Parent comments, attitudes, and actions play a large role in how things turn out for their child. Parent behaviors such as shaming or shunning are negative in any context. Many parents don’t realize that even protective efforts can be felt as rejection by their child. Subtle actions, attitudes, words, or choices that communicate rejection to your child have been shown to be linked to both health and mental health problems:
Abusive behaviors can include a variety of behavior that harms another person:
- Aggression can include verbally belittling, dominating or insulting someone, criticism, arguing, controlling, or aligning against a family member.
- Lack of affection, such as the absence of verbal expressions of love, physical affection, encouragement, or time spent together.
- Neglect can include ignoring or not paying attention to someone, so that a person is not comfortable around some family members.
- Violence is considered physical harm and sexual abuse.
It goes without saying that these actions are harmful. However, when they are aimed at your child’s identity, they can be even more damaging. No matter what your reactions are, do not take them out on your child. What you choose to do (or not do) with and for your child can make a big difference.
ACTIONS THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO AVOID:
Rejecting Your Child’s Word That They are Transgender
Family behaviors that try to change, prevent, deny or minimize their child’s LGBT identity have a negative impact on their child’s health and well-being and contribute to depression, suicide, illegal drug use and other serious health risks.
Family Acceptance Project, https://lgbtqfamilyacceptance.org/family-matters/
“It’s just a phase.”
Disbelief or denying your child’s identity is highly negative. Youth do not casually claim to be different than their sex assigned at birth, as it can bring challenges and even stigma. You may need time to adjust to it, but don’t deny or minimize your child’s disclosure. They trusted and loved you enough to be honest.
Refusing to Use Your Child’s Chosen Name or Pronouns
“I know your name, I named you!”
Parents may feel strongly about their child’s name, which is usually carefully chosen and may indicate family ties or tradition. But their own chosen name is an important marker for your child regarding how they identify. Their birth or given name is sometimes referred to as their “dead” name, because it is not how they see themselves in their new identity. Using your child’s chosen name is an important demonstration of support and acknowledgement, and using their dead name can actually feel like a form of attack. Changing their pronouns (he/she/they) can also be very difficult, because habits are hard to break. However, your effort to try, even if you make mistakes, affirms to your child that you want to understand and support them in their new identity.
Hitting or physically hurting your child
“You deserved that!”
“The parental use of physical force is always risky…Damage to the parent/child relationship can be done if basic trust in safety with the parent is lost.”
Insults or name-calling
Insulting is classified under emotional abuse. By definition, emotional abuse refers to any act by an adult that results in injuring a child’s emotional health. When you yell at your child or throw insults at them, you are chipping away bits from their self-esteem. Insults come in many forms. Some of them include:
Name-calling: “Are you stupid?”
Shame: “You are such a disappointment. I used to be so proud of you.”
Comparisons: “I wish you were more like your sister.”
Teasing in public: “He can’t decide what to be, I guess.”
Rejection: “Shut up! Get away from me!”
Extreme or negative criticisms: “You are an embarrassment. Why can’t you make me proud in even one thing?”
Excluding your child from family activities
“Not this time…”
“Your Aunt Maria won’t understand, so maybe it’s best if you stay home…”
Ostracizing someone does not just reduce feelings of belonging, it can also lower self-esteem, a sense of control, and a “sense of having a meaningful existence.” Ignoring, ostracizing, or marginalizing your child may inflict serious emotional pain and increase the risk of self-harming behaviors and despair. If you are concerned that a family member or friend may create discomfort for your child, a better tactic would be to discuss how the family will handle the situation. The plan should support, protect, and/or empower your child, and above all should feel comfortable for your child.
Blaming your child when discrimination or bullying occur
“If you weren’t trans, they wouldn’t have…”
“If you worked a little harder to blend in…”
This is an example of a desire to protect coming across as rejection. Even if you believe it to be true, do not point to your child’s gender identity as a reason that bad things happen to them, such as teasing, harassment, or loss of friendships. If your child is being bullied, they are the victim. Taking the perspective of “you are bringing this on yourself” will only add shame to an already difficult experience. Empathizing and taking your child’s side is an important show of support. Often all that is needed is to acknowledge how your child is feeling, rather than attempting to offer fixes, solutions, or changes your child should make.
Using Religion Against Them
“It’s a sin.”
It is deeply wounding to tell your child that he or she will be a disappointment to God or your religious community, particularly if your family is connected to a faith community. This will likely create self-hate or self-doubt within your child, but it will not create positive change. Please see https://strongfamilyalliance.org/hopeful-voices/faith-based-organizations/ to locate groups from many faiths and denominations that provide supportive information.
Try to Take Time to Cool Off
However upset or angry you feel, it is important not to damage your relationship or wound your child. They will face many instances of hateful words, bullying and rejection over time. Studies show the thing that most helps a child cope is connection to their family. Your effort to understand, accept and love your child strengthens them when they face future hardships.
“You may not be the only voice in your child’s ear but make sure you’re the best voice in your child’s ear.!