How to use talking therapy to support your child through transition

Mental Health

Talking therapy can be a supportive experience for parents navigating the way through their child’s transition

Experiencing change in any part of life is natural. It’s common that change can be met with a mix of emotions: fear, confusion, happiness and joy. As a parent, it’s only natural that you want to shield your child from any fallout from a change, as best you can.

We’re still fighting a tireless battle to end stigma and prejudice, In 2017 the LGBTQ+ community responded to a government survey, saying that they still face daily prejudice and discrimination. With this in mind, it’s understandable that parents of LGBTQ+ children may have a greater sense of unease over their child’s safety through their transition, or may not fully understand the new gender identity themselves.

Cognitive behavioural psychotherapist and mental health counsellor who specialises in sexual gender diversity, Alex Drummond, shared her thoughts on how to use talking therapy as a supportive tool for parents with children who identify as LGBTQ+.

“As parents we just want our children to be happy and to live fulfilling lives – so it’s natural when they are born to have a number of hopes, wishes and fantasies about how their life will turn out. As they grow, and we get to know them, many of those fantasies need to evolve, as the person’s true identity develops.”  

Talking therapy for parents can be highly beneficial as they explore how their identities as parents and adults may change as their child transitions.

Alex says, “Perhaps your child doesn’t want to be the doctor or solicitor you’d hoped for (we’ll certainly get over that), but if it’s something as fundamental as whether they identify as male or female, this can really unsettle a parent.”

Attending therapy sessions can offer a safe space for parents to work through potentially confusing emotions around gender fluidity without reflecting those thoughts and concerns onto their child.  Alex continues, “Parents often like to think they know their children well, so learning that this young person they’ve brought into the world has different views and aspirations to ours can be challenging.”

“If they had been able to discuss their thoughts, emotions and worries with a counsellor or therapist, they may have been able to come to terms with it quicker.”

Amy Burr transitioned when she was 31 and found the reception from her parents and older brother, in particular, extremely challenging as they struggled themselves to understand and accept her gender. “It took time for my parents to come round to it and that was from doing their own research and finding out that being trans is not as uncommon as first thought.

“If they had been able to discuss their thoughts, emotions and worries with a counsellor or therapist, they may have been able to come to terms with it quicker. I don’t think they would be able to change the views of my brother though.”

Unacceptably, the trans community still faces stigma and discrimination to this day, simply for being their true selves. It’s only natural that parents question themselves and their abilities as parents, when their children are hurt or confused, feeling frustrated or angry. In this instance, it can be helpful to speak with a third party who can discuss the situation objectively, helping a parent gain clarity over the nature vs nurture influence on their child’s transition and help establish a parent’s role in the transition.

If your child is struggling to navigate certain aspects of transitioning, Alex suggests that although parents may not always be able to see a clear source for their child’s unhappiness, the most important thing you can do is be supportive in the face of uncertainty.

“The clues to your child’s unhappiness are not always obvious when society places so many expectations on children performing gender in fixed ways. The measure of success as a parent is to look at the bond we have as adults, and to know the record showed we were always supportive in times of difficulty.”

How to support yourself and your child

  • Encourage your child to explore what gender means to them by removing fixed rules about what gender is or ‘should’ look like.  
  • Let them dress/present/behave in ways that feel authentic to their felt sense of gender.  
  • Respect pronoun choice and let your child find their own route to living an authentic life.  
  • Show acceptance. Because discussing gender identity can be difficult, parents may be ‘the last to know’, often in young people as they are fearful of rejection.
  • Encourage open conversation and discussion, even if you’re struggling to adjust. Showing your child that they can be open about their gender exploration not only sets an example for the rest of the family, it also carves a supportive space for the rest of the journey.
  • Educate yourself on gender acceptance. Charities such as Stonewall and Mermaids are helpful resources for every member of the family.
  • Speak to a professional who has experience with LGBTQ+ families so you can discuss your emotions and feelings honestly, and receive the support you need.

Alex says, “Although transgender identities seem to be a new thing, they have always existed but it’s become easier to be open and ‘out’ in the way lesbian and gay identities are now more accepted, so too it is now easier to transition and live as transgender.”


Supportive resources

If you’re looking for information on how to support a loved one as they come out as trans, clinical psychotherapist Noel Bell details how you can offer support from a loving place.

If your teen is transitioning, integrative counsellor Anna Jezuita has put together a helpful guide for parents on how to support themselves and their teens through the transition.

For whole family support, take a look at Anna’s family guide to gender transition.

For further support and guidance on sexuality, LGBTQ+ and BAME communities, visit Counselling Directory’s information hub.  

Alex Drummond is accredited with Pink Therapy as a Gender and Sexual Diversity specialist has research and clinical specialism in Transgender and Adult ADHD. You can find out more infomation on Alex at talkmebetter.co.uk.


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