How Can I Know if My Child is Transgender?

What does it mean to be transgender? Is your child behaving unconventionally according to the gender they were assigned at birth? We'll tell you how you should know if your child is constructing a non-binary gender identity.
How Can I Know if My Child is Transgender?

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Did you know that recently, in 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) removed being transgender from their list of mental illnesses? If you’re wondering how to know if your child is transgender, or trans, we suggest you take a deeper look at this topic.

So, what is gender?

Gender is a social construct that’s based on fulfilling specific rules that society imposes. These rules indicate which roles men and women should play. Gender identity, however, refers to how we feel and how we live in our bodies. We express this through the way we dress, act, and relate to others.

Transgender children feel like they were born with the wrong biological sex. Some trans people identify with the opposite gender to what their genitals indicate. Parents need to be aware of how their children feel and support them as they begin to walk a difficult path.

Development of gender identity in children

As we’ve already mentioned, gender identity is different from both a person’s biological sex and sexual orientation.

But when do we start to develop this identity?

In fact, from when we’re very young, we express and choose a determined gender identity. Between 2 and 5 years old our children go through stages in which they shape this identity:

  • 2 years old: Children begin to recognize that men and women are different physically.
  • 3 years old: At this age, they already identify themselves as male or female.
  • 4 years old: Their construction of gender identity becomes more stable.
  • 5 and 6 years old: They’re already aware of the stereotypes of the binary identities, or of “male” and “female.”

6 signs that may indicate if your child is transgender

Our children send us signs through their behavior. With that in mind, we should remember that how we act when facing different situations has to be continuous over time. We can’t offer sporadic support or support that only lasts a short time.

For example, the fact that a boy plays with dolls or wears girls’ clothes occasionally doesn’t mean that he’s transgender. Similarly, it’s important to address specific behaviors, leaving binary thoughts about gender and biological sex to one side.

boy and girl in front of a pink wall messing around playing
There are different guidelines for boys and girls that are purely social and imposed by stereotypes.

1. They reject their genitals

Although this doesn’t happen for every trans person, it’s common for them to reject the genitals they were born with. This is due to the contradiction that exists between biological sex and gender identity. They may not only resent their genitals but also grow to wish they had the genitals of the opposite sex.

 2. They want to be the ‘opposite’ gender

In addition to wanting to belong to the ‘opposite’ gender to what they were socially assigned because of their genitals, they’re not in the body that truly represents them. To make things worse, the hormonal developments that cause voice changes, breast growth, and pubic hair can cause them a deep unease.

This rejection of their sex comes out as, for example, choosing the toys and games that are typical of the gender that they aspire to belong to. We can’t forget that the difference between one sex and another when it comes to toys and games is no more than a social construct from adults.

3. The role they choose when playing

There are videogames wherein the players can create their own character in particular. For example, it’s common for transgender children to make their character the opposite of their biological sex. Additionally, when it comes to roleplaying games, they may always choose to act as a person from the other sex here as well.

You may also be interested in: 5 Types of Sexual Orientation

4. They choose to dress differently

Males, biologically speaking, sometimes prefer to dress in girls’ clothes and females in boys’ clothes. However, we must highlight that for transgender children, this doesn’t just happen when playing dress-up; when you take them shopping they feel an attraction for a certain kind of clothing.

Remember that girls’ and boys’ clothing is also created under the binary conception, wherein specific colors and types of clothes have predetermined recipients. A transgender child’s rejection is not about the garment itself, but the stereotype that surrounds it.

5. They’re withdrawing socially

In general, a transgender child feels like they don’t fit in with groups of friends of the same sex and they begin to withdraw. This leads to isolation. Another possibility is that they make friends with children of the gender they want to construct.

6. They want to call themselves another name

Transgender children may insist on being called another name; a name that fits with the gender they want to have. But, if we pay attention and dive a little deeper, phrases like “I’m a girl!” for boys, and “I want to be a boy” for girls are as reveling.

How to support a transgender child

If you increasingly suspect that you have a transgender child, then it’s your time to act in their favor. Punishing them, telling them off, or forcing them to live in a way they don’t want to will bring them a lot of suffering, anxiety, sadness, and an unhappy adult life filled with resentment. It may even lead to suicide.

Allow them to explore the gender identity they want to. To do that, you can give them a free pass for a weekend. This can be two days where they can be free to act according to what their heart says. They can dress how they want, play how they want, or even change their name if they want!

Take these days to observe their behavior. Are they happy this way? Do they feel better being a boy or a girl?

If you’ve noticed that during this period they were simply a happy child, then you should think about seeking support from a professional who specializes in this area. Both the family and the child will need a space and a person to be able to express their concerns.

Their confusion, contradicting emotions, confusing feelings, and their rejection of what they were assigned at birth can be a weight that is far too heavy for them to carry by themselves. That’s where the family comes in: to hold them, guide them, and support them on this learning journey.

family therapy session with a therapist in a grey office
Support from family and a professional is essential for a transgender child because the social pressure can be intense.

You may also be interested in: Why is it So Difficult to Talk About Sex?

A loving approach is key if your child is transgender

Exploring gender identity is common, and all children do it. It’s expected for children to go through this stage where they search to define who they are and realize they prefer certain toys and items of clothing that may not be compatible with what the binary society expects.

However, this doesn’t mean they’re transgender. It’s a stage where all children experiment and discover themselves.

When this stage doesn’t look like it’s ending, and your child/children begin(s) to show overwhelming security in who they want to be and who they don’t, that’s where the family role is so important. Consult professionals that can guide you about the best way to support a transgender child.

Loving them well, with respect and empathy is the key. Love them unconditionally in a way that shows them they’ll never be alone. This is what family is all about.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Cáceres, C. F., Talavera, V. A., & Mazín Reynoso, R. (2013). Diversidad sexual, salud y ciudadanía. Revista peruana de medicina experimental y salud pública30, 698-704.
  • De Toro, X. (2015). Niños y niñas transgéneros: ¿nacidos en el cuerpo equivocado o en una sociedad equivocada? Revista Punto Género, (5), ág-109.
  • Castilla-Peón, M. F. (2018). Manejo médico de personas transgénero en la niñez y la adolescencia. Boletín médico del Hospital Infantil de México75(1), 7-14.
  • de Celis Sierra, M. (2019). Menores transgénero en el Reino Unido: Polémica por la investigación sobre bloqueadores puberales. Clínica Contemporánea10(3), e25.
  • Díaz Leandro, J. (2018). Aproximación de la opinión social sobre la educación sexual, roles de género y transexualidad en la etapa infantil.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.