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It's Not Just a Phase: How to Talk to Your Child About Gender Identity

It's Not Just a Phase: How to Talk to Your Child About Gender Identity

In this day and age, we have new ways of talking about one’s identity, particularly the aspect of it that relates to one’s sex and gender. As such, it is important, as parents, that you know how to talk to your child about gender identity. It is up to you to be able to help guide your own children in their journey of discovering who they are in this sense.

What is gender identity?

Gender identity is different from one’s birth sex, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Gender identity is a person’s sense of being male, female, both, or even neither. Being born male or female (having the physical characteristics of either sex) does not necessarily mean that the child will identify as such. In the same way, identifying as a particular gender doesn’t necessarily mean that the way they express their gender and their sexual orientation will align with that of their identity.

How do children develop their gender identity?

Gender identity progresses in stages. At two years of age, children will usually become aware of the physical differences between boys and girls. Just before they turn three, most children will be able to assign themselves as boy or girl. By the time they are four years old, most children have usually firmed up their gender identity.

According to experts, exploring gender identity is a healthy part of a child’s development. While most children’s gender identity will align with their birth sex, some children find that their gender expectations do not suit them. Early on they will also be familiarized with gender roles and the behaviors attached to them. Simply put, these are “things that girls/boys do.”

Research indicates that over time, children will acquire a clearer sense of their gender identity through cross-gender play. Those who adopt a gender-diverse identity do so early on. They know their gender as well as their peers and they benefit from the same level of support and acceptance from their community. A child’s gender identity should never be viewed as a form of rebellion or phase.

What are the different types of gender identities?

These include:

  • Cisgender – Those whose gender is the same as gender assigned at birth.
  • Transgender – Those whose gender is different from birth sex.
  • Non-binary/genderqueer/gender fluid – Those whose identities are within or outside of male or female.

How can parents support their child?

Think outside traditional gender roles

Perhaps one of the most important things that parents can do is to provide an environment that supports diversity in gender roles. You can supply them with kids’ books that illustrate men and women in traditionally non-conforming roles, such as working moms, stay-at-home dads, male nurses, female police officers, and the like.

One suggestion on how to talk to your child about gender identity is by asking them what their preferences are, and ensure that they feel included and not teased or bullied. You may give them a varied selection of toys regardless of whether these toys are traditionally thought to be for boys or girls. These include letting your child play with dolls and action figures, vehicles and building blocks. You must also allow your children the freedom to choose their own friends, sports and activities.

Be an ally

Always keep in mind that children with gender-diverse identities may feel out of place, misunderstood, and alone. Experts advise that these children be made to feel accepted first and foremost by their families.

You as a parent are also encouraged to educate yourself as an ally by learning about the gender spectrum, a concept that states that gender is not only limited to male and female, but that there is a range of identities in between and even outside of these categories.

Another option on how to talk to your child about gender identity is by asking them how they wish to be addressed. These include their pronouns, or terms that are used to refer to a person. “He/she” and “they/them” are some examples. This action will convey to your child that you are making an effort to understand and relate with them and that you respect them.

You may also connect with similar families and local institutions in your community. It could also be a good idea to support or volunteer for gender groups to continue learning more and raise awareness in others.

Key takeaways

The bottom line when navigating how to talk to your child about gender identity is to be open and encourage honest communication. Gender identity and expression is a lifelong process. No matter what gender identity your child has, they are still your child. Your unconditional love and acceptance are key to their happy and healthy development as human beings.

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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Louise Nichole Logarta Updated Jul 10, 2021
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel