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How to support a nonbinary child and help them thrive

Whether you're educating yourself on what it means to be nonbinary or looking for ways to support a child who shows signs of being gender diverse, here's the info you need.

How to support a nonbinary child and help them thrive

Raising a nonbinary child requires the same elements as raising anyone else: love, compassion, understanding and support. But if you haven’t been exposed to the nonbinary or LGBTQ+ community in your life or within your own family, you may have more questions on what more you can do to help support your nonbinary child. Luckily, we live in an era where there’s plenty of information at your fingertips. 

Whether you’re trying to educate yourself on what it means to be nonbinary, or your child is showing signs of being gender diverse, or you’re trying to figure out what more to do to help them, we’ve got the info you need right here.

Discuss gender and support gender expression early on 

In order to provide the most supportive foundation for children of any gender (and especially in the event your child later reveals they are gender diverse), you want to begin educating your child about gender early on.

“Gender is something you should start talking to your kid about TODAY! If they’re pre-K and younger, it might feel a little soon, but honestly, it’s never too soon,” says Lindz Amer, writer, performer, activist and creator of Queer Kid Stuff, a webseries that teaches young audiences about LGBTQIA+ matters. “Have conversations about gender. Your gender! Their gender! Their classmates’ gender, the list goes on and on! Read them books that talk about gender and feature trans and nonbinary characters. Find shows that include trans and nonbinary characters (the list, unfortunately, isn’t very long, but it’s growing).” 

“Gender is something you should start talking to your kid about TODAY! If they’re pre-K and younger, it might feel a little soon, but honestly, it’s never too soon … Have conversations about gender.”

— LINDZ AMER, WRITER, PERFORMER, ACTIVIST, CREATOR OF QUEER KID STUFF

Amer has a full list of book recommendations by Queer Kid Stuff on Bookshop that include “My Rainbow” by Deshanna Neal and Trinity Neal (illustrated by Art Twink) and “Too Bright to See” by Kyle Lukoff, among others.

Myeshia Price, a developmental psychologist and senior research scientist for The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth says that how we use language is also important, including in how we approach new individuals with our kids. 

“We can use neutral language such as ‘that person’ or ‘they’ to impress upon children that we don’t know someone’s gender just by looking at them and even challenge children when they make assumptions,” she says.

“We can use neutral language such as ‘that person’ or ‘they’ to impress upon children that we don’t know someone’s gender just by looking at them and even challenge children when they make assumptions.”

— MYESHIA PRICE, DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGIST AND SENIOR RESEARCH SCIENTIST

Supporting a child’s choices whether or not they fit into gender stereotypes is also important. 

“We can further encourage exploration beyond the gender binary and foster acceptance by letting children know there is no such thing as ‘boy toys’ or ‘girl toys’ or ‘boy movies’ or ‘girl movies’ but that anyone can enjoy anything,” says Price.

Other ways to practice this is to allow your child to choose their own clothing and hairstyles. Show children that long hair isn’t only “for girls” and that anyone can wear shorts, tutus or anything else, in any color they choose. If by the time they come out as nonbinary, they’e stuck with a wardrobe full of highly gendered clothing, there are other ways to support them. 

“Maybe you could take them clothes shopping if what they have in their closet doesn’t align with how they want to present their gender,” says Amer.

Remind your child you are there for them always

More than anything, you want to make sure your child feels supported, and loved. Whether they’ve already come out as nonbinary, or you think they might, it’s important kids of all ages know that you are their safe space. It’s especially important to remind them of this as soon as they do come out, as it can be a stressful, nerve wracking experience for many kids.

“By reminding them often that they are loved, that their home is now and will always be a sanctuary for their authentic selves (even while some things may change, for example, beliefs about the future, names, pronouns, etc.), the essence of the parent/child love will never change,” says Steve Cisneros, a licensed psychologist in Dallas. 

“By reminding them often that they are loved, that their home is now and will always be a sanctuary for their authentic selves (even while some things may change, for example, beliefs about the future, names, pronouns, etc.), the essence of the parent/child love will never change.”

— STEVEN CISNEROS, LICENSED PSYCHOLOGIST

Cisneros adds that he would also let a child know that while sometimes the outside world may not be as supportive, they should know that they will be okay because they know where home is and that they will still grow to be “assertive, strong and empathic individuals.”

“When my child came out to me as nonbinary, it was actually a pretty nonchalant conversation,” says Tiffany C., a mom in Denver. “They had gone through the process of coming out as bisexual, which I think was more difficult and scarier for them because there is always that uncertainty about how people will react. So I think it felt easier because the space had already been established as ‘safe’ to discuss.”

Respect their pronouns, and help others do the same

Using the right pronouns is a simple and effective way to show someone you respect and care for them, and this is especially true for anyone who opts to use new pronouns after coming out at nonbinary and/or trans.

“If they want to try out new pronouns, let them! If they want to try out a new name, let them! Maybe they won’t like it and they’ll switch back. Maybe it’ll stick. Both of those options are great,” says Amer. “You’re encouraging them to explore and experiment with their identity, and this is the time to do it. Because where’s the harm in that?”

“If they want to try out new pronouns, let them! If they want to try out a new name, let them! Maybe they won’t like it and they’ll switch back. Maybe it’ll stick. Both of those options are great. You’re encouraging them to explore and experiment with their identity, and this is the time to do it. Because where’s the harm in that?”

— LINDZ AMER, WRITER, PERFORMER, ACTIVIST, CREATOR OF QUEER KID STUFF

While respecting pronouns might come easily to you, also remember to be your child’s advocate around loved ones who have a harder time remembering or accepting their pronouns.

