The goal of this research was to investigate in a two-year longitudinal study how children’s gender atypicality relates to social anxiety and whether the association between atypicality and anxiety is moderated by parental acceptance of atypicality. Participants were 209 kindergarteners (Mage = 5.34 yrs, SD = 0.48, 52.2% girls), 206 s graders (Mage = 7.18 yrs, SD = 0.56, 50% girls), and 206 fourth graders (Mage = 9.10 yrs, SD = 0.66, 44.2% girls). Gender atypicality was assessed with a dual identity measure of gender similarity, which captures children’s felt similarity to girl and boy peers (and then is recoded into similarity to same- and other-gender peers). Measures of children’s gender atypicality (either low own gender similarity or high other gender similarity) were not directly related to teacher-reported social anxiety one year later. However, parental acceptance of gender atypicality moderated the relation between other-gender similarity and social anxiety although the nature of the moderation varied across age. For kindergartners, the positive relation between atypicality and anxiety was reversed (negative) when parents were more accepting; for 2nd graders, the positive relationship was exacerbated when parents were less accepting. Overall, parental acceptance appeared more important for younger children than for older children in protecting them from social anxiety related to gender atypicality. This work highlights the importance of parental acceptance related to gender atypicality early in development.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Sage.
Andrews, N. C., Martin, C. L., & Gallagher, A. M. (2016). On the association between self-reported own-and other-gender similarity and the use of physical and relational aggression in sixth grade children. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45(7), 1817–1826. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0685-z
Bem, S. L. (1984). Androgyny and gender schema theory: A conceptual and empirical integration. In T. B. Sonderegger (Ed.), Psychology and gender (pp. 178–222). University of Nebraska Press.
Brendel, K. E., & Maynard, B. R. (2014). Child–parent interventions for childhood anxiety disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Research on Social Work Practice, 24, 287–295. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049731513503713
Carter, D. B., & McCloskey, L. A. (1984). Peers and the maintenance of sex-typed behavior: The development of children’s conceptions of cross-gender behavior in their peers. Social Cognition, 2, 294–314. https://doi.org/10.1521/soco.19220.127.116.114
Conry-Murray, C., & Turiel, E. (2012). Jimmy’s baby doll and Jenny’s truck: Young children’s reasoning about gender norms. Child Development, 83, 146–158. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01696.x
Coyle, E. F., Fulcher, M., & Trűbutschek, D. (2016). Sissies, mama’s boys, and tomboys: Is children’s gender nonconformity more acceptable when nonconforming traits are positive? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 1827–1838. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0695-5
Egan, S. K., & Perry, D. G. (2001). Gender identity: A multidimensional analysis with implications for psychosocial adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 37(4), 451. https://doi.org/10.1037//0012-I618.104.22.168I
Ehrensaft, D. (2011). Boys will be girls, girls will be boys: Children affect parents as parents affect children in gender nonconformity. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 28(4), 528–548. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0023828
Endendijk, J. J., Andrews, N. C., England, D. E., & Martin, C. L. (2019). Gender-identity typologies are related to gender-typing, friendships, and social-emotional adjustment in Dutch emerging adults. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 43(4), 322–333. https://doi.org/10.1177/2F0165025418820686
Enders, C. K. (2010). Applied missing data analysis. Guilford Press.
Fast, A. A., & Olson, K. R. (2018). Gender development in transgender preschool children. Child Development, 89, 620–637. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12758
Feng, X., Shaw, D. S., & Silk, J. S. (2008). Developmental trajectories of anxiety symptoms among boys across early and middle childhood. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 117, 32–47. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-843X.117.1.32
Gülgöz, S., Glazier, J. J., Enright, E. A., Alonso, D. J., Durwood, L. J., Fast, A. A., Lowe, R., Ji, C., Heer, J., Martin, C. L., & Olson, K. R. (2019). Similarity in transgender and cisgender children’s gender development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116, 24480–24485. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1909367116
Halim, M. L., Ruble, D. N., Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., & Shrout, P. E. (2013). Rigidity in gender-typed behaviors in early childhood: A longitudinal study of ethnic minority children. Child Development, 84, 1269–1284. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12057
Halim, M. L., Ruble, D. N., Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., Zosuls, K. M., Lurye, L. E., & Greulich, F. (2014). Pink frilly dresses and the avoidance of all things “girly”: Children’s appearance rigidity and cognitive theories of gender development. Developmental Psychology, 50, 1091–1101. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0034906.supp
Hill, D. B., Menvielle, E., Sica, K. M., & Johnson, A. (2010). An affirmative intervention for families with gender variant children: Parental ratings of child mental health and gender. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 36(1), 6–23. https://doi.org/10.1080/00926230903375560
Horn, S. S. (2007). Adolescents’ acceptance of same-sex peers based on sexual orientation and gender expression. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36, 363–371. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-006-9111-0
Hox, J. (1998). Multilevel modeling: When and why. In I. Balderjahn, R. Mathar, & M. Schader (Eds.), Classification, data analysis, and data highways (pp. 147–154). Springer, Verlag. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-72087-1_17
Jewell, J. A., & Brown, C. S. (2014). Relations among gender typicality, peer relations, and mental health during early adolescence. Social Development, 23, 137–156. https://doi.org/10.1111/sode.12042
Johnson, L. L., Bradley, S. J., Birkenfeld-Adams, A. S., Radzins Kuksis, M. A., Maing, D. M., Mitchell, J. N., & Zucker, K. J. (2004). A parent-report gender identity questionnaire for children. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 33, 105–116. https://doi.org/10.1023/B:ASEB.0000014325.68094.f3
Katz-Wise, S. L., Ehrensaft, D., Vetters, R., Forcier, M., & Austin, S. B. (2018). Family functioning and mental health of transgender and gender-nonconforming youth in the Trans Teen and Family Narratives Project. Journal of Sex Research, 55(4–5), 582–590. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1415291
Klein, D. A., Ahmed, A. E., Murphy, M. A., Pearlman, A. T., Johnson, N., Gray, J. C., & Schvey, N. A. (2022). The mediating role of family acceptance and conflict on suicidality among sexual and gender minority youth. Archives of Suicide Research, 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1080/13811118.2022.2075815
Klemmer, C., Rusow, J., Goldbach, J., Kattari, S. K., & Rice, E. (2019). Socially assigned gender nonconformity and school violence experience among transgender and cisgender adolescents. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 36, 15–16. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260519844781
Kline, R. B. (2006). Principles and practice of structural equation modeling (2nd ed.). Guilford Publications.
