Resiliency of trans youth — surviving and thriving through hard times

Most of us have heard about the concept of resiliency: the ability to persevere following trauma. 2020 is a year when this concept has reemerged in some social circles because we have all been dealing with the collective trauma of a global pandemic, with the added fuel of racial disparities and an incredibly divisive national election piled on top. 

Young kids can be deeply impacted by these traumas because they pick up the stress of everyone around them and are completely powerless to do anything to help. However, young children’s brains are also still developing, which means they are quite adept at learning the skills needed to recover from that trauma and successfully overcome adversity. 

Trans youth have a lot of experience in overcoming trauma and becoming resilient human beings, because they frequently experience stigma, prejudice, discrimination, bullying, and victimization. 

While several definitions of resilience have been proposed by researchers, the following definition is among the most accepted and utilized for both adults and children:

Resilience is “the process of, capacity for, or outcome of successful adaptation despite challenging or threatening circumstances” (Masten, Best & Garmezy, 1990). Along these lines, children are considered resilient when they experience prosocial development despite adversity (Masten, 2013).

The good news is that resiliency is a learned response, and family plays the most important role in developing child resilience. Creating an environment with open communication and respectful parenting practices such as supporting a child who has differences, raising self-directed children, and promoting confident leadership are ways you can help your child.

  • Other tools you can teach young children are:
  • Listening: This goes beyond simply hearing your child to really tuning in to what he/she has to say.
  • Identifying Strengths: Help your child see they they are really good at and offer encouragement and support.
  • Building Empathy: Your child will develop empathy if you help teach him or her how to really consider and visualize the struggles faced by others.
  • Offering Do-Overs: Make sure your child knows that making mistakes along the way are okay.

Once these basics are covered in early childhood, you can help your teen further develop resiliency, which they might need as they face more social pressures around their identity and if they live openly as trans individuals.

  • Help your teen develop resilience by teaching independence, autonomy, and self-reliance.
  • As your teen becomes interested in new friendships or romantic relationships, help them learn how to establish meaningful connections with others.
  • Lead by example and find the humor in difficult situations. Humor is one of the strongest resiliency tools we have.
  • Help your teen develop their own moral compass by encouraging them to do the right thing even in difficult situations.

Even in the best of years without pandemics and increased isolation, developing resiliency is something that parents should encourage and support in their kids (and we can all probably stand to brush up on these skills ourselves).

Trans youth are remarkable and often learn some of these skills on their own out of sheer necessity. But they shouldn’t have to do this alone. Share your own ideas in the comments.

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