go to school or go outside to play, these may be clues that he’s having trouble with other kids, such as bullying. He also might be confused about why others aren’t accepting him. A professional can help your child learn how to deal these issues.

DO show your child a genuine sense of interest in how they see themselves, what they think, what they are experiencing. Search information that focus on the topic. The more you learn, the better you’ll understand where your child is coming from.

#9 – DON’T discuss any negative or conflicting feelings you are struggling with over their gender identity or expression with your child. Find other adults to do so with.

DO listen, ask questions, become informed about the reasons why your child might be breaking gender stereotypes. And if required, seek help for yourself through an experienced and qualified professional. Often time, your child is clear about their identity, but not you. It is understandable that your initial reaction might be one of shock and disappointment; in particular that your child’s sexuality isn’t what you had hoped or planned for them.

Now what?

The bottom line is that Parenting is hard! It is always a struggle between making the right choices and making the best choices for our kids. Honor and respect their gender identity even when you do not understand them. Start and end with love. That’s what we need more in this world.

These are the few suggestions that I found helpful. I’d love to hear your tips of communication in this topic? You can either put it here below in the comment box or connect with me on social media.

Note: This post uses mainly examples of baby boys wanting to become girls, just to make it consistent, but it applies to all genders and ages.

P.S. If you found value in this article, please press Like and Share this with others.

 

It’s all about prevention

We all know that Prevention is better than Cure, but it is especially important for your mental health. Depression is actually now surpass HIV/AIDS, malaria, diabetes, and wars as the leading cause for disability worldwide. 1 out of 5 Canadians suffers from mental illness at some point in their life. So even if you or anyone in your family don’t have a mental illness, most likely somebody you know has it, though they might not want to talk about it.

Educate yourself about toxic stress the same way as lead poisoning. Stress is the initial trigger for a lot of mental illness, like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Not all who are exposed to stress would develop mental illness. However, traumatic stress is so exhausting that it takes a lot of your time and energy. When you are involved in a serious car accident, your brain goes to such high alarm that you cannot put it into words, but the horror keeps playing in your head over and over again. The physical manifestation can be insomnia, panic attacks and withdrawals from things you used to enjoy.

With my experience working in mental health field, I found out one extremely disheartening fact: up till now, we still have not found any medication that can cure mental illness completely. Only those that suppress the symptoms. It is kind of different when you take a painkiller for an infection versus antibiotic. It can help you feel better, but it does not do much to treat the underlined disease. It only helps you to feel better at the time you taking it, and that’s why you have to keep taking it. Yet it does not cure the disease. And most likely, you have to take it for the life of the disease, which often is the length of your own life.

So that brings me to a suggestion that I hold dear to my heart: it is more important to do prevention than cure for mental health. The purpose for this blog is to raise awareness about mental health and promote prevention for mental illness. There are still lots to be discovered about mental illness and how to treat it effectively. The best thing we can do right now is to be aware, to do self-care and prevention. Open conversations about mental illness helps erode stigma and make it easier for people to ask for help.