A pediatrician offers advice to help your child be their authentic self.
As a parent, you’d do anything for your child. So, if they’ve told you they identify as non-binary — or think they might — you may wonder how you can best guide and support them.
A great place to start? Learn as much as you can.
“If your child has come out to you as non-binary, one of the best things you can do is educate yourself,” says Geisinger pediatrician Dr. Megan Moran-Sands. “Consider joining an LGBTQ support group on social media, listening to podcasts or reading books on the topic.”
The basics: What does non-binary mean?
Non-binary can mean different things to different people. For some, being non-binary means they don’t identify as exclusively male or female. Other non-binary people may have a fluctuating gender identity or identify as nongendered.
“To gain a better understanding, ask your child how they personally define non-binary,” says Dr. Moran-Sands.
Tips for supporting your non-binary child
No matter what non-binary means to your child, your support can help give them a foundation for healthy growth and development. Here are some tips from Dr. Moran-Sands:
1. Show acceptance and love
Once your child comes out to you, make sure they know you accept and love them. “Research has shown that people who are supported in their gender identities are less likely to experience negative impacts to their mental health,” says Dr. Moran-Sands.
And don’t just say you support and love them. Show it by asking questions and trying to learn more. For example, do they want you to be there when they tell others? Do they want you to refer to them by a new name? Let your child tell you what they need from you.
2. Avoid calling it a phase
Depending on how old your child is, you may wonder if this is just a phase. “If your child is opening up and telling you about their feelings around their gender identity, don’t be dismissive,” adds Dr. Moran-Sands. “Instead, try to understand where your child is coming from.”
A child’s gender identity may shift over time, but what’s most important is helping your child discover who they authentically are.
3. Use their preferred pronouns and/or name
A non-binary person may want to be addressed by gender neutral pronouns like “they” and “them” instead of she/her or he/him. They may also choose a new name, especially if their given name is often associated with a traditional gender.
One of the best ways to support your child is by taking note of their preferred name and/or pronouns — and using them. “Using your child’s preferred name or pronouns is a meaningful way to show your acceptance, love and support,” says Dr. Moran-Sands.
This may feel odd at first, and you may stumble over your words, but remember that it’s a process and your effort will be worthwhile for your child’s happiness and well-being.
4. Know when they need extra support
All children face challenges that come along with growing up. If your child identifies as non-binary, they may encounter some extra hurdles.
So, check in with your child — and watch for signs that they may need extra support.
“If your child appears to be struggling, maybe they’re staying home from school or they just don’t seem interested in activities they used to enjoy, they may need extra support,” says Dr. Moran-Sands. “Talk with your child and their pediatrician about working with a therapist or social worker to get the support they need.”
No matter where your child is on their gender journey, listening to and supporting them can go a long way in keeping them safe, happy and healthy.