Gender Diversity In Children & Young People

Gender Diversity In Children & Young People

All children explore different ways of expressing their gender. For some children, gender can be fluid. Be open to wherever your child's gender journey leads. Find out how to support your gender diverse younger child or teen, and where to get your own support. Check the resources for takatāpui and whānau, and Pasifika young people.

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There are different ways of expressing gender

All children explore different ways of expressing their gender. Many children don't fit their culture's expectations for boys or girls - such as the clothes they wear, the toys they play with and how they behave.  

Children shouldn't feel limited by expectations around their gender. Children should be able to wear the clothes they want and choose the kinds of toys they want to play with. 

Allow children to do what feels right for them

Most of these children are comfortable with their sex assigned at birth. But some are not.

For some children, their clothing and play are important ways to express their gender to those around them. Allow children to work out what feels right for them and understand everyone's gender is unique. For some children, gender can be fluid.  Be open to wherever your child's gender journey leads.

Listen if your child identifies as a gender different to their sex assigned at birth

When a child asserts their gender as different from their sex assigned at birth, it is important to listen. Transgender children are usually insistent, consistent and persistent in their gender. These children may show distress or discomfort with their physical body.

Some children are aware of their gender diversity from an early age. Others may take some time to figure it out.

Children are very aware of disapproval

Children can be very aware of the disapproval of those around them. They may try and hide their feelings about their gender if met with negative responses.

Sometimes children might need to see a paediatrician or mental health professional

Gender-expansive children, including those who may identify as transgender, don't need medical intervention before puberty. But you may want to talk to a parent support group, peer support or your family doctor about how best to support your child or family member. Sometimes referral to a paediatrician or mental health professional may be necessary. This is particularly important if your child has distress related to gender identity that does not improve with affirming your child.

How can I support my child?

Become familiar with the resources that exist

Let's talk: A resource guide for parents (OutLine, NZ) provides information under the following headings:

  • do you think your child has questions about their gender or sexuality?
  • your child just came out - now what?
  • is my child normal?
  • I love my child, but…
  • my child just came out as transgender
  • when do I need to seek more support?
  • resources (places you can call; groups; online resources)

Be There (NZ)
'Be There' is a fantastic resource with lots of helpful tips for whānau to help navigate their own gender journey in order to best support their child. Click on the icons on the website to get all the information. 

InsideOUT (NZ)
InsideOUT is a national organisation which works with youth, whānau, schools and communities to make Aotearoa a safer place for all rainbow young people to live and be in. 

Follow some simple tips

When your child or teen talks to you about their gender, there are some things you can do to support your child or teen as they explore their gender identity.

Give your unconditional love and support

Assure your child that they have your unconditional love and support wherever their gender journey leads them. Having family support is very important for the mental health and wellbeing of your child.

Encourage your child's exploration of their gender

Encourage your child's exploration of the way they express themselves. Allow them to present in the way they feel most comfortable - through their clothes, hairstyle and creativity. It is important that your child has a safe space to explore their gender.

Use your child's chosen gender pronouns

Use your child's chosen gender pronouns (he/him, she/her, they/them etc) and chosen name. When your child is ready, support family and friends to do the same, if it is safe to do so.

It is not uncommon to slip up or make mistakes when learning to use your child's new chosen name or pronouns. When this happens, simply acknowledge the error, apologise, and move on. You could also look at any things you can do to minimise it happening in future.

Support your child if they want to affirm their gender outside of their home

Some children will want to have their gender affirmed at school or outside of their home.

There are good resources to support schools and parents around this. 

InsideOUT has developed a range of resources for schools.

Transcend Australia has information for parents and carers.

Let your child know they are awesome and brave

It is important that children do not feel that being trans, nonbinary or gender diverse is something they should have to hide or feel any shame in. Continue to let your child know just how awesome and brave they are.

Help your child to connect with other trans, nonbinary and gender diverse children

Help your child connect with other trans, nonbinary and gender diverse children, and the rainbow community. This will let them know they are not alone. They can learn about the diversity of gender both in Aotearoa and around the world. They can find out about the fantastic role models out there. 

Get in touch with your local rainbow organisation and see what is available for your child in your area.

See the groups and organisations at the 'Be There' website.

Resources for takatāpui and whānau

Takatāpui is a traditional Māori term meaning 'intimate companion of the same sex.' It has been reclaimed to embrace all Māori who identify with diverse genders, sexualities and sex characteristics. 

Check out a resource hub for Takatāpui and their whānau.

Screenshot of the Takatāpui resource hub

Resources for Pasifika young people

The Village Collective for Pasifika youth

Check the website of the Village Collective | Empowering Pasifika youth through healthy relationships and wellbeing and supporting diversity.

See the Village Collective's Rainbow Fale - about building supportive and safe environments for Pasifika Rainbow young people

Screenshot of 'Rainbow Fale' section of Village Collective website

The journey of parenting a transgender child

'Storm clouds and rainbows - the journey of parenting a transgender child'

This resource was created in partnership with the Rainbow Support Collective, Aotearoa New Zealand. It offers insights from a parent perspective on how best to support a transgender child. It is based on international research and interviews with parents in Aotearoa of different social and cultural backgrounds. Parents were asked to reflect on their experience of raising a transgender child, exploring both the challenges they face and the joys they encounter.

