One of the main points that emerges from the numerous researches made in recent years is the importance of the role of parents of gender variant children for their psycho-physical health and their well-being. In fact, several international studies show that those children who have been able to count on the support and acceptance of their families from an early age show higher levels of self-esteem and well-being than those who have not been supported.
But how can a parent support their gender variant child?
Raising a gender variant child is generally committing experience to overcome the prejudices everybody has when gender is concerned. At first most parents find it very difficult to manage both on an emotional and practical level.
Becoming aware of the gender variance of your child is not a very simple process and can take quite a long time, sometimes even a few years. The information available is little and the concepts of gender, identity, expression, sex and sexual orientation are not so easily understood. Health professionals, who often did not receive specific training in the field of gender, when asked by parents, tend to reassure them by claiming that this is only a temporary phase they do not need to pay attention to. Though it is true that gender expression might realign to the biological sex, it is important to remind parents that yes, there are children who do identify with the opposite gender (or with no gender or with both genders) and that this can continue also in adolescence and in adulthood.
Therefore, the first precaution that parents must follow, perhaps the most important one, is to listen to and consider the requests of their child giving it the right importance and not considering it a sign of a rebel child. It is not in any way and it would therefore be a mistake to try and correct or change their behavior at all costs. Firstly, because it would be a useless effort: gender identity is the way we perceive ourselves as males, females (or others) and this sense of belonging to a group is something intimate and profound, that a simple scolding won’t change. Secondly, showing them our disapproval and encouraging a gender expression that does not correspond to the one desired by the child will end up in our child thinking that what he/she is doing is wrong, internalizing a sense of guilt.
Often parents, with the good intention of protecting their children, decide to allow them to behave freely inside the house, but forbidding the same behavior outside. The bargaining of the limits that define where and to what extent it is legal (and safe) to allow the child to break social rules is a natural phase of acceptance of gender variance by the parent, justified by the good intention of wanting to protect them. However, if it is prolonged, the child may feel that something is wrong with him / her, that there is something to be ashamed of (since it is something that embarrasses his parents), generating a sense of guilt and insecurity that should instead be prevented.
It is very important, therefore, that parents affirm and reinforce the desires of their children, educating them that being different is a positive value, regardless of what others may think. Increasing self-esteem and resilience in children is the most effective way to guarantee well-being and a peaceful future.
This does not mean denying the difficulties that can arise from relationships with others. The society in which we live is unfortunately still transphobic and it is therefore important to explain to the child that certain behaviors are not always easily understood by all and that some people might disagree with their choice to freely express the gender they feel. In doing so, it is important to stress that the problem does not belong to him / her nor in his/her way of being, but in those people who do not accept his/her diversity. Only the child can feel and decide who to be and in what way. Parents can only support and walk along their children on this journey.