Gender Identity How to Support a Child Who Is Showing Signs of Gender Expansiveness By Ariane Resnick, CNC Ariane Resnick, CNC Facebook Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity. Learn about our editorial process Published on August 17, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Monica Johnson, PsyD Medically reviewed by Monica Johnson, PsyD Dr. Monica Johnson is a clinical psychologist and owner of Kind Mind Psychology, a private practice in NYC specializing in evidence-based approaches to treating a wide range of mental health issues (e.g., depression, anxiety, trauma, and personality disorders). Additionally, she works with marginalized groups of people, including BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and alternative lifestyles, to manage minority stress. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Liderina / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Is Gender Expansiveness? Signs Supporting Your Child When children begin to express themselves, sometimes the ways that they do that are completely aligned with how their parents assumed they'd be. Other times, it's a bit different. And in other circumstances, a child might start out expressing themself exactly as a parent thought they would, and then later their expression might change. Children express themselves in countless ways, with gender expression being one of many. When a child shows signs of gender expansiveness, parents may find themselves confused about how to support their child's journey. Because acceptance by parents plays a key role in the self-esteem of gender-expansive children, knowing what steps to take to show your support can lead to a happier, healthier child. Ahead, we'll look at what gender expansiveness is, what the signs of it are, and how to best show support for your child if they are expressing signs of gender expansiveness. What Is Gender Expansiveness? Gender expansiveness is any action or expression that falls outside of gender stereotypes, and it may begin as soon as children understand gender—which occurs quite early, during infancy. We hold many ideas about what is masculine and what is feminine for children, such as the notion that boys should play with trucks and girls should play with dolls. It's important to understand that it's normal and healthy for children to experiment in many different ways, with gender being just one of those ways. A child showing signs of gender expansiveness may be nonbinary, gender nonconforming, or trans. They may also just be creative, or may simply enjoy the toys, clothes, or other expressions typically thought to be for a different sex than they were assigned. What Is Gender Expansiveness? Signs of Gender Expansiveness in Children There are lots of different ways a child may show signs of gender expansiveness. These are some of the most common ways: A preference to play with toys meant for the opposite sex than the one they were assigned Desire to wear clothing not meant for their assigned sex/meant for the opposite sex Becoming upset when forced to wear clothes that match their assigned sex Reference to themself by different pronouns than they were assigned Telling their parents or friends that they are a different gender than the one they were assigned Wanting to use a different name than the one they were given Exhibition of signs of gender dysphoria What Does Gender Nonconforming Mean? How to Support Gender Expansiveness in Your Child Now that you understand how a child might express signs of gender expansiveness, let's look at what steps you should take to show them your support if any of the above occur. Reassure Your Child That You Love Them No Matter What Their Gender There is little, if anything, more important to the proper development of a child than the love, care, and acceptance of their parents. Supporting your child's gender identity and expression plays a pivotal role in their successful outcome as a person. Let your child know that they have your love and support anytime you see them expressing signs of gender expansiveness. This is essentially the opposite of what parents were trained to do in the past when it was common to shun and correct any behavior that was outside gender norms and prescriptions. Reassuring your child that they have your love and support is particularly important if they're showing signs of distress around their gender. It can be confusing for children to feel unaligned with the sex that they have been assigned, and they may experience gender dysphoria as a result. The sooner you step in and assure your child that they are allowed to be exactly who they are, the sooner their distress can shift into exploration and comfort with themself. Don't Make Assumptions Even if your child is exhibiting behavior that feels very strong or serious to you, such as insisting you use different pronouns for them or that they wear clothing typically assigned to a different gender, you should refrain from making assumptions about what any of it means. That's because your child may be in a process of exploration, and where they are currently may not be where they eventually land. For example, some children who prefer clothing of a different gender may identify as trans or nonbinary. Others have a fashion sense that isn't aligned with their assigned gender. Still, others are testing out new waters, seeing how life feels in different clothes. Your child may or may not have a different gender identity than the one they were assigned. This is for them to tell you, and it is for you to believe, without attempting to steer them in one direction or another. What Is Gender Fluid? Ask Questions With Sensitivity There is nothing wrong with wanting to know more about your child's gender expression. In fact, that's a great thing! The more you know, the better you can support them. Asking your child questions about their gender expansiveness is a personal topic, so treat it exactly the way you'd want to be asked about something personal. Chances are, you'd welcome a close friend or loved one asking how you felt about something. You likely wouldn't welcome them asking questions in an invasive or judgmental manner. Treat your child the way you'd want to be treated, and know how sensitive a topic this might be for them. Educate Yourself About Gender It takes only a click or two of your mouse to learn more information about most things in the world, and gender expansiveness is no exception! HRC.org has gathered a page full of resources for parents of gender-expansive children. On that page, you can read their report on how to care for gender-expansive youth, learn about the myriad organizations that focus on gender-expansive children, find books on the subject, and much more. The more you know about gender in children, the better you'll be able to support your own. And the easier it will be for you to ask questions in a sensitive manner, which is a bonus. Glossary of Must-Know Gender Identity Terms Learn About Gender Together Teaming up with your child to learn about gender together can bring you closer, and shows your child how much you support them. Luckily, there are many books on the subject now, and they are appropriate and understandable for various age groups. One book that's meant to be read together by children and adults is "A Kids Book About Gender" by Dale Mueller. This is a very straightforward read on the topic, meant to educate both children and parents. Another option is "The Gender Wheel: a story about bodies and gender for every body" by Maya Christina Gonzalez. Being a picture book, it is suitable for younger children as well as early readers. The Importance of Representation in Books Take Your Child's Lead Let your child lead the way on this journey. It's theirs, and you don't want to take over and push them in a direction that feels anything less than wholly authentic. Allowing your child to take the lead will show your support and love for them. If your child wants to be referred to by different pronouns, use the pronouns they inform you are theirs. This is a sign of respect, and it gives a child autonomy. Similarly, if a child is uncomfortable in clothing typical of their gender, and wants to wear clothing for different gender, allow them to do that. This can make them feel that they have control over their body, which everyone deserves to experience. Having Children When Transgender Advocate As Needed No matter how well you support your child, you, unfortunately, can't count on everyone else in their life doing the same. While it isn't possible to fully spare your child from ever being bullied or harassed, you can be proactive about this subject, provided they're comfortable with that. Speaking to teachers at school and the parents of your child's classmates and friends about their gender expansiveness will help normalize the subject. It also can have a positive impact on how others perceive your child's journey through gender. A Word From Verywell It's normal in situations where a child is showing signs of gender expansiveness to involve a therapist. That helps ensure both you and your child receive the care they need to move through this time of life. Finding a therapist who is well-versed in gender-affirming care is a great step to take for the mental health of both you and your child. 16 Mental Health Resources to Support the LGBTQ+ Community 3 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Seibel BL, de Brito Silva B, Fontanari AMV, Catelan RF, Bercht AM, Stucky JL, et al. The impact of the parental support on risk factors in the process of gender affirmation of transgender and gender diverse people. Front Psychol. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00399 Martin CL, Ruble DN. Patterns of gender development. Annu Rev Psychol. 2010;61:353–81. Johnson KC, LeBlanc AJ, Sterzing PR, Deardorff J, Antin T, Bockting WO. Trans adolescents’ perceptions and experiences of their parents’ supportive and rejecting behaviors. Journal of Counseling Psychology. 2020;67(2):156-170. doi:10.1037/cou0000419 By Ariane Resnick, CNC Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.