When is it okay to tell a child that they are a man?
I know, I know: I’m a woman, a transgender woman, and a mother.
That’s not to say I’m not a man, but I’m just not the only one.
If you are a woman and you have a transgender child, chances are, your child will see it differently.
Transgender people have long been treated with fear and distrust.
It is no wonder that when it comes to the socialization of children, it is often difficult to find a gender-neutral term for this phenomenon.
The American Psychological Association (APA) recently released guidelines for the labeling of gender identity, which states that “gender is a socially constructed category of identity, expressed in terms of biological sex, gender expression, or expression of other characteristics or characteristics not usually associated with biological sex.”
For transgender children, this includes pronouns like he, she, or ze.
The guidelines also recommend that parents and educators discuss transgender issues with their children, even when it is not appropriate for them to talk about gender-nonconforming behaviors.
“Many parents are reluctant to address gender dysphoria in terms that reflect the child’s internal feelings,” says Andrea Pappas, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.
“What is appropriate for a child’s gender expression and presentation is different for each child.
If a child says they are female and they have a penis, they are not necessarily a girl.”
The guidelines recommend that gender-dysphoric children and young people should be addressed with appropriate and sensitive language, such as “he” or “she,” and with the intention of establishing a safe, non-threatening and non-judgmental environment for the child.
It also suggests that parents teach their children about gender identity in terms similar to how they would talk about sexual orientation and gender expression.
However, the APA guidelines do not define the terms transgender, transgender-identifying, gender-fluid, and gender-queer.
What these guidelines do acknowledge is that transgender people exist and can be children of any gender.
For many, however, these labels are more problematic than a child being transgender.
For example, the guidelines do suggest that parents talk to their children with their “internal feelings,” which are typically positive and positive about their identity.
However this process can be difficult for parents, who may feel pressured to “correct” a child who is not sure or feels like he or she is different from the other kids.
Pappos explains that it is important for parents to talk with their child about their gender identity and sexual orientation before labeling them.
“We need to be honest with our children about their internal feelings and let them decide for themselves,” Papps says.
“This is not about the child being a boy or girl, but about them having the courage to be who they are and being loved and supported for who they really are.”
Parents should also discuss how their child feels about gender expression with their therapist.
“Therapists are there to listen to and understand your child’s feelings,” Pannas says.
And parents should also talk with the child about gender dysphoric behaviors and behaviors that cause discomfort and discomfort.
“The biggest thing that a therapist can do is to teach the child that gender is something they can choose to live with and they can live with that,” Papanas says, adding that parents should talk with children about what they want to do with their gender expression when they are ready to transition.
Transgender children can have a hard time navigating a transition.
“They may be confused about what their true gender identity is,” Pas says about transgender children.
“Sometimes they may not understand what their pronouns are, what their gender is, or how to refer to themselves in a non-conforming way.”
For example: Papanos notes that it’s important to discuss with transgender children their right to use gender-appropriate pronouns.
She adds that some transgender children may be reluctant to use certain pronouns.
“It’s important for transgender children to be able to use a pronoun that fits them,” Papas says of parents who don’t know how to identify gender-free pronouns.
For more information about gender and gender dysphorias, see the American Psychological Society’s transgender resource guide, Gender Dysphoria: Understanding and Managing Gender-Dysphoria, and the National Center for Transgender Equality’s Transgender Resource Center.
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