A Parenting Expert Offers 8 Ways to Support Your Trans Child

There are clear associations between the support that trans youth experience from their parents and numerous health outcomes

helping
Jacob Lund/stock.adobe.com

If your child is struggling with their gender identity and identifies as transgender, your role as their parent, including how you react and respond, is of vital importance to your child.

I understand that for parents, this may be a time of confusion and even shock. You might think you did something wrong, and you might blame yourself. Please know that this isn't something you did, and it also isn't something you can change.

The most important thing you can do for your child is to affirm their identity — and it's important that you affirm versus accept. Affirming means you're stating it as a fact and offering emotional encouragement and support. Accepting, on the other hand, means you're tolerating a difficult or unpleasant situation. You don't want to give your child the idea that there is something wrong with them and you are just accepting their "wrongness." Instead, affirm and support them.

You want to respect them and their feelings because they have been feeling this way for longer than you may know, and it takes extreme courage for them to speak their truth.

Why is this so important? We are seeing the impact of mental health struggles in LGBTQ+ youth, with suicide among the leading causes of death in young people. The rate of suicide in LGBTQ youth is disproportionately higher for those who are transgender. Last year, a national survey done by the Trevor Project found that:

• Forty-eight percent of LGBTQ youth reported engaging in self-harm, including over 60% of transgender and nonbinary youth.

• Forty percent of LGBTQ respondents seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months, and more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth have seriously considered suicide.

• Sixty-eight percent of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. Among transgender and nonbinary respondents, it was more than 75%.

According to a report prepared for the Children's Aid Society of Toronto and Delisle Youth Services, there are clear associations between the support that trans youth experience from their parents and numerous health outcomes. The most significant findings show that trans youth who have strong parental support for their gender identity and expression report higher life satisfaction, higher self-esteem, better mental health (including less depression and fewer suicide attempts) and adequate housing compared to those without strong parental support.

I know this is a turbulent time for your child, you and your family — and there are things you can do to help them. Remember, helping them can save their lives.

1. Affirm their gender identity (even if you don't agree — it's not about you).

2. Use their preferred pronouns (they/them, he/him, she/her).

3. Educate yourself via resources, including:

• The Trevor Project.

• Human Rights Campaign.

• PFLAG.

• Scarleteen.

In addition to the above, here are a few specific actions you can take as a parent.

Be a safe place for them to come for support.

This means listening to them without judgment or criticism. You are listening to understand your child better, which builds your connection. As humans we all want to be heard and understood. When your child wants to talk to you, be there in both mind and body so you can tune into their verbal and non-verbal communication. Remember, you are their safe place and you don't have to fix their problems for them. You just need to be there.

Ask them what they need.

Talk to your child about how you can best support them because what you think they need might be wrong. Ask them about what you can do to help them move through this transition.

Be empathetic and validate emotions.

Imagine how hard this must be for them — facing judgments and sideways glances. It must be so hard to own and live your truth. Empathy is powerful. It means simply putting yourself in the other person's shoes so you can look at the world through their eyes. Validating their emotions and giving them empathy will help them feel like they are heard and understood. Knowing you "get" them will help them feel a sense of belonging.

Understand that this is an evolution.

Things will change as your child navigates their way through their identity. Give them grace to learn and evolve through the process of self-discovery (which might take them years).

Don't take this personally.

This is your child's journey. Yes, it's also a journey for you and your family, but this isn't personal. I know you will have feelings about it and you might need to grieve the loss of what you thought the future would look like. That's ok. Feel what you need to and keep in mind you have to be there for your child. If you are struggling, get some professional help to work through your feelings.

The information provided here is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for advice concerning your specific situation.

The Newsweek Expert Forum is an invitation-only network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.
What's this?
Content labeled as the Expert Forum is produced and managed by Newsweek Expert Forum, a fee based, invitation only membership community. The opinions expressed in this content do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Newsweek or the Newsweek Expert Forum.