Read on screen - PDF with page spreads (PDF, 4.48MB)

Read or print - PDF with single pages (PDF, 4.57MB)

Accessible Word version (docx, 42KB)

Resources for parents of younger children

The gender identity workbook for kids

'The gender identity workbook for kids' by Kelly Storck is a great resource for parents to use if they have a child under 12 who is gender exploring or who is trans or nonbinary. It provides an affirming approach to exploring gender and lots of helpful tips and language about navigating a social transition such as:

  • how to talk to peers
  • navigating tricky questions
  • privacy
  • affirming body language
  • discussing puberty changes

'The gender identity workbook for kids' by Kelly Storck. You will need to buy this book. 

Cover of 'The gender identity workbook for kids'

White Ribbon's toolbox for parents and whānau

Kids and gender: Support kids to be themselves (PDF, 933KB) is a toolbox which will help you support your kids to be themselves. What does it mean if your son loves wearing a pink tutu? What if your daughter only wants to play with trucks? And what about if your child is sure the doctor got their gender wrong when they were born? These are tricky things to work through as a family, but you can make all the difference for your child by being there for them.

Image of first page of White Ribbon toolbox

Resource on listening to and supporting trans and nonbinary young people in our lives

Check a resource from 'Counting Ourselves' and 'Te Ngākau Kahukura'. It looks at what 'Counting Ourselves' research tells us about how trans and nonbinary young people are taking pride in who they are, supporting each other, and receiving support from family, friends and at school. The resource offers suggestions about how whānau and friends can support the young people in our lives to grow up with a sense of belonging and safety.

Read the 'Counting Ourselves' and 'Te Ngākau Kahukura' resource (PDF, 1.51MB).

Cover of the 'Counting Ourselves' and 'Te Ngākau Kahukura' resource showing an image and words

There's also an accessible Word version (docx, 24KB).

    Extra tips and resources for parents supporting teens

    Use your teen's chosen pronoun

    One of the most important things is to use the pronoun they choose to describe their identity. 

    You can watch a video from InsideOUT. Young people talk about the best part of people getting their pronouns right, and they give some tips.  

    Support their connections

    Support their connection to gender diverse peers, the community, school diversity groups and local peer support groups.

    Find out about Rainbow Youth's nationwide gender and sexuality support. 

    See the groups and organisations listed at the 'Be There' website

    Make sure to have the best support around mood and any anxiety present

    Encourage your child or teen's connection to family, to school, to friends and activities, and to culture. 

    Make use of online tools and support

    See KidsHealth's page for online tools to support mental wellbeing.

    See KidsHealth's page on helplines and mental health support services.

    Check out the Melon anxiety toolbox

    The Melon anxiety toolbox is made up of 5 sessions to help you understand and manage anxiety better so it doesn't get in the way. There are also personal stories and illustrations as part of the toolbox.

    Visit the Melon anxiety toolbox - first steps to managing stress, worry and anxiety.

    Series of illustrations from the Melon anxiety toolbox

    See KidsHealth's page on anxiety.

    Dream big! Learn the DNA-V steps

    Watch a series of videos which explain DNA-V - a simple way of helping young people learn about the skills they have inside them

    Video screenshot showing animated character from 'Inner strength training introducing DNA-V'

    You might also like to check some free DNA-V resources. You can use the worksheets and illustrations from the books 'Your life your way'; 'The thriving adolescent' and 'Get out of your mind and into your life for teens'. 

    See the DNA-V downloads and resources for young people

    More psychological supports

    A school counsellor can be helpful.

    For access to further psychological supports in your area, see your family doctor. 

    0800 support line

    The OutLine support line is 0800 688 5463. It's available every evening from 6pm to 9pm.

    OutLine is an all-ages rainbow mental health organisation providing support to the rainbow community, their friends, whānau, and those questioning. OutLine provides a nationwide, free and confidential 0800 support line for people who want to speak to a trained volunteer from the rainbow community.

    What may help if your teen is experiencing gender dysphoria?

    Gender dysphoria is the distress often felt by trans and nonbinary young people. It's due to the mismatch between their gender identity and their sex assigned at birth. 

    There's no one way to deal with dysphoria and different things work for different people.

    Check out some ideas about coping with gender dysphoria - written for young people

    Reach out for your own support

    Reach out for support if you need to.

    Connect with other parents. See the national online parent group who will have details of local parents' groups.

    See Rainbow Youth's details about parent and whānau support at their website.

    OutLine NZ has a resource guide for parents which includes a listing of support groups and online resources. See OutLine's 'Let's talk: A resource guide for parents'.

    Watch and listen to young people talk about their experience

    You could watch a video series from InsideOUT celebrating the diversity of the rainbow community

    In the videos, young people talk about their experience.

    Video screenshot of a young woman speaking to camera with text on screen

    Gender-affirming medical care

    For some young people, feelings about gender identity continue into puberty. Or, they can emerge during puberty. If there is also distress, it's important to see your family doctor. You can find out about the medical supports in your area and the best time to access these.

    Puberty blockers are a medicine that can pause the physical changes of puberty. They are generally considered to be a safe and reversible medicine. But, like all medicines, they are only used where potential benefits outweigh any potential risks. Young people can take them from early puberty through to later adolescence. The aim is to help ease distress and allow time to fully explore gender health options. Not all gender diverse children or young people will need or want to start puberty blockers. It is always a considered decision made in partnership with the young person, family and medical team.

    Some young people don't need blockers but are keen for medicines to stop periods. Your family doctor should be able to give advice around the options available.

    Service providers that can help access gender affirming care include:

    • paediatric services
    • youth health services
    • endocrinologists
    • primary health care teams

    This page last reviewed 16 November 2022.

    Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it