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Describing gender identity differences can be confusing because people express and relate to gender in many ways. To simplify things, the AAP uses the umbrella term "gender diverse." Children in this category identify with a gender that is different from the gender on their birth certificate. Their preferred gender might be male, female, neither gender, or both genders. Kids or teens who consistently identify with a gender that doesn't match the sex assigned at birth are often called transgender.
It's important for gender-diverse kids to get supportive, understanding, and nonjudgmental care from both their families and their providers, the AAP said. Children and youth with gender identity differences are at high risk for mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicide. Studies show that's probably because they frequently face stigma, rejection, and bullying, not because their gender makes them more prone to mental illness. Conversely, with the right support and care, gender-diverse kids can grow into happy and healthy adults, the AAP said.
Speaking to the New York Times, pediatrician Cora Breuner, chairperson for the AAP Committee on Adolescence, had these suggestions for parents:
- Don't assume gender identity issues are a passing phase. Children as young as 4 or 5 may express strong feelings about not feeling right in their bodies, she said. (Nevertheless, it's not uncommon for kids as young as 2 to express interests or behaviors that don't conform to gender norms. That doesn't mean they are gender diverse, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.)
- Be open to whatever conversation your child wants to have with you when it comes to gender. Breuner and the AAP call this "gender-affirming care."
- If you're looking for a healthcare provider for your gender-diverse child, find a clinic that will affirm your child's identity by using your child's preferred name and pronouns, and that provides all-gender bathrooms.
Although it's rare for people to identify as a different gender – one report estimates less than 1 percent of teenagers identify as transgender – there's nothing wrong with it, the AAP stated. Gender diversity is normal and should be treated that way, the statement indicates.
For more information about children and gender, check out BabyCenter's article on gender identity and what shapes boys and girls.
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