As children grow up, they learn what it means to have a gender identity from their parents, older siblings or children, and society. Assigned gender roles form their identity and their place in the family or community. Some children accept their assigned gender without question and feel comfortable and confident in it. As they grow and explore the world around them, some find who they are and where they fit is different from what they’ve been told.
There will come a time when children break from assigned gender roles, colors, or toys for many reasons, one being the urge to experience their siblings’ experience. Boys will play with dolls, try on dresses, or join their sisters at a tea party. Girls will play with trucks in the mud, balk at frilly dresses, and enjoy sports with their brothers. We need to accept whatever holds their interest throughout their childhood- paying attention to them and validating their thoughts and feelings is essential.
Showing our children support in their efforts to form their identity remains an essential part of parenting. When a child comes out as lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, queer, or nonbinary (LGTBQ+), take the time to listen to their thoughts, feelings, and needs. Parents unknowingly reject their children too often, which deeply harms a child’s well-being and sense of self. Denial of a child’s identity affects them as individuals, the family system, their ability to make friends and feel a part of society.
Effects of Rejection and Family Acceptance
How a family responds to a child’s coming out is paramount. Some belief systems champion that their sex organs indicate one’s gender identity at birth. Children who do not identify with their gender assigned at birth should not be shamed under any circumstances, as they can try to find an escape from their feelings with different harmful behaviors. The paper “Engaging families to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth: The Family Acceptance Project” contrasts the effects of rejection and acceptance on a child’s well-being:
LGBTQ+ young adults who reported high levels of family rejection during adolescence were:
- 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide
- 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression
- 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs
- 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse – compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection
Family acceptance helps:
- protect against depression, suicidal behavior, and substance abuse
- promote self-esteem, social support, and overall health
- build trust and open, healthy conversations between the child and their parents
Definitions for Gender and Sexual Orientation
The Institute of Medicine and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration define the different types of gender and sexual orientations:
- Sexual orientation is usually classified as heterosexual, bisexual, or lesbian and gay)and includes attraction, behavior, and identity components. Sexual orientation is expressed in relationship to others. Sexual identity forms how a person expresses love, intimacy, and build relationships with others.
- Gender identity is internal; outsiders cannot see how a person identifies. The awareness and understanding of a person’s gender identity is a personal journey. Some people will share with everyone their chosen identity, while others will keep their identity hidden.
- Everyone expresses their identity through different mediums. Choices in clothes, activities, hobbies, hairstyles, toys, games, do not necessarily indicate
- Those who are transgender don’t identify with their family, friends, or society’s assignment or expectations of their birth gender. Those who are transgender can feel uncomfortable in their body and its identity. Some seek surgery to change their gender.
Your child needs to know you love and support them. Create time, a safe space, or a non-threatening way to talk with your child about their gender or sexual identity. Listen to how they identify themselves and ask what their pronouns are. Your child’s health and well-being are directly linked to your love and understanding. Admitting you know little to nothing about their gender or sexual identity is a great way to open the conversation. Going to a therapist is another option, as therapy allows your family to discuss what identifying as LGTBQ+ means to your child. Therapy is an excellent place to identify and address any misgivings, moral conflicts, or prejudices you or a family member can have regarding gender or sexual identities. There are several options to begin a conversation or to learn more about gender identity or sexual orientation, including:
- Researching how to talk with and convey acceptance, love, and support to your child. There are many online forums available, and books, journals, or community organizations focused on your teen’s health and well-being are positive information sources.
- Find a parent support group. Sharing thoughts, fears, and positive approaches to your teen’s gender or sexual identity in a support group for parents whose children are LGTBQ+ is an excellent way to create a supportive, healthy environment at home.
Encouraging your child to explore and learn about who they are is essential. Your child’s well-being can be impacted by whether you accept or reject their gender identity or sexual orientation. Children need support for positive mind-body health, and involving the family in therapy is a great way to support your child. Creating a safe space for your child and family members to explore and discuss feelings increases a child’s sense of support. Achieve Concierge offers group, individual, and private in-home therapy sessions. For more information, contact us at (619) 393-5871.