“It has been difficult for elder family members, like grandparents, to understand,” says Tiffany. “But we established rules around how our child will be treated. They don’t have to understand all of it, but they do have to respect our kid and use their (correct) pronouns.”

Tiffany says she understands if someone messes up initially. However, the expectation is that they acknowledge they messed up and then continue to do their best.

Consider having a meeting with school staff

While it’s one thing to advocate for your child with family and friends, it’s another to make sure their school is also accepting.

Rebecca Minor, a gender specialist in Boston, recommends getting the child’s consent about how much school involvement parents should have first and foremost.

“Once they have consent, having a meeting with school personnel to inform them of these changes can be very supportive for younger kids. Kids in elementary/middle school don’t often have the skills or capacity to advocate for themselves or even know what their needs are so parents can help with that process,” says Minor. “In high school, this will all depend on the young person and what they want.”

“Once [parents] have [a child’s] consent, having a meeting with school personnel to inform them of these changes can be very supportive for younger kids.”

— REBECCA MINOR, GENDER SPECIALIST

Cisneros offers this four-step approach:

  1. Describe the situation, including what gender they go by at home/in public.
  2. Express how important this is to their family and their child’s well-being.
  3. Assertively request that teachers respect the family’s decision (e.g. correct gender pronouns, bathroom use, etc.), so the child feels as supported at school as they are at home. 
  4. Remind teachers/principals how this is important for the child’s well-being, and ultimately, what is healthiest for this child will help with classroom management and learning.

“Parents/guardians must be trans and nonbinary children’s most prominent advocates. This means they should be proactive in helping their child navigate their school culture/ politics,” says Cisneros. He also recommends sharing this policy memo drafted by the American Psychological Association (APA) on recommendations for school administrators in supporting transgender and gender diverse students.

Help your child find community

For LGBTQIA+ people, including nonbinary kids, community can be everything. But it’s not always easy to find these communities. With your child’s approval, go online and locate your local LGBTQ+ community center for help in finding support and social groups. For example, The Center on Colfax in Denver has an LGBTQ Family Program, which offers low-cost activities and quarterly events for families with kids under 12 to connect with other LGBTQ families, as well as Rainbow Alley — a space for youth ages 11-21 to connect and find support and acceptance via activities, support groups and more. 

“Give your child opportunities to play, explore and maybe meet other kids who are like them,” says Minor.

“Give your child opportunities to play, explore and maybe meet other kids who are like them.”

— REBECCA MINOR, GENDER SPECIALIST

If there are no existing groups in your area, try and start one by connecting with local parent groups and seeing if other parents of nonbinary kids would like to create a meetup group to offer these opportunities so your child doesn’t have to feel as isolated in their journey. You can also inquire at your child’s school to see if they have an LGBTQ+ support group that meets during or after school.

Do the work internally

Even allies and well-intentioned parents and caregivers sometimes mess up when it comes to supporting their own nonbinary children. While mistakes happen (as they do in all other aspects of parenting), the important thing is to do a lot of self-reflection and internally sort things out so as not to harm your child or your relationship with them. Consider doing this work regardless so you don’t have a negative reaction if your child comes out as nonbinary or otherwise LGBTQ+.

“I have always been a very active and loud supporter of trans family and friends,” says Tiffany. “When my child came out as gay? Great, love who you want! When they came out as nonbinary? Awesome, totally support you! (But) when they asked to be called by a different name? I blew it.” 

“I have always been a very active and loud supporter of trans family and friends. When my child came out as gay? Great, love who you want! When they came out as nonbinary? Awesome, totally support you! (But) when they asked to be called by a different name? I blew it.”

— TIFFANY, MOM TO CHILD WHO IDENTIFIES AS NONBINARY

Tiffany says she didn’t expect to have the reaction she did and realizes she initially felt like she was “losing” her child in some way. “I knew that it was my issue and my feelings that I needed to deal with, but I had a really hard time. I tried really hard not to put the burden … on them, but I’m sure I failed.”

Tiffany says she recognized the hypocrisy in her actions versus the words she’d expressed in advocacy. She found support in a fellow mom who had gone through a similar situation and eventually made peace with her emotions.

“The most important thing I could do was to authentically own my feelings and actions and apologize to August for how it impacted and hurt them,” says Tiffany.

Consider gender creative parenting

Another way to support all children through their gender journey is to follow gender creative parenting. Gender creative parenting essentially means that you don’t assign a gender to your child at birth and don’t offer information about their sexual anatomy to anyone who doesn’t need to know. While you may have older children already, it’s a great approach to consider in the event you have more children in the future.

“My wife and I decided to practice gender creative parenting with our 10-month-old when she was still pregnant,” says nonbinary parent Terri Laue. “We didn’t assign a gender to our baby, we use ‘they’ pronouns until they’re old enough to choose pronouns for themself, and we dress them in whatever clothes and colors we think are cute — until they get old enough to have an opinion of the clothes and colors they like.”

Parents and caregivers who are curious about this approach can read up about the concept via books, like “Raising Them: Our Adventure in Gender Creative Parenting” by Kyl Myers, and seek out gender creative parenting groups online and in their area. Not only will this provide a solid foundation for younger children, it will also show older nonbinary siblings that you are fully supportive of a child’s ability to discern ther own gender versus needing to have one assigned to them.

And finally, don’t be afraid to ask!

Every child (nonbinary or otherwse) has their own, unique needs. While this is a good starting point in how caregivers can support nonbinary children, it’s just the beginning. Don’t wait for them to come to you. While some kids are great at advocating for themselves, others may never ask for help, especially when they need it most. Have regular, candid conversations with your nonbinary child on how you can help them. They can let you know if they’re experiencing any stress or conflict, or if they simply need to know they have your full support on a regular basis.

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