Gender Dysphoria in Childhood: How to Act

Gender dysphoria can manifest itself from childhood, so it's essential that you know its signs to support your children. We'll tell you what you need to know.
Gender Dysphoria in Childhood: How to Act
Elena Sanz Martín

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

In recent times, consultations for possible cases of childhood gender dysphoria have increased by almost fourfold. It’s a complex reality that’s little understood and capable of producing discomfort in minors and their families.

Despite the confusion and uncertainty that it creates, sensitivity, prudence, and individualized evaluation are fundamental elements in order to avoid further harm to these children.

Fortunately, every day, society becomes more aware of the diversity of identities and sexual orientations. When talking about such a crucial issue as the construction of one’s own identity, we can’t take a single evolution for granted and we must follow the child’s progress with respect and empathy.

What is gender dysphoria in childhood?

Gender dysphoria involves a feeling of discomfort or dissatisfaction with one’s own sex.

People who experience it identify with the opposite gender to that which their biological sex determines. That is, they’re convinced that their sexual identity doesn’t match their anatomical sex.

It’s important to understand that this is a matter of identity and not sexual orientation. In other words, the fact that a person identifies with the opposite gender doesn’t determine their sexual and romantic preferences. It only indicates how the person feels about themself.

Although it doesn’t happen in all cases, a large part of these individuals begins to show symptoms of gender dysphoria as early as childhood or adolescence.

These manifestations cause concern in the parents and generally lead to the search for professional advice. However, it’s crucial to remember that not all signs are present in all cases and that they don’t necessarily indicate gender dysphoria.

A small girl trying on her dad's shoes.

The main manifestations of gender dysphoria

Individual evaluation is essential in order to define a disagreement with regard to a person’s sex. This is true even when there are characteristic signs. Among them, the following stand out:

  • Recurring verbal manifestations (or constant wishes) about belonging to the opposite gender.
  • Preference for toys, games, and activities that traditionally correspond to the other gender. For example, girls choose violent sports and games and boys show interest in dolls and domestic games.
  • The adoption of attitudes, ways, and forms of expression that are typical of the other gender. For example, the choice of clothes, hairstyle, and physical image.
  • When selecting costumes or interpreting role-playing games, the choice of characters belonging to the gender with which the minor identifies.
  • A preference for relating to peers of the opposite gender.
  • Rejection of one’s genitalia, desire to change them or make them disappear.
  • Intense fear of adolescence, as this is the time when secondary sexual characteristics produce a typical physical image of sex that the child rejects.

Early detection and diagnosis

Early detection is essential when it comes to avoiding significant emotional suffering in the child. Having family and professional advice and support will help you navigate the confusion and uncertainty in the best possible way.

Likewise, it will allow you to acquire the necessary tools to deal with the possible harassment or rejection that you may be suffering. For this reason, it’s important not to underestimate the infantile manifestations of disagreement or to take them as mere calls for attention.

We need to clarify that, many times, certain “atypical” behaviors are to be expected at some ages and don’t imply gender dysphoria. For example, a boy who enjoys putting on makeup or painting his nails or a girl who chooses to play basketball don’t necessarily imply an identity problem.

Sometimes, stereotypes and gender roles perpetuated by society don’t encourage minors to play, explore, and express themselves freely. But this diagnosis doesn’t take place if these manifestations don’t produce suffering in the minor.

Observe the child’s evolution and accompany them with respect

According to the evidence, only a portion of the children who show disagreement with their gender maintain this dysphoria in adulthood and opt for a sex change.

Some studies show that several of these little ones evolve toward homosexuality, without concomitant gender dysphoria. On the other hand, others manifest a heterosexual orientation without presenting this dysphoria either.

For all the above reasons, it’s essential that you act with caution, carry out an individualized evaluation, and observe the evolution of each child.

In the case in which the diagnosis is confirmed, appropriate treatment will help the minor to reduce their emotional distress. At the same time, it will also help them go through the hormonal changes of adolescence. The development of certain secondary sexual characteristics that are typical of the gender can be avoided.

If you think your child may be going through this experience, seek professional guidance as soon as possible. That’s the best way to accompany them with respect and love.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Fernández, M., Guerra, P., & Méndez, M. (2014). La disforia de género en la infancia en las clasificaciones diagnósticas. Cuadernos de medicina psicosomática y psiquiatria de enlace, (110), 25-35.
  • Hurtado-Murillo, F. (2015). Disforia de género en infancia y adolescencia: Guía de práctica clínica. Rev Esp Endocrinol Pediatr6(1), 45-52.
  • Asenjo-Araque, N., García-Gibert, C., Rodríguez-Molina, J. M., Becerra-Fernández, A., Lucio-Pérez, M. J., & GIDSEEN, G. (2015). Disforia de género en la infancia y adolescencia: una revisión de su abordaje, diagnóstico y persistencia. Revista de psicología clínica con niños y adolescentes2(1), 33-36.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.