Raising North Dakota: Raising a transgender child, Part III

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Parenting is no easy feat, and parenting styles can change from one generation to the next, and even from one child to the next, but as Dr. Kathy Anderson explains, it can often be helpful to take a step back and simply reflect on what it was like growing up.

“If you can take yourself back to that time in your own life, identity is vitally important,” says Dr. Kathy Anderson, pediatrician. “How a person identifies and how a child who is becoming an adult identifies is vitally important to how that child as an adult does short and long term.”

Sometimes that struggle with identity can be overwhelming, and a significant struggle for some is gender, which is a topic many don’t understand.

“Children are not impulsively becoming transgender. This is a huge decision and in most children, becomes known after years of internal struggle with trying to understand how they fit into this body,” Dr. Anderson stresses.

Dr. Gabriela Balf is a local psychiatrist and explains that while the idea of struggling with gender is a relatively new idea around here, it’s been around in other countries and cultures for many, many years.

“In our society, especially in North Dakota, we have more solid views on what we are and how we should behave and appear, and that can raise a challenge,” says Dr. Balf, psychiatrist.

Dr. Balf adds that while the medical world works to catch up to understand, we can learn a lot from other cultures and populations.

And who will have most of the answers?

“The scientific answer to this is your child will know what identity he, she, they, ze, is, and this may change,” Dr. Balf states. “One thing I learned and was not aware of is how natural is to expect those fluctuations and can be maddening for people who want numbers and clear expectations, plans, careers for kids.”

And no matter what aspirations a parent has for their child, Dr. Anderson and Dr. Balf emphasize the importance of supporting our children through these changes and challenges, and to know that being supportive does not necessarily mean to fully understand.

“If they don’t feel safe, if the parent catches the boy with make up and makes fun of them, this is taken as judgement,” Dr. Balf explains, “and that kid will know that it is not safe to figure out or play around with their identity.”

Once a child feels they can be who they really are, Dr. Balf says life can change drastically.

“Once they are accepted, even if they don’t go through anything, no hormones, surgeries, actually very few people actually choose to go all of the way with surgery by the way, they feel so much better, anxiety goes way down to a level that’s comparable to their peers, depression lifts, and when you look at their parameters for mental health, they actually do better than their peers,” says Dr. Balf.

And ultimately wrap your child in a nurturing environment where they can thrive.”

Reporting for KX News in Bismarck, I’m Alysia Huck.

As Dr. Balf mentioned very few transgender individuals choose to have surgery.

Many will see a family doctor, an endocrinologist for hormonal treatments, a psychologist and sometimes psychiatrist.
And while finding the right team of doctors is important, Dr. Balf stresses that as with all of our kids, a parents supports is what matters most.

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