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Transgender children feel that they are trapped in a body that doesn't belong to them. How do you know if your child is having this experience, and what do you do about it if they are?

Most children don't give much thought to their gender. Children naturally show an interest in the clothing of the opposite gender when they're young before identifying as their biological gender. For many children, their biological gender will be the same as their anatomical gender. However, some children feel like they've been born in the wrong body.

What Does Transgender Mean?

Many people make assumptions about what it means to be transgender. They assume it is related to sexual orientation, or the clothes someone chooses to wear, or the anatomical equipment someone has — but that's all incorrect. A person is transgender if they feel they have been born into a body of the wrong sex. Those feelings remain the same, whether the individual chooses to act on them or not.

There are currently around 700,000 people living publicly as transgender. However, there may be other people living with the knowledge that they are trapped in the wrong body but not living publicly as the gender they feel they are.

Gender is not an absolute. It exists on a continuum. Gender is made up of more than a person's genitalia. It's largely based on the gender of a person's brain (which may differ from, or compliment, the anatomical gender), and prenatal exposure to hormones. Some people identify as male, some as female, and some people identify as not having a biological gender at all.

At What Age Do Transgender Feelings Become Apparent?

Many parents find that their toddler son wants to wear their older sister's dress, or that their little girl wants to play with toy soldiers. Some parents wonder if this means that their child may be transgender.

It doesn't

Under the age of five, all children show an interest in the stereotypical clothes and toys of the opposite gender, and may even play around with opposite-sex alter-egos (a little boy may want you to call him "Princess Penelope", a little girl may want to play the King). This is a very common part of exploration in young children, and is not a sign that your child feels trapped in the wrong body.

Almost every child goes through this stage of exploring gender as a toddler. Many of them later discover, and feel comfortable with, their biological and anatomical gender.

This gender-exploration behavior is more likely to be noted in boys than in girls. This is not because it occurs more commonly in boys, but because society deems it more acceptable for girls to climb tress and wear dungarees than for boys to wear a dress and pretend to be a princess.

This gender-exploration usually disappears by puberty.

However, some children will never reconcile their biological gender and their anatomical gender. They may feel that they belong to the opposite gender, or that they have no gender. As the child reaches puberty, the transgender child will want to continue wearing clothes that reflect their true gender, rather than their anatomical gender.

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