by Megan McQueen
Many kids are exploring their gender identities, and caregivers may have questions about how best to support them. Centering safety and love for our families can help parents stay in relationship with their kids as they navigate new identities. Our classes and connections can become a safe place for families to learn and process.
Please note: We are not medical professionals and cannot give medical advice. Terminology differs throughout time and place. Defer to the vocabulary people use to describe themselves. Be flexible to new word-choice shifts, and forgive me if this is outdated by the time you read this.
Developing Gender Identity
All of us develop a sense of our gender as we grow. Very young children start to notice physical differences between bodies and ask questions. Our answers help shape their understanding of bodies and gender. Around age three, kids will learn the labels that have been given them about their gender identity. At around age four, people begin to have a more static gender identity (although sometimes they’re convinced that they’ll grow up to be unicorns). This may be a time when children begin to identify as a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth. Other people develop this identity later in life.
Power of Positive Relationships
We can help families be supportive adults and prioritize their kids’ mental health. Supportive adults and unconditional love can develop strong resilience in us all. We can encourage families to find time to play together and enjoy each other’s company. Gender-affirming care ensures that all people feel safe to move through the world as the gender they are – this includes transgender, gender diverse, and intersex. Studies by the Trevor Project show that “LGBTQ youth who felt high social support from their family reported attempting suicide at less than half the rate of those who felt low or moderate social support.” Tragically, many queer youth experience higher rates of depression and suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts. (Call 911 if you or someone you know needs immediate support and use the Trevor Project’s crisis line: (866) 488-7386) Families should be on the lookout for signs of these struggles and communicate with their pediatrician or counselor as needed. Learning more about what their loved one has shared will be an essential starting point. Life does not have to be hard with a different identity than given at birth, it can be a rich, joyful, and authentic experience.
Caregivers May Need to Process
We can coach parents when they share concerns. If families want to explore their feelings deeply, we suggest they find a mental health therapist. Grounding ourselves in the goal of keeping kids feeling safe and loved, we can remind families to process their concerns out of earshot of their children. Their child needs to feel accepted. Period. Families may have complex questions and need a safe place to receive research-based answers. Grown-ups (ourselves included!) may need to acknowledge the internal biases we carry about gender. Considering my privilege based on my identities helps me notice where and how oppression may occur so I can disrupt this.
Tweens and teens may have questions, concerns, or requests to make of their pediatrician. We can encourage families to contact their pediatrician and provide a safe, private setting for their children to advocate for themselves. Families of younger children may want to help navigate or lead these conversations. Reminding caregivers that this is an expected conversation for doctors can help ease any challenging emotions. Pediatricians may also recommend support groups and counseling and connect families with these resources.
Connect with Local, Supportive Organizations
This is your time to shine, educators! Providing resources for families to find clubs, resources, and events can be meaningful for families. Many public schools in Oregon have a pride club students can join. Public libraries may also include tween and teen clubs inclusive of all genders. Helping a family and child feel loved, accepted, and safe will build connection and resilience.
As we build more inclusive spaces for our families, we model how families can become or remain spaces of unconditional love. Consider hiring practices to ensure that our staff reflects all genders. Examine the marketing and resources we share with an eye for the portrayal of multiple identities.
Gender Quest Workbook (for Teens and Young Adults) by Jayme Peta, Rylan Jay Testa, and Deborah Coolhart
It Feels Good to Be Yourself (for young children) by Theresa Thorn and Noah Grigni
Transgender Child by Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper
Transgender History by Susan Stryker
Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, imparting a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.