If your child seems confused about their gender, it's usual for parents to also feel puzzled or worried. But there is help available to support you and your child.
It's common for children to show an interest in clothes or toys that society tells us are associated with a different gender.
With toy stores dedicating floors to colour-coded boys' or girls' toys, as an example, parents may expect a child to closely match expectations of how male and female genders should behave.
You may worry that your child's exploration of different gender preferences and behaviours is not "normal". However, this is not the case.
A young child's exploration of different gender identities is quite common. However, for some children this may continue into later childhood and adolescence.
Some people see gender as existing on a spectrum. This includes male, female and a diversity of gender identities such as non-binary and agender (no gender).
When should I seek help for my child?
If your child is strongly identifying with a different gender and this is causing significant distress to them or your family, see a GP.
You may seek support for your child before puberty starts, which can begin as young as age 9 or 10. The physical changes that occur at puberty, such as the development of breasts or facial hair, can increase a young person's feelings of unhappiness about their body or gender.
Who can help?
Your child's GP can refer them to the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. Other NHS professionals, teachers, local support groups and relevant charities, and counsellors can refer them too.
GIDS is the NHS service specialising in providing gender identity development support for children and young people, and takes referrals from anywhere in England. Its main clinics are in London and Leeds.
After an initial assessment with you and your child, the team at GIDS:
- works with family members, children and young people to help manage anxieties and ease emotional, behavioural and relationship troubles associated with gender identity
- will help you keep your child safe and reduce any stigma around exploring their gender identity
- will discuss with you the support they can offer to your child's nursery or school, and local Child and Young People's Mental Health Services (CYPMHS), if appropriate
If your child continues to be upset or confused about their gender identity and is nearing puberty, you and your child may be seen more often by the team at GIDS.
Each child or young teen will have different needs and goals for how they wish to express their gender.
If your child has lasting signs of gender dysphoria and meets strict criteria, they may be referred to a hormone specialist (consultant endocrinologist) to see if they can take hormone blockers as they reach puberty. This is in addition to psychological support.
Will my child grow up to be trans or non-binary?
In many cases, gender-variant behaviour or feelings disappear as children get older – often as they reach puberty.
Children who do continue to feel they are a different gender from the one assigned at birth could develop in different ways.
Some may feel they do not belong to any gender and may identify as agender. Others will feel their gender is outside of male and female and may identify as non-binary.
Some children who have continuing, strong feelings of a different gender identity will go on to live full-time in a gender different from their sex assigned at birth.
How can I support my child?
Children sometimes worry that if they tell you how they feel, you will not love them anymore. It's important to accept your child and let them know you love and support them, whatever their gender identity is.
If you feel anxious or uncomfortable, you're not alone.
Many young people and parents find talking to other parents and children who have had similar experiences a great help.
It's also important to remember that you, as a parent, need support too. You may be experiencing feelings of loss at your child wishing to live in another gender, or you may be anxious about their future and the effect on the rest of your family.
The charities listed on the TranzWiki page on the Gender Identity Research & Education Society website are there to help you, too.
You and your GP can find advice and guidance for parents and carers on the GIDS website.
NHS England review of gender identity services
NHS England has commissioned an independent review of gender identity services for children and young people. The review will advise on any changes needed to the services for children and young people.