The importance of resilience for transgender children and teens cannot be overstated. The transgender experience brings uncharted and unfamiliar waters and often a plethora of tidal waves for many children and youth-- along with some refreshing reprieves and welcome weeks and months of smooth sailing. Clearly, learning coping skills and acquiring a strong belief in oneself and in the power of hope, are essential survival skills. “Resilience is the individual’s ability to withstand and recover from stress and perceived or real obstacles. A resilient person is able to thrive in spite of setbacks and challenges experienced in everyday living (Brill and Kenney, The Transgender Teen, p. 264).” Brill and Kenney contend that the youth or teen’s perceptions of not belonging, as well as their feelings of being a burden to others, frequently predict depression and suicide. However, if youth are able and ready to form a positive gender identity, their resilience to challenging life conditions also increases. Brill and Kenney maintain that three key components that support positive gender identity are (a) family acceptance; (b) social support (schools and friends, community, and professionals); and (c) self-pride.
Paralleling the resiliency defense for the transgender individual is the defense of mindfulness; that is, the individual’s process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences that are presently occurring, often developed through the practice of meditation and thought-altering training. (Brill, 2016; Cardaciotti, L, Herbert, J.D., Foroma, E.M., Moitra, E., & Farrow, V., (2008). Because of its usefulness in handling emotions, mindfulness is gaining worldwide recognition and implementation. The practice of mindfulness holds the promise of embracing a deeper unity between ourselves and others that simultaneously serves to enhance our lives and theirs (Kabat-Zinn, 2012). Specific strategies in managing emotions and developing mindfulness that are useful to all individuals and, perhaps, specifically the transgender teen, include the following (Brill, 2016; Neff, 2011; Kabbat-Zinn (2012); Kornfield, (2008):
1. Teach your child or youth the art of managing emotions; demonstrate mindfulness techniques on a daily basis using real life situations to practice and learn. For example, after a family disagreement, analyze the situation and discuss how it might have been handled more calmly with each family member allowed to respectfully voice their feelings and concerns and offer solutions.
2. In schools, at home, and in groups, practice and teach meditation and yoga techniques. Classroom teachers may wish to allocate a weekly or semi-weekly time slot in which a yoga instructor visits the class and, using music, speech, and instructions, the youth learn meditation and relaxation strategies. Conversely, schools and communities may offer after-school or weekend yoga classes.
3. Help your child or youth learn about mindfulness; together, take the 25-item online Mindfulness Quiz from Greater Good. Calculate each person’s scores. Discuss where improvement is needed and how to increase your mindfulness and acceptance of your own faults, shortcomings, fears, and areas of regret or sadness as well as develop compassion and understanding for yourself and for all others.
4. Help your child or teen to choose emotionally stable, supportive friends. Monitor group interactions and, when needed, intervene to remind children to show respect and open-mindedness for all. Enlist children’s and youth’s literature with supportive messages to encourage children and youth to accept others who are different from themselves. The Trans Youth Equality Foundation (TYEF) has compiled an extensive and up-to- date Book Listing for several groups including young children, youth, and teens and adults/providers. (For more information about high quality recommended books for and about transgender individuals, please visit Resources on this website.)
5. As a family or class, develop expectations for conflict management skills; assign weekly times for sharing, talking, and expressing emotions. Assign tasks, also, to manage the day. Increase listening and sharing time. Set rules for respecting others, using a respectful voice, and not interrupting. Establish natural consequences for not following mindfulness rules; for example, if one child consistently interrupts or talks over other children, that child loses their opportunity to share that day.
6. Be aware of, and involved in, your child or teen’s daily life, including their activities, friends, books, games, television shows, talents, accomplishments, and challenges. Celebrate accomplishments to encourage continual motivation and growth.
7. Maintain physical health; ensure sufficient sleep time. For example, some families limit the use of computers and other technological devices for non-school subjects to one hour per day for non-school subjects on week days and two hours per day on weekends. Availability of additional time sans technology will allow for more of the following in the child’s or youth’s life: (a) family and friend interactions and outdoor outings; (b) real-life situations; (c) time to exercise mindfulness; (d) development of talents; (e) sleep and meditation; and (f) physical activity.
8. Take “sensory walks.” Identify opportunities for experiencing nature each day. Experience all of the senses such as hearing the snow crunch beneath our feet and the woodpecker calls, smelling the pine trees, tasting the healthy snacks from the backpack, seeing the colors of the trees and the sky and observing the cloud formations, and touching the rough bark of the tree trunks and the smooth feel of the grass. Adults report that youth are rejuvenated and more focused on tasks following periods of outdoor play, walking, and exercise.
9. Try “raisin meditation.” Distribute one raisin to each child or youth in your group. Ask them to chew it slowly and notice the texture and taste of the raisin. Urge students and group members to pay more attention to the food and drinks that they consume in their daily lives and to practice mindful eating; again, the adult plays an important role in modeling healthy and mindful eating.
10. “Body Scan Meditation:” Help your group members or students to accept and love their own bodies, regardless of their girth or height. Body dysphoria, which is a manifestation of body discomfort, anxiety, or body loathing, is common among transgender children and youth. With transgender individuals, particularly, it is important to stress the power of “yet.” For example, remind them that, although some aspects of their bodies are not yet the way they would like them to be, in time, and through puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy, possibly surgery, and/or selected clothing and hair styling, their appearances and voices can and will change. For individuals who are transgender and gender fluid, help them to recognize aspects about their bodies and themselves that they like, such as kind eyes, graceful hands, beautiful hair, art talent, or great coordination. Remind them, also, that beauty is only skin deep, and that the real person lies within.
Share this poignant message with your transgender child or friend, “Once upon a time, someone drew a line in the sands of culture and proclaimed with great self- importance, “On this side you are a man; on the other side you are a woman.” It’s time for the winds of change to blow that line away.” Remind them that the winds of change are always blowing and that the cycle of life ensures us that events and circumstances are guaranteed to be different tomorrow and next year from how they appear and effect us today.
-Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaw (1994, Routledge)
Susan Trostle Brand, D.Ed.
Trans Youth Equality Foundation Board Advisor
Professor of Education and Social Justice
University of Rhode Island