Children of all ages do best when they can sense a deep feeling of belonging with their parent(s) and within their families. Helping parents navigate the complexities of creating this nurturing environment for their children – within the context of a broader society that might encourage them to do otherwise – is the heart and soul of my work with families. – Lindsay Elin, MSW, RSW
Finding out your child is transgender, non-binary or questioning their gender can come as a surprise to some parents – initial feelings of confusion, fears about your child’s future, sadness or doubts are all common responses I hear from caregivers when I begin to work with them. I invite you to read on to learn about ways to help you find your footing, work through strong emotions and gain the knowledge you need to best support your child moving forward.
Research shows that trans youth who feel they have low or moderate levels of parental support are at risk for a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts (TransPULSE, 2012; Ryan et. al, 2010). A majority of parents I work with want to be supportive, but have strong fears about their child’s future that get in the way of their child experiencing them that way. It’s common to make the mistake of talking about your feelings and fears with your child, rather than turning to a knowledgeable, gender-affirming adult to work through them first. In working with parents, my job is to help you sift through feelings, fears, worries, and (mis)information, and gain knowledge (about gender, medical, social and legal transition options, building a stronger attachment relationship, community resources and groups etc.) and skills to support your kids though this stage and beyond. This can help keep both you and your child emotionally healthy, and avoid long-term damage to your relationship.
My background working with trans/non-binary youth and their families
I worked for many years in a downtown Toronto youth mental health agency in their LGBTQI2S+ program, providing individual, group and family therapy to youth and their parents/caregivers/siblings around issues related to gender identity, sexual orientation, self harm, depression, anxiety and/or problems at home or school. In this capacity, I reimagined and redeveloped the Families in TRANSition program (a psycho-educational group for parents of transgender/non-binary youth) by weaving in an attachment-focus and neurophysiological/somatic components aimed at strengthening the relationship between trans youth and their parents, promoting youth mental health, and building caregiver knowledge and self-regulation/communication skills to support trans youth in this crucial time in their lives. In 2016 I was a contributing author for the 2nd Edition of Families in TRANSition: A Guide for Parents of Trans Youth and between 2015-2019 I trained mental health professionals across Ontario on my attachment-focused, trauma-informed work with families of trans/non binary youth.
Parent Coaching/Psychotherapy and Family Therapy
Today I provide parent coaching, psychotherapy and counselling for parents of trans / non-binary/ gender questioning youth in my online private practice. I strive to be culturally sensitive, with an anti-oppressive/anti-racist lens in this work – paying close attention to learning about how the beliefs and values you hold dear may contribute in important ways to your experience of your child’s gender identity. I will offer compassion and understanding to you, and I will challenge you to be the best, most loving and most knowledgeable parent you can be to your gender questioning / trans / non-binary child. I use cutting edge neuroscience-based, attachment-focused and trauma focused modalities to approach our work.
I also specialize in gender-affirming family therapy with trans, non-binary and gender questioning youth/young adults and their parents. The goal of this work is to strengthen and repair relationships and improve anxiety, depression and suicidality at a time when young people most need supportive adults around them. Strong emotions are common when first learning your child is transgender or non-binary, which can sometimes lead to saying things to your child in the heat of the moment that you wouldn’t say if you were more grounded. Whether you realize it or not, these words can live on as wounds in your child’s heart, mind and in your relationship for years to come if they aren not repaired intentionally. In order to work effectively with families, I initially work separately with parents and youth, and eventually come together for a few structured family sessions. I’m one of very few clinicians in Canada with advanced training in Attachment-Based Family Therapy – an evidence-based modality for treating adolescent depression and suicidality – and I have been supervised by the developers of this model for many years to adapt it to working with trans/non-binary youth and their parents.
Many cisgender (non-transgender) parents don’t feel they have the knowledge or skills to be the ones their child can eventually turn to when they have struggles related to gender, but I believe (and this is backed by decades of research on attachment and children’s mental heath), that kids do best when their parents are equipped to be their “safe base” about all the overwhelming/big things in their lives. In order to become this “safe base” for their trans / non-binary kids, cis parents often need other adults – who understand gender, the impact of micro-aggressions, transphobia and transmisogymy on youth mental health, transition-related issues, trans positive resources for kids and families, advocacy in the school system, attachment/neurobiology, children’s mental health, child development, and parenting challenges – to turn to. I have supported hundreds of parents to gain the skills necessary to raise thriving trans/non-binary kids and youth, and to have closer relationships with their trans / non-binary adult children. I’d be pleased to learn how I might lend my support to your family.
**If desired, I am also happy to refer you or your youth to qualified trans / non-binary / QTBIPOC therapists in Toronto, trans social / drop-in programs and trans-positive GPs.**
1. Impacts of strong parental support for trans youth: A report prepared for the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and Delisle Youth Services” (2012), TransPULSE.http://transpulseproject.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Impacts-of-Strong-Parental-Support-for-Trans-Youth-vFINAL.pdf
Other TransPULSE (2012) reports and materials available at www.transpulseproject.ca
2. Ryan, C., Russell, S. T., Huebner, D., Diaz, R., and Sanchez, J. (2010). Family acceptance in adolescence and the health of LGBT young adults. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 23(4), 205-213.
USEFUL RESOURCES FOR PARENTS/CAREGIVERS OF TRANS YOUTH/ YOUNG ADULTS
1. Ygender Trans 101 Gender Diversity Crash Course
2. Gender Spectrum and Gender Creative Kids – resource-packed websites for parents of trans / non-binary young people
3. “Communication matters: Strengthening and protecting your relationship with your trans youth when emotions run high”, Lindsay Elin, MSW, RSW, 2017: lindsayelinpsychotherapy.com
Emotion regulation Communication matters handout Elin 2017
4. The Families in TRANSition guide, 2nd Edition, Central Toronto Youth Services, 2020
5. Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Families with LGBT children, San Francisco State University
*Also available in Spanish and Chinese, here: http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/publications
6. Families in TRANSition (FIT) Group – a 10-week, closed group for parents/caregivers of trans youth (age 13 – 24) at Central Toronto Youth Services
7. Gender Independent Groups (GIG and GIG2) at the TDSB – for parents/guardians of children and youth (Kindergarten – grade 12) who express gender independence to meet and discuss their experiences of navigating the gendered world in which we live.
8. Transceptance – a monthly parent-led group for parents of trans youth and young adults (any age), hosted at Central Toronto Youth Services.
9. Pride & Prejudice (LGBTQ2S) Family Support at Central Toronto Youth Services – free services for LGBTQ2S youth (age 13-18) and their parents/caregivers, including individual counselling, group work, parent counselling & education and family therapy.
I would be honoured to support you and/or your family through life’s challenges and transitions. Please do not hesitate to contact me for a free telephone consultation to discuss how I can be of support to you.
Lindsay Elin (she/her)