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Gender identity disorder in kids

Monday November 16 2009

By Dr Kamau Kinyenje

Gender identity disorder (GID) is the display of a strong, persistent desire to be of the opposite sex. The onset of GID-related behaviour usually occurs between the ages of two and four years.

GID manifests in pervasive cross-dressing, cross-gender role play, preoccupation with getting rid of one’s physical sex characteristics during adolescence and cross-gender peer play. GID is caused by a complex interaction of biological, genetic, family, social, and cultural factors. Having a child with cross-gender behaviour is often stressful for both the child and parents.

Whatever the case, it should be taken seriously. This is because the child might be teased by peers and adults, resulting in emotional disturbance. Parents play a major role in inculcating the child’s gender identity because children derive their gender identity from the messages communicated by their parents.

Gender identity problems are more common in children whose mothers experienced trauma or came from dysfunctional families. Sons of such women attempt to manage their anxiety, triggered by the mother’s emotional inaccessibility, with a fantasy in which they imagine themselves as “being Mummy” rather than “being with Mummy”.

And when a father is violent, the sons often try to reassure the mother, and sometimes the father, that they will not become a stereotypic male, whom they unconsciously fear.GID is more common in children of absentee parents who leave the child with no role model to emulate in terms of dressing, choosing toys or domestic chores.

Parents’ participation is important in the treatment of gender identity problems because they can reinforce or discourage certain behaviour. In the case of boys, for instance, the parents can improve a son’s relationship with his father by having the father spend more time with the boy as the mother steps back. Delaying puberty using cross-gender hormonal therapy might give the adolescent time to explore his or her gender identity.

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