Raising a transgendered child

Family therapist Darby Fox offers advice for parents raising a child who identifies as the opposite gender

In the United States alone, almost 700,000 citizens identify as transgender. Society has many schools of thought regarding how best to approach this community.  Darby Fox, Child and Adolescent Family Therapist, provides guidance for parents of children who view themselves as being of their non-biological gender.

“Transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals are nine times more likely to attempt suicide than the national average,” says Darby. “Isolation and lack of acceptance are huge risk factors in this alarming statistic. However, proper family support can mitigate these numbers and save children’s lives.”

Darby provides these tips for parents of transgendered children: 

1.    Love Your Child, but Be Honest

Regardless of lifestyle, your child should know that your love is a constant; this doesn’t mean you have to lie about your feelings. Having a child modify their appearance, mannerisms and name is an adjustment for everyone. “It’s ok for your child to see that you aren’t completely comfortable right off the bat, as long as they know it is something you are working on,” says Darby Fox. “Children will often sense if you aren’t being honest. In order to build trust, be as truthful as possible without attacking or criticizing your child. The most important thing is to emphasize love.”

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2.    Trust Your Child to Know Themselves

Studies have shown that gender identity starts to develop as early as the first year of life and is solidified by age four. “When your child is telling you that they do not identify with their assigned gender, you may want to consider that it is not a phase,” advises Darby. “Your child knows themselves better than you realize. As your children begin to understand the world around them, they also need to be able to explore their own identity.”

3.    Expect Community Backlash 

Not everyone can love your child like you do. Community and family members may not want to take the same steps towards acceptance. Remember that this public outcry is even harder for your non-conforming child. Public opinion should be an open topic of conversation, and something that you face together.

“It's important to have a broad ongoing discussion about tolerance,” says Darby. “Emphasize that there are many people who feel discriminated against for their differences outside of the LGBTQ community as well – for example those who are overweight or are living with a handicap. By taking the focus off your child’s struggle, you are helping to normalize the situation.”

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4.    Seek Support and Education

There are many families working through the same situation. As a result, there are countless websites and forums dedicated to education and support. Parents and Friends of Lesbian’s and Gay’s (PFLAG), for example, is a nationwide organization catering to transgendered and gender non-conforming people as well as their friends and family.

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Darby Fox, Child & Adolescent Family Therapist, has over 20 years of experience providing individual and group therapy in both non-profit and private settings. Darby takes a unique approach to counseling and looks beyond the presenting problem to make a real connection with the children and families. Through a variety of techniques, Darby helps children and families express what is troubling them when they haven’t mastered the language or awareness to express their thoughts and feelings verbally. She incorporates the family as a whole into the therapy to establish a framework to teach on-going problem solving skills and provides a corrective emotional experience that is necessary for healing.