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Supporting siblings

When one family member is coming to terms with their gender identity, it can affect all members of the family. Many siblings are the often the first to know about their trans sibling and can be their biggest support. Some siblings may struggle to understand or be supportive at first.

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Here are some tips on supporting siblings:

  • Talk to your child about their trans sibling’s gender identity in an age-appropriate and matter-of-fact way. Children are often more open-minded than adults and may react better than expected. If you have a young child, you may find our information sheet How to talk to young children about people who are gender diverse helpful.
  • Find out how your child thinks about gender at the moment. Developmental factors influence how children view gender at different ages. In general, the more rigid they are in their understanding of gender, the more they may struggle to understand their sibling’s experience. If you have a young child you may find our information sheet Helpful Wording: How to talk to young children about gender helpful.
  • If your child is not already aware that their sibling is trans, prepare them for this news by having open conversations about gender and, if needed, gently challenging rigid gender beliefs prior to telling them. Click here for some ideas on challenging gender stereotypes with your child.
  • Consider different ways of talking to children about their sibling and about gender identity more widely. You might want to read age-appropriate books or watch a documentary or YouTube video together. You can find parent-recommended resources on our multimedia page.
  • The more comfortable you are with your trans child’s gender identity, the more comfortable siblings will be to ask questions and tell you if they need support.
  • Make ongoing space for your child to ask questions and tell you if they need support. Check in with them when their sibling is making changes like wearing different clothing or using a new name.
  • Siblings also have to come out to others about their trans sibling. Talk to your child about how and who to come out to. Rehearse what they will say together to increase their confidence. Click here for our resources on communicating with others.
  • Check whether they need help telling others or support outside of the family home. They may want staff at school to know before they tell their friends or they may want you to talk to their friends’ parents. It’s always important to ensure that your trans child is happy with others being told first. Click here for our resources on communicating with others.
  • Your trans child’s gender identity is only one part of them and only one part of your family’s life. Try and make sure that family conversations are not always focussed around gender issues.
  • Parents often need to give more time and attention to their trans child, especially early on. Siblings can feel less important and may feel resentful about this. Spending quality time together sends the message they’re just as important. This might look like planning one-on-one time together to do a special activity of their choice or making sure they have a bedtime story and cuddle with you every night.

Here are some tips if your child is struggling:

  • Reassure them it takes time to adjust to things like using a new name or different pronouns. Let them know if they make a mistake they shouldn’t feel bad and everyone in the family is learning to adjust.
  • Ask what is causing problems for them. Often it is not having a trans sibling that is difficult, they may be being bullied about it at school or they may be protecting their sibling from being bullied. Check in regularly about how they are feeling and whether they need any support.
  • If they are confused or upset about what is happening for their sibling they may want to talk to someone outside of the family about how they are feeling. This could be a supportive adult or a mental health professional. Processing their feelings away from their sibling is helpful for the whole family.
  • Some children find online resources helpful for supporting their mental health and wellbeing. Click here for a list of websites that might be useful.
  • Some children may want to talk to, or meet, others who are going through similar experiences. Some organisations and groups hold in-person or virtual sessions for siblings or family members to do so. Click here for a list of support groups and organisations that may offer support for siblings.