How to Discuss Transgender Issues with a Child

Co-authored by Lily Zheng, MA

Updated: December 25, 2019

Explore this Article Explaining Transgender Issues Teaching Your Child Inclusiveness Coming Out to a Child Show 1 more... Show less... Questions & Answers Related Articles References

Children are naturally open and understanding, so they can grasp transgender issues. Talking to a child about being transgender might make you uncomfortable, but it’s important to help them learn to be accepting. Start by explaining transgender issues to your child and by teaching them how to be inclusive. If you’re transgender, talk to your child about it in private and give them time to process the information. If your child is transgender, assure them that you’ll always love and support them.

Explaining Transgender Issues

  1. 1
    Explain that babies are labeled as a boy or girl when they’re born. Kids typically understand that biological boys and biological girls have different body parts. Explain that when babies are born, a doctor looks at their private part and gives them an assigned sex. They’re labeled either a boy or a girl.[1]
    • You might say, “When you were born, the doctor said you were a boy because you have a penis. Your sister has a vagina, so they labeled her a girl.”
  2. 2
    Tell them some people feel like they have the wrong label. After you explain that labels are assigned at birth, say that some people don't feel like their label matches who they are on the inside. They may feel like the opposite gender than the one they are assigned or they might feel like they don’t identify with either gender. In order to be happy, these people need to switch to the label that feels right, which makes them transgender.[2]
    • Say, “Some people realize that the label the doctor gave doesn't match who they are on the inside. To be happy, they might decide to change their label. Then, they might change their name and the way they look to match their true gender.”
  3. 3
    Address any questions that your child might have. Ask your child if they have any questions about what being transgender means. If they do, answer the questions to the best of your abilities. Then, tell your child that they can come to you with more questions at any time.[3]
    • You might say, “I know you might have a lot of questions later, and that’s okay. I’m always here to help.”
    • If you don’t know an answer, tell your child that you’ll get back to them later that same day, then find the answer for them.
  4. 4
    Assure them that transgender people are just like everyone else. It’s important to help your child understand that there’s nothing wrong with being transgender. Additionally, teach your child that they don’t need to treat transgender people differently. Tell them that it’s totally normal to be transgender.[4]
    • You might say, “It’s okay to be transgender, and you shouldn’t treat transgender people differently.”

Teaching Your Child Inclusiveness

  1. 1
    Give your child books about transgender characters. Reading about transgender characters can help your child understand what it means to be trans. Look for books written for children your child’s age. Offer these books to your child and allow them to read them when they’re ready.[5]
    • Consider reading the book with your child so you can answer any questions that they have.
    • You might try My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis or Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah Hoffman.
  2. 2
    Explain that there’s no one way to be a boy or a girl. Many kids learn that girls like pink, dolls, and princesses, while boys like blue, sports, and trucks. Help your child understand that these are stereotypes, and it’s okay for boys and girls to be different. This will help you explain why transgender people don’t identify with their assigned gender.[6]
    • You might say, “You know how both Amy and Andrew like to play soccer? Girls and boys can like the same stuff.”
  3. 3
    Use gender-neutral language so your child learns it. You don’t need to explain what gender-neutral language is. Instead, model it for your child so they view it as normal. Refer to transgender people by their preferred pronouns, and use the singular “they” if you’re not sure about someone’s preferred pronouns. Additionally, avoid generalizing about gender norms.[7]
    • For instance, you might use "they" to refer to a person you don't know instead of assuming "he" or "she."
    • Similarly, say things like, “Most boys can pee standing up like you, but some pee sitting down.”
  4. 4
    Encourage your child to include trans kids in their activities. If your child knows a trans child, include them in your child’s special events and consider having a play date. Teach your child to be kind and accepting of their friend. This will help them accept transgender people just like anyone else.[8]
    • Don’t make assumptions about the gender of a child. If a child is not out as transgender, don’t tell your child that they might be.

Coming Out to a Child

  1. 1
    Schedule a time and place to talk to your child. Pick a time when you can sit and talk to your child alone. Let your child know in advance that you need to tell them something serious but that they aren’t in trouble. Make sure you have enough time for your child to ask any questions they might have.[9]
    • For instance, you might invite your child to share a snack on your porch. Say, “I need to tell you something important, but try not to worry because you aren’t in trouble.”
  2. 2
    Tell your child that who you are inside doesn’t match your outside. Coming out is always hard, but telling your child may feel especially difficult. Explain that the label the doctor gave you at birth doesn’t feel right to you, and you’re finally ready to come out as your true self. Then, tell them your true gender identity.[10]
    • You might say, “The doctor said I was a boy when I was born, and I’ve tried to live that way my whole life. However, I realized early on that I’m really a girl inside.”
  3. 3
    Say you will be expressing your true self moving forward. Tell your child what being trans means to you and how you’ll be expressing your identity. Describe what will change, as well as what will stay the same. Be prepared for your child to possibly interrupt you with questions.[11]
    • For instance, you could say, “I’m going to start wearing women’s clothing and makeup. Additionally, I’ll be growing out my hair and may sometimes wear wigs. I’d really like it if you’d call me ‘mom’ from now on, but I understand if you don’t feel comfortable with that.”
    Lily Zheng, MA

