Support, Wait, or What?
Finding Your Footing
Taking an affirmative approach to your child’s gender journey does no harm.
In the past, if a child was asserting or displaying a gender difference, medical and mental health professionals advised “watchful waiting.” It was a directive to take no action – just wait and see what happened. While sounding benign, “watchful waiting” in reality is the process of delaying any form of support, intervention, or direct engagement that might acknowledge a child’s articulation of their identity.
There are, instead, reversible steps that a parent can take in response to their child’s identity.
The old advice of “watchful waiting” has come under scrutiny. It meant that no support would be given for a child’s modes of self-expression such as clothing choices, hair style, or activities that are often arbitrarily associated with the “other gender.” The inherent message delivered to a child by a wait-and-see approach is one that devalues and invalidates their core sense of self. Watching and waiting is a course of inaction. Rather than putting off a decision, it is in itself a decision that can result in very real harm.
Contrast watchful waiting with an affirmative approach
in which a parent meets their child where they are.
A supportive environment will not ‘make your child transgender’ if they do not have a gender identity difference. What it will do is 1) provide you with more information and 2) communicate to your child that you love, support, and accept them for exactly who they are. Consider supportive steps to be part of establishing an exploratory and affirming environment for your child.
Some (totally reversible) steps may include things like clothing changes, different hair styles, and support for a child’s interests in different activities.
Sometimes families will take a short trip to a place where they are not known and invite their child to dress in the manner they choose, and to use a different name and pronoun while there. Times like this allows a child to simply “try on” a different gender to get a feel for it.
We know that when parents supportively engage in their child’s process of gender exploration, they observe an increased sense of contentment and happiness in their child. Supporting small, reversible changes allows time for self-discovery and for children to progress and shift as needed. If a child decides that further steps toward transition aren’t right for them, they will know in their heart that you loved and supported them through every step of their process.