Raising a gender-expansive child can be complicated in a world that doesn’t yet understand gender diversity. You can find help for your child’s mental health
Should We Seek Mental Health Support?
Children who fall outside of typical gender norms don’t automatically need to see a therapist. Gender diversity is not a mental illness that needs to be treated. If your child is generally content and functioning like most other children their age, they don’t need to be in therapy. On the other hand, if your child is depressed, anxious, or distressed due to their experience of their gender or due to other people's’ reactions to their gender identity and expression, then they may need some extra support.
The constant decisions—large and small—we need to make can be exhausting. Should my child wear that outfit to school? Should I tell this person before we get together with them? Should I correct people if they assume my child is a different gender than they identify with? Will my child be safe and supported at school? The pressure to be an expert on gender and kids can feel overwhelming. Because of this, oftentimes parents will seek therapy for themselves in order to gain some support around parenting issues related to their child’s gender.
Whether you seek professional help or not, it is important to keep the lines of communication open between you and your child around gender issues. Talk about your own experiences with gender norms so your child understands that everyone has a gender story, not just gender-expansive people. If it’s not already part of your pattern, try to raise the issue of gender with your child occasionally so that your child doesn’t think it’s a forbidden or uncomfortable topic for you to discuss. Point out and appreciate gender diversity in other kids or adults so your child understands that there is a variety of gender identities and expressions, not just two. Most of all, make sure your child knows that if they are teased or questioned excessively about their gender that it is not because there is anything wrong with them, but instead it is because other people don’t understand that there are other ways to be boys, girls, both or neither.
How Do I Choose a Mental Health Provider?
Once you have determined that you will seek a therapist’s support, you must then identify a professional who will be most appropriate for the needs of your child and family. By no means are all therapists well informed on issues of gender as they relate to children and youth. As you seek the services of professionals, ask them what their experience is working with transgender or gender-expansive youth. A bad therapist can do more harm than good.
If you cannot find a qualified therapist in your area, consider finding someone you are comfortable with and who is open to learning; they can then consult with another therapist who has experience around issues related to gender and youth. Contact us for more information.
Ongoing monitoring of the therapy relationship is important. If the therapist is for your child, keep the lines of communication open between you and your child, as well as between you and the therapist. You want to make sure the environment remains supportive and affirming for your child.
Need some help finding a mental health professional? Gender Spectrum has connections to many professionals who are committed to affirmative care and support of gender diverse youth. If you need help getting medical, mental health, legal or educational support, contact us and we will connect you to professionals who can help you find appropriate referrals. Also, see the link below to our "Tips for Choosing Professionals" which can help you evaluate providers.Contact Us