Last week a parent asked me whether it was okay that her son likes playing with dolls. Another parent asked me if it was okay that her daughter was always playing with trucks. My answer in both cases is yes: that’s definitely okay.  

Gender Variant Behavior

When someone’s interests or clothing doesn’t follow the typical gender stereotypes, we call this gender-variant behavior. It is something that is completely normal, but I’d still like to provide you with some information on this timely topic.  

If you think your child is showing gender-variant behavior, the most important thing you can do as a parent is to love your child for who they are. Never force your child to conform to gender stereotypes. Be non-judgmental and supportive. Focus on making your home a place where a child feels safe and unconditionally loved. Follow your child’s lead.

Our gender identity – the gender that we feel we are on the inside – develops at an early age, even before we’re old enough to tie our shoes. Most people have a gender identity that matches with their biologic sex, but sometimes these two things don’t match up. When there is a mismatch like this, it is called being “transgender.” 

We’ve heard a lot about transgender people in the media recently, but what you might not know is that children can be transgender, too. There’s nothing wrong with being transgender; it’s just how some people are born.

Gender Dysphoria

If a child is persistently expressing that they feel they have a different gender identity than the one they were assigned at birth, or persistently expresses discomfort with the gender of their body, these might be signs that they are transgender. Some transgender people feel so uncomfortable with the mismatch between their biologic sex and their gender identity that it causes a lot of distress and gets in the way of their being happy. This is called “gender dysphoria.” 

If you think your child might be transgender or even have gender dysphoria, you should also talk to your child’s health care professional, who may refer you to those with further expertise in this area. Our children’s hospital offers such expertise, which you can learn about by visiting our website. 

Hopefully tips like this will allow you to transfer your love and support to your child no matter what their gender identity may be. 

Learn more about the Transgender Youth Program at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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