How to Help Transgender Children According to Pediatricians
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a new policy statement on how to support children and adolescents who identify as transgender or fall under the umbrella of what they call “gender diverse.”
Gender-dissimilar children are those children whose appearance, behavior or identity does not match the sex assigned to them at birth. In addition to trans children, this also includes children who consider themselves non-binary, gender fluid, or experiment with ways of expressing themselves for any reason.
In a statement to pediatric providers, the authors note that transgender and gender-dissimilar children face difficult struggles not only for acceptance by their family and community, but only for access to adequate health care and mental health care. The average transgender child realizes that he identifies as the other sex at the age of eight and a half, but does not tell anyone about this until he is 18.
Some of the recommendations for health care providers that also seem to be helpful for families include:
- Trust the kids . Transgender children do not suddenly change their minds when they reach puberty. Some service providers used to advocate “watchful waiting” until a child reaches puberty, but the AAP now says this is a bad idea. Transgender and gender-diverse children need support as soon as possible.
- Don’t get hung up on who the child will become; appreciate them for who they are. Adopting a child, regardless of gender, “fosters strong attachment and resilience,” the statement said, and benefits the entire family. The statement called on doctors to post posters about LGBT health issues, provide gender-neutral toilets, and always use names and pronouns that their patients claim. Find ways to keep your child comfortable at home.
- Get help . Your pediatrician is a good place to start, but over time, you may need a group of people to care for and support your child. This may include a mental health specialist and an endocrinologist (hormone specialist) who specializes in adolescents.
- Hormones and surgery are a personal matter . You do not need to rush to an affirmation treatment or operation, and you should not refuse to consider them. When needed, hormones that delay puberty can buy more time for decision-making, but each treatment has its own risks and benefits, as does not treatment altogether.
The statement said the Gender Book is a good resource for understanding gender identity and related terms. “The most important thing for parents is to listen, respect and support their child’s expression,” lead author Jason Rafferty said in a press release . “It encourages open conversations, which can be difficult but are key to a child’s mental health, resilience and family well-being.”