Different children have different food choices, similarly, some children have a gender identity that is different from their gender assigned at the time of birth, and have interests that may align with other genders. They feel like they are somewhere in between or have no fixed gender.
Gender nonconformity is defined as “a phenomenon in which children do not conform to expected gender-related sociological or psychological patterns, or identify with the opposite gender”. It is common, there’s nothing wrong with these children.
- Some traits that you can look for in such children include:
- Type of clothing they prefer.
- Playing with toys that are associated with the opposite sex.
- Prefers the company of the opposite sex or opposite sex playmates.
Parents of gender non-conforming children should adopt a different approach to take care of their children. They should help them find their true identity. Parents often struggle with the question of how to identify if their child is really transgender, experimenting with gender, or, instead simply growing into an adolescent gay identity. And their biggest fear is that their children will face discrimination in society due to gender inequality.
Here parents and children both need guidance and counseling. The counselors can teach parents to pause, absorb the messages their children are trying to send them and, in the process, understand their children. They must be mindful of a child’s need for parental acceptance and validation. Only they themselves and the counselors can help children express their genders in authentic ways, by what they say and do. This takes time, practice, and an open mind.
What these children go through?
Struggles that such children face are harassment, discrimination, and even violence. The parents worry every day that their child might someday fall victim to a violent crime or harassment. And sometimes even families reject their transgender children because of deeply held religious beliefs, cultural norms, or pressure from other family members. Children from these families go through physical violence and verbal humiliation. They have to go through a lot, their struggle seems never-ending.
Society criticizes them because they think they are abnormal; some narrow-minded people even consider this as an illness. This can trigger depression and other mental health problems.
How to deal with such a mentality of society?
- Try to ignore and do not let yourself get swayed by wrong thoughts being put in your head by the people in society.
- At a certain age, make your child aware that they should not get disheartened by what people say.
- Encourage your child to stand up for themselves when it is safe to do so.
- Assure your child that you support them and love them unconditionally.
How can you help your child?
Young children experiencing gender identity issues can experience stigma, bullying, isolation, and even violence from others. These children might struggle with internalised unhappiness and using coping mechanisms like self-harm. But there are things you can do to help and make your child feel supported.
Some things which can really make a difference:
- Your acceptance and support are important for your child if they are confused about, or coming to terms with their gender identity. Fear of rejection and negative judgment can be huge obstacles in your child seeking support.
- Your child might be questioning their gender. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are trans, but they may be. It is a journey of discovery and expression; go at their pace and try to help them as much as you can.
- Communication is the key. Being an open-minded parent is the best approach. Whatever happens, they are still your child.
- Be patient with them if they don’t want to talk about it to you and be supportive when they are ready.
- Be alert for signs of depression, withdrawal, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts. If you notice any of these behaviours tell your child that you are there for them, and seek support from your mental health professional.
- Stay in touch with your child’s school. Don’t hesitate to meet with the school officials to ensure your child’s safety. It is not your job to monitor their behaviour to reduce the chances of bullying when at school; it is the school’s job to keep all children safe.
Young children should be able to express their gender identity through their chosen attire, hairstyles, names, mannerisms, and other physical presentations without punishment or ridicule. Don’t assume that your gender non-conforming children are “acting out” when they express their gender identity. The personal style and clothing that an individual chooses are important aspects of self-expression. Support your children in these choices and challenge restrictive policies that may not allow such freedom. Parents of such children not only have to be mentally strong themselves but also have to make their children learn to crush stigma and conquer any criticism they may face along their way.