By Afsaneh Moradian, author of Jamie Is Jamie: A Book About Being Yourself and Playing Your Way
So much of childhood is defined by gender. Relatives buy “girl” or “boy” toys for birthdays and holidays. Haircuts, clothes, and favorite games are expected to correspond to what is common for boys and girls. While many parents and educators do their best to challenge these ideas and try to give kids a more open, gender-neutral childhood, gender messaging is present in advertising, the shows kids watch, and even the songs they listen to (from any era).
There is little room for children who do not fit in to the common definition of what it means to be a boy or a girl. Yet some kids do not wish to define themselves as one or the other. This is being called nonbinary. Other children are clear that they are girls or boys, but were born into the wrong bodies. These children are transgender.
Parents do not get to decide if they have nonbinary or transgender children, nor may they feel prepared to properly support their children, regardless of how much they love them.
Here are some tips for how to support nonbinary and transgender kids.
- Build a library. When you have books on hand that feature nonbinary and transgender children, kids see themselves represented in books and know that they are not alone. Adding books that challenge gender stereotypes can also help your child know that few kids fit in to the traditional ideas of what it means to be a boy or a girl. You will probably want to share this collection with your child’s teacher and classmates to make sure the classroom is safe and caring. Check out these lists from Welcoming Schools for books that help children understand gender and that support nonbinary and transgender kids.
- Find community. Use social media to find networks and real-life gatherings of nonbinary and transgender kids. Knowing other parents in a similar situation can be a helpful source of support for you, and meeting other nonbinary or transgender kids will help your child see that they are one of many and that there is nothing wrong with how they see or define themselves.
- Listen to your child. Clearly your child is attuned to what they think, feel, and need. Your child is the one who informed you that they are nonbinary or transgender. It may be time for you to let your child take the lead and tell you what they want and need. Let your child choose the toys they’d like to play with, pick out the clothes they’d like to wear, and decide how they choose to decorate their room and their body. Just because your child may identify as a gender does not mean that they will automatically like everything associated with that gender. It’s best to have a gender-neutral approach to toys and clothes and let your child decide what they are interested in.
- Ask lots of questions. One useful question to ask early on is which pronouns your child would like you to call them by. This is especially important for you to know so you can make sure that teachers, classmates, friends, and relatives do not put your child in an uncomfortable position by using the wrong pronouns. The more questions you ask your child, the more you will understand how they are thinking and feeling, and the more they will feel you respect and really hear them.
Nonbinary and transgender kids need love, acceptance, and respect. They need friends, they need to feel that they belong, and they need to know they have their parents’ support. When in doubt, ask your child what they think, and you will most likely be able to figure out what to do together.
Afsaneh Moradian has loved writing stories, poetry, and plays since childhood. After receiving her master’s in education, she took her love of writing into the classroom where she began teaching children how to channel their creativity. Her passion for teaching has lasted for over fifteen years. Afsaneh now guides students and teachers (and her young daughter) in the art of writing. She lives in New York City.
Afsaneh is the author of Jamie Is Jamie: A Book About Being Yourself and Playing Your Way
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