    Lily Zheng, MA

    Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Consultant
    Lily Zheng is a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Consultant and Executive Coach who works with organizations around the world to build more inclusive and innovative workplaces for all. Lily is the author of Gender Ambiguity in the Workplace: Transgender and Gender-Diverse Discrimination (2018) and The Ethical Sellout: Maintaining Your Integrity in the Age of Compromise (2019). Lily earned her MA in Sociology from Stanford University.
    Lily Zheng, MA
    Lily Zheng, MA
    Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Consultant

    Every gender transition is unique, and every person makes their own goals. What one person wants might be completely different from another person. Not every transgender person wants to legally change their name, go through hormone replacement therapy, or have surgeries.

  4. 4
    Assure them that this won’t change your relationship. Your child might be afraid that they’re losing a parent, so put their fears to rest. Tell them that you’re always going to love them and be there for them, but now you’re being more honest with them about who you are on the inside.[12]
    • Say, “I understand that you might be scared, but I’m still going to be your parent. I love you so much and will always be there for you. I feel like this is going to help me be there for you better because now I’m sharing who I really am.”
  5. 5
    Answer any questions they may have. Invite your child to ask questions about your transgender identity, your relationship with them, or anything else that’s worrying them. Do your best to answer their questions, but don’t feel pressured to discuss topics that make you feel uncomfortable.[13]
    • If you don’t want to answer a question, you might say, “I want to be an open book with you, but that topic is too sensitive for me right now.”

    Tip: Keep in mind that they may not have questions at this time. Tell them that it’s okay to come to you with questions when they feel ready.

  6. 6
    Give your child time to process how they feel. Your child may accept you right away, but it could take time for them to work through their emotions. Tell them that they can take as much time as they need and that you love them regardless of how they react. Then, continue to love and support your child as you normally would.[14]
    • Say, “I hope this can make our relationship stronger, but I understand that you might need time. Take as much time as you need to figure out how you feel. I’m always here to talk.”

Helping a Transgender Child

  1. 1
    Assure your child that it’s okay to be trans if you think they are. It’s normal for children to be afraid of expressing a transgender identity, especially if they don’t have transgender role models. If you suspect your child might be trans, tell them that identifying with the opposite gender is totally okay. Additionally, introduce them to positive media about trans people.[15]
    • You might say, “It’s okay to like pink and play with dolls even though you were born a boy.”
  2. 2
    Allow your child to decide if they’re trans on their own. While you might suspect your child is trans, don’t label them trans unless they come out to you. Give them the time they need to decide what feels right to them. When they’re ready, they’ll tell you how they feel.[16]
    • Keep in mind that some girls like “masculine” things and some boys like “feminine” things. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re trans.

    Tip: It’s okay to ask your child if they’re a boy or a girl. However, don’t push them to give an answer.

  3. 3
    Give a loving, supportive response if your child comes out as trans. Show excitement that they opened up to you. Tell them that you’re proud of them for sharing who they are and assure them that you love them no matter what. This shows your child that who they are is okay.[17]
    • You might say, “I’m so happy that you felt comfortable telling me. I’m proud of you for being brave in sharing your true self. I love you so much!”
  4. 4
    Use the child’s preferred name and pronouns. After your child comes out as trans, ask them what they want to be called. Always use their preferred name and pronouns. If you accidentally use their dead name, apologize and explain that it was a mistake.[18]
    • You might apologize by saying, “I’m so sorry I just called you that. It was just out of habit, and I’ll do my best not to do it again. I love you.”

    Did You Know? When a transgender person chooses to stop using their birth name, this name is called their "dead name." It's important not to use a trans person's dead name.

  5. 5
    Accept your child just as they are. Don’t try to change your child or to push them into transitioning too quickly. Let them take the lead on how they want to dress, what toys they want, and how they want to live. Be there for them as a constant support and source of love.[19]
    • Keep in mind that transgender means different things to each person. For instance, some transgender girls might enjoy wearing dresses, while others might like gender-neutral clothes. Similarly, some transgender boys might want short hair, while others might keep their long hair. Let your child decide what makes them happy.

