“As long as we learn to listen to them rather than tell them who they are, we give them a leg up in having a healthy life.” Dr. Ehrensaft said.
Dr. Ehrensaft explained how parents of gender-nonconforming children and adolescents need to be troop leaders — listeners and facilitators rather than dictators — because the better a parent is at grasping and subsequently teaching gender literacy, the more successful their children will ultimately be.
With children, gender identification and expression can start in the toddler years, become nuanced in the early elementary years and continue to develop with age, said Coleen Williams, Psy.D., a psychologist with the Gender Multispecialty Service at Boston Children’s Hospital, which provides care to gender-diverse and transgender individuals and their families. People can explore their gender identity at any age, Dr. Williams added.
Statistics and research about nonbinary children is limited, however. Part of this could be that our society operates mostly within a binary system, which leaves little to no room for the representation of those who exist in the gender spectrum’s vast gray area, Dr. Williams said.
As time passed and we had more conversations with M, we watched them settle comfortably into their nonbinary gender identity. We asked them pointed questions, we listened to them as they did their best to explain what being gender nonconforming, or GNC, meant to them, and we respectfully relented when we saw that holding M’s gender identity under the microscope for too long only led to emotional upheaval. Simply speaking, we made our message clear: We told M we love them unequivocally, we’re here for them, that they are welcome to tell us or ask us anything, and that we would check in with them periodically to keep tabs on their mental health.
At M’s request, we enrolled them in a peer group at school for fellow GNC students, led by the school’s social work team, so M spends a portion of every week with those who understand them the best.
According to the American Psychological Association, mental health outcomes can improve in children whose gender identities are affirmed and supported.