The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a new policy statement about how to support children and teens who identify as transgender or who fall under an umbrella they call “gender diverse”.
Gender diverse children are those whose appearances, behaviours or identities don’t match the sex they were assigned at birth. Besides trans kids, this also includes children who see themselves as non-binary, genderfluid, or who are experimenting with ways of expressing themselves for any reason.
In the statement, which is addressed to paediatric providers, the authors point out that trans and gender diverse kids face an uphill battle, not just for acceptance from their family and community, but also just to access appropriate health care and mental health care. The average transgender child realises they identify as a different gender around age eight and a half, but doesn’t tell anybody until they’re 18.
Some of the recommendations for providers, that also seem as though they would be helpful for families, include:
- Believe kids. Trans children don’t suddenly change their minds when they hit puberty. Some providers used to advocate “watchful waiting” until the child hit puberty, but the AAP now says that’s a bad idea. Trans and gender diverse kids need support as soon as possible.
- Don’t focus on who a child will become; value them for who they are. Accepting your kid, no matter their gender identity, “fosters secure attachment and resilience,” the statement says, and benefits the whole family. The statement encourages doctors to hang up posters about LGBTQ health issues, provide gender-neutral restrooms, and always use the name and pronouns their patient asserts. Find ways to make your child comfortable at home as well.
- Get help. Your paediatrician is a good place to start, but over time you may want a team of people caring for and supporting your kid. This may include a mental health specialist, and an endocrinologist (hormone specialist) who specialises in adolescents.
- Hormones and surgery are a personal, case-by-case decision. You don’t have to rush to affirmation treatments or surgery, nor should you refuse to consider them. Puberty-delaying hormones can buy extra time for a decision, if necessary, but every treatment has its risks and benefits — and so does choosing no treatment at all.
The statement suggests The Gender Book as a good resource for understanding gender identities and their related terms.
“What is most important is for a parent to listen, respect and support their child’s self-expressed identity,” the lead author, Jason Rafferty, said in a press release. “This encourages open conversations that may be difficult but key to the child’s mental health and the family’s resilience and wellbeing.”