Community Q&A

Add New Question
  • Question
    I'm an 11-year-old girl. I'm not on my period and show no signs of puberty. Does this mean I'm transgender? If I am how do I tell my boyfriend?
    Community Answer
    Transgender is a feeling that you've been born in the wrong gendered body, not a physical thing. You are not transgender. You are only 11 and haven't started developing yet, which is perfectly normal. Most girls get their period between the ages of 12 and 15. Relax.
  • Question
    I'm 12, and I'm a trans-boy but my parents think I'm too young, and won't listen to anything I have to say. What can I do?
    Community Answer
    Be patient. Sometimes parents just need to get used to the idea and will grow together with you to better understand who you really are. They will have to eventually accept you for you and if they don't, it is your life and you have to live it.
  • Question
    I feel that I am boy, but my parents are too orthodox and haven't been able to accept me. I'm 16, it's been two years since I told them, how can I get them to accept me?
    Community Answer
    At 16, you are becoming a man! Tell your parents, again, respectfully, that this is how you truly feel and that you would appreciate if they accepted you.
  • Question
    What if I don’t want to tell my children it’s okay to change your gender based on how you feel? Am I a bigot for my beliefs?
    Luna Rose
    Top Answerer
    It may be time to do some careful reflection on your beliefs. Try reading medical literature on the development of transgender people, paying attention to studies discussing how gender can be measured and the effects of feeling like you are going through life as the "wrong" gender. Life can be miserable for transgender people who aren't supported, and researchers found that a supportive community nearly eliminates the mental health risks. It's important to be a good role model, especially when approaching people who are different from you.
  • Question
    How much is it to transition? And is it possible to transition at the age of 20?
    Luna Rose
    Top Answerer
    Coming out as transgender and choosing a new name and pronouns is free. Updating your hair and wardrobe is affordable for most people. (Seek out clothes donations if you don't have much money.) Legally changing your name and ID cards may cost time and money. Medical costs vary by country and by what type of insurance you have. You may or may not choose to experience hormone therapy and/or corrective surgery. Start researching your options and try talking to a doctor. Transitioning at age 20 is totally normal, and people have done it at twice your age with success. I recommend reading up on the process, focusing on your country, to help you better understand what your life could look like.
  • Question
    If you were born a boy, you stay a boy.
    Community Answer
    Sex and gender are different. Yes, the sex will always be male if you were born male, but your gender is how you feel inside. If your sex is male but your gender is female, then you're female.
  • Question
    My son is nine. He always likes to play with girls. Does that mean he is gay?
    Top Answerer
    No. What gender someone likes to hang around does not indicate their sexuality. Of course, it could be possible that he is gay, just the same as it could be possible that any human is gay, but the fact he plays with girls doesn't mean he is more likely to be gay; that's just a stereotype.
  • Question
    Why should you tell your children you’ll support such life-changing decisions at such a young age (10-14)? Aren’t they a little too young to decide on they’re own? They’re not adults yet and parental guidance still counts for much.
    Luna Rose
    Top Answerer
    Don't worry, no life-changing decisions are made at that age. For kids, "transitioning" just involves name, haircut, and wardrobe—nothing permanent. Preteens can be given "puberty blockers," which stop them from undergoing puberty until they can be sure about their gender. More permanent measures, like hormones and surgery, are only done if they are wanted as an older teen or adult. Most kids already feel confident about their gender from a young age, and doctors are cautious (sometimes overly cautions) about making sure that nothing permanent happens too early.
  • Question
    Why does it take some people time to know their gender identity?
    Top Answerer
    It varies among people. Some people might not know because they don't have enough information on trans identity; some don't feel any confusion or discomfort with their gender until later on (e.g. at puberty); and still others might know, but have difficulty coming to terms with it or expressing it. Someone who realizes their true gender later in life isn't any less transgender than someone who knew early on, and still needs support from those around them.
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    • Make it clear that there’s nothing wrong with being transgender.
    • Expose your child to child-appropriate TV shows and movies with positive portrayals of transgender characters to help them view it as normal.


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    Article Info

    This article was co-authored by Lily Zheng, MA. Lily Zheng is a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Consultant and Executive Coach who works with organizations around the world to build more inclusive and innovative workplaces for all. Lily is the author of Gender Ambiguity in the Workplace: Transgender and Gender-Diverse Discrimination (2018) and The Ethical Sellout: Maintaining Your Integrity in the Age of Compromise (2019). Lily earned her MA in Sociology from Stanford University.

    Categories: LGBT Identity

    Thanks to all authors for creating a page that has been read 36,564 times.
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