Gender Variance (or gender dysphoria) and Play Therapy

Play is children’s natural form of expression. If your child has gender variance and is experiencing distress about their gender identity, play therapy can help them resolve this confusion and become much happier with their sense of self.

Most children readily identify with their biological sex they are born with. A small number of children however, are gender variant, which means that they display consistent and persistent behaviours that are not normally associated with their biological gender. Some children are born inter-sex and may not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. This is not necessarily a problem in and of itself, and it is certainly not a mental health problem. However many children with gender variance also experience distress.

Gender variance is a normal part of development. It is not learned, not chosen, not due to emotional or mental disorder, and not determined by parenting (Painer, 2015). Parental acceptance and support is one of the greatest predictors in a child mental well-being.

Allowing your child to be his or herself and explore and express their chosen gender identity can help avoid many mental health issues.

gender-variance and play therapy
gender-variance and play therapy

Symptoms

  • Persistent discomfort with their gender identity
  • Distress in relation to their anatomy
  • Emotional and behavioural difficulties

How you can help

  • Try to avoid pressuring your child to behave/act in a way that conforms with their biological gender. Allow your child to express their gender in any way comfortable to them.
  • Love and support your child for who they are. Affirm and validate their chosen gender identity.

How Play Therapy can help

  • Play is children’s natural form of expression, a special language which is spoken through toys. Through play, children can communicate distressing or confusing thoughts and emotions (Ater, in Landreth, 2001).
  • Play therapy will not help your child align with their biological gender. It will help them work through any confusion relating to, and explore, their gender identity. It will help them become more aligned and comfortable with whichever gender identity is right for them.
  • Through play, children will be able to work through any anxieties and distressing experiences they may have had in relation to their gender identity exploration, or in relation to any other issues they have experienced in their lives.