Let’s be honest, there are certain questions we hope our children won’t ask. We are not bad parents for feeling this way. We don’t want to give our children unwise or uninformed answers. Part of our fear of answering difficult questions comes from a place of wanting to give good responses, but not always knowing what those are.
When a child asks a question about transgenderism, however, they do need a response. This means we need to be ready to reply. The good news is, a good response to questions about transgenderism does not need to be complicated.
The word “transgender” encompasses a sea of ideas, questions, thoughts, and situations, which is why it feels so confusing to us. The concept of gender is changing so rapidly in our culture that it feels impossible to keep up. It probably is, but that is okay.
A simple answer to questions about transgenderism does not exist. However, a simple answer is not what our children need. Our children need to learn to process complicated questions like, “What is transgenderism?” That is something we can teach.
Questions about transgenderism can come in many forms. Kids hear people all around them talking about gender in ways they don’t really understand. It leads to questions like the following:
“Mommy, what does transgender mean?”
Girl asking, “My friend Sally says she is a boy now. Will I turn into a boy someday?”
“How do you know if you’re really a boy or girl?”
Boy asking, “What does it mean that I don’t like sports like other boys?”
You don’t have to understand all the issues to help children process these questions.
The first step when a child asks a question about gender it to invite them into your calm. Joining a child in their chaotic feelings will make them feel unsafe. When a child asks a question about gender—or any difficult question for that matter—slow down, take a deep breath, and relax your body. Move to a state of calm before you even try to respond.
If you feel fear, anger, or frustration rising up within you, deal with that first. Those are reactions that will not help your child. Relax before you talk.
If you are worried that you will not be able to react calmly to this kind of question, then start now practicing the discussions outlined below with other adults. Repeat these conversations until you can respond to the questions listed above and still feel calm.
Your First Actions
Before saying anything you should do something with your body that signals to your child that it was good that they asked you this question. Move closer to them. Face them. Kneel down if your child is still young and small, to get on their level.
Pause and let them see your face before you talk. Smile at them before you speak. Maybe even hug them.
Your body says more than your words, so use your body well.
Your First Words
The first words out of a parent’s mouth in response to this kind of question is very important. Our first words are more important than all the rest that follow. Our first words tell our child whether we are safe people to bring difficult questions to.
Here are some examples of really good first words to say:
“I’m glad you came to me with that question.”
“Thank you for wanting to talk with me about this.”
“I feel happy when you bring difficult questions to me instead of other people."
Next we ask questions to better understand why our child is coming to us. It is very normal for us to worry when our child asks a question about something like transgenderism. We worry what influences have already affected them and we worry that our child may be struggling with gender themselves. It is normal for a parent to have these concerns.
Part of us may want to launch into a long lecture in hopes we can cover up the things we are worried about. Kids are not fans of lectures, however. It is unlikely that we would know what to say anyway without learning more from our children first. Questions are much more helpful.
We need to learn where our child’s question is coming from before we know how to respond. We also want to know what thoughts our child has been considering before they came to us. Here are some discovery questions you might ask:
“Where did you see or hear that?”
“What do you think transgender means? “
“What do you think a girl becoming a boy means (or the other way around)?”
"Do you think a girl can really become a boy (or the other way around)?”
We want to ask gently rather than make our child feel interrogated. We might even add that we are asking because want to be sure we really understand their question. Children want to be understood and this will make them feel cared for.
Critical Thinking Questions
After asking discovery questions parents may be tempted to launch into a teaching moment. That isn’t necessarily inappropriate, but there is another way. We can use questions to direct their thinking to the underlying concept of gender.
Here are some critical thinking questions for younger kids:
“Where did the idea of boys and girls come from in the first place? Who creates boys and girls to start with?”
“Why do you think God made boys and girls the way he did?”
"Do you think God loves either boys or girls more than the other?”
“What do you think a boy or girl who wanted to be a different gender needs most from you and me?”
“What are some other questions or thoughts you have about this?”
Here are some critical thinking questions for older kids:
“Do you think it is common for people to not like something about their body?” (Share examples of times you didn’t like certain aspects of your body).
“Can you think of something that might happen to a boy or girl that could make them not want to be a boy or girl?”
“Can a man change into a woman and give birth to a baby?”
"Can a woman change into a man and impregnate a woman?”
“What do you think a man or a woman who wants to change gender needs the most?”
“What are some other questions or thoughts you have about this?”
We want to ask lots of questions before we make statements of our own. We want to engage our child’s mind and heart first. Even when we do share our thoughts, it is best to be short and concise rather than give a long lecture.
Here are some thoughts we might sum up with. These may be repeating things our child said when we asked them questions like the above, but repetition can be good.
“God is the one who designs our bodies. He invented the idea of male and female, and called his invention good.”
“God did not create sin, but this world is full of sin and hurt.”
“Some of us get really hurt and confused and don’t like who we are.”
“Every one of us have things we don’t like about our life, including our body at times.”
“God loves all of us, even when we are hurt and confused.”
“God can bring healing to our hurts and confusion, but that may take a long time.”
“Jesus taught us to be kind and love those who are hurting and confused.”
Affirm Your Child’s Gender
An issue American kids face is that our culture has very narrow definitions of what it means to be male or female, masculine or feminine, compared to most of the world, and compared to the Bible.
In the Bible men hugged, kissed, danced, and played musical instruments. Women in the Bible risked their lives to save others, led armies, killed evil men, ran businesses, and built cities. It is not uncommon for the boys and girls in our culture who live most like men and women in the Bible are the ones who our culture would suggest don’t act like their gender.
All children need to be affirmed in their gender. All children sometimes feel insecure in their gender. We should regularly affirm the way God made them to live our their masculinity or femininity.
Here are some things you could do:
Say, “If all the girls/boys in the world your age were lined up for me to choose from, I would still pick you to be my daughter/son.”
Tell them the things you appreciate about them.
Affirm their interests, especially if they do not align with American ideals of masculinity or femininity.
Ask them “What is good about being a girl?” or “What is good about being a boy?”
Simply say from time to time, “I am so glad you are my daughter/son.”
Spend time with them doing what they want to do, even if you do not enjoy it.
When My Kid is Confused
This blog does not address children who are confused about their own gender. That is a much longer topic to deal with. However, we want to point any parent in that situation to some sources of help. Here are two resources you might consider:
Children do not have questions about gender just once. Like all of us, children circle back to questions over and over and need to process their questions repeatedly. We can help them.
Perhaps bring the conversation up yourself sometime. We could ask, “What are you hearing about gender these days,” followed up by, “What do you think about that?” This keeps the conversation going.
Again, our kids do not need a lecture, they just need help processing their questions and feelings. We can do this best by asking each other questions and having open and honest discussions.
We should also keep affirming our children’s gender the entire time they are in our care. A single affirmation is never enough, especially in the world we live in.
You will mess up these conversations from time to time. No parent is perfect. Your kid does not expect perfection and will forgive you when you apologize. Let’s simply work together to keep these conversations going.
Sex & Anxiety: Teen Edition A series of very short videos for adolescents and parents to go through together. This series helps families address the kinds of things that commonly cause anxiety around sexuality for adolescents.