All children explore different ways of expressing their gender. Many children do not conform to their culture’s expectations for boys or girls; such as boys who prefer dolls and dressing up in skirts or girls who prefer short hair and refuse to wear dresses. Most of these children are comfortable with the sex they were assigned at birth, although some are not.
Occasionally children persistently assert themselves as a gender different from the sex assigned at birth. These transgender children are usually insistent, consistent and persistent in their gender identity and may exhibit distress or discomfort with their physical body.
Some children are aware of their gender identity from a very early age, while others may take some time to figure it out. Children can be very aware of the disapproval of those around them and may try and hide their feelings about their gender.
For gender-expansive children, including those who may identify as transgender, no medical intervention is needed pre-puberty. However you may want to talk to a paediatrician, mental health professional or parent support group to work out how to best support your child or family member. This is particularly important if there is associated distress related to gender identity.
Supporting your child
Here are some simple tips to help you support your child as they consider their gender identity.
- Assure your child that they have your unconditional love and support.
- Encourage their exploration of how they express themselves and allow them to present in the way they feel most comfortable, eg, clothes, hairstyle, creativity. It is important that your child has a safe space in which to explore their gender.
- Use the child’s preferred gender pronouns (he/him, she/her, they/them etc) and preferred names. When your child is ready, support family and friends to do the same, providing it is safe to do so.
For young people where these feelings continue into puberty or emerge during puberty, particularly if associated with distress, it is important to see a health professional. Puberty blockers are a medication that can be used to halt the physical changes of an unwanted puberty.
Blockers are a safe and fully reversible medicine that may be used from early puberty through to later adolescence to help ease distress and allow time to fully explore gender health options.
Service providers that can help access blockers include:
- paediatric services
- youth health services
- primary health care teams.