Kuhn, D., Nash, S. C., & Brucken, L. (1978). Sex role concepts of two-and three-year-olds. Child Development, 49, 445–451. https://doi.org/10.2307/1128709
Kuvalanka, K. A., Weiner, J. L., Munroe, C., Goldberg, A. E., & Gardner, M. (2017). Trans and gender-nonconforming children and their caregivers: Gender presentations, peer relations, and well-being at baseline. Journal of Family Psychology, 31, 889. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0000338
La Greca, A. M., & Stone, W. (1993). Social anxiety scale for children revised: Factor structure and concurrent validity. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 22, 17–27. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15374424jccp2201_2
Leaper, C. (2014). Gender and social-cognitive development. In R. Lerner, L. S. Liben, & U. Mueller (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology and developmental science (2 vol.). Wiley.
Lurye, L. E., Zosuls, K. M., & Ruble, D. N. (2008). Gender identity and adjustment: Understanding the impact of individual and normative differences in sex-typing. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 120, 31–46. https://doi.org/10.1002/cd.214
MacMullin, L. N., Bokeloh, L. M., Nabbijohn, A. N., Santarossa, A., van der Miesen, A. I. R., Peragine, D. E., & VanderLaan, D. P. (2021). Examining the relation between gender nonconformity and psychological well-being in children: The roles of peers and parents. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 50, 823–841. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01832-6
Martin, C. L. (1989). Children’s use of gender-related information in making social judgments. Developmental Psychology, 25, 80–88. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-1622.214.171.124
Martin, C. L. (1990). Attitudes and expectations about children with nontraditional and traditional gender roles. Sex Roles, 22, 151–165. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00288188
Martin, C. L., Andrews, N. C., England, D. E., Zosuls, K., & Ruble, D. N. (2017a). A dual identity approach for conceptualizing and measuring children’s gender identity. Child Development, 88, 167–182. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12568
Martin, C. L., Cook, R., & Andrews, N. C. Z. (2017b). Reviving androgyny: A modern day perspective on flexibility of gender identity and behavior. Sex Roles, 76, 592–603. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0602-5
Meyer, I. H. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: Conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 674–697. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.129.5.674
Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (2017). Mplus user’s guide (8 th Ed). Muthén & Muthén.
Olson, K., Durwood, L., DeMeules, M., & McLaughlin, K. A. (2016). Mental health of transgender children who are supported in their identities. Pediatrics, 137, https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2015-3223
Perry, D. G., Pauletti, R. E., & Cooper, P. J. (2019). Gender identity in childhood: A review of the literature. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 43, 289–304. https://doi.org/10.1177/0165025418811129
Poteat, V. P., & Espelage, D. L. (2007). Predicting psychosocial consequences of homophobic victimization in middle school students. Journal of Early Adolescence, 27, 175–191. https://doi.org/10.1177/0272431606294839
Price, M., Olezeski, C., McMahon, T., & Hill, N. (2019). A developmental perspective on victimization faced by gender-nonconforming youth. In H. Fitzgerald (Ed.), Handbook of children and prejudice: Integrating research, practice, and policy (pp. 447–461). Springer US.
Rubin, K. H., Coplan, R. J., & Bowker, J. C. (2009). Social withdrawal in childhood. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 141–171. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.60.110707.163642
Shilo, G., & Savaya, R. (2012). Mental health of Lesbian, Gay, and bisexual youth and young adults: Differential effects of age, gender, religiosity, and sexual orientation. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 22, 310–325. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-16126.96.36.1992
Shutts, K., Roben, C. K. P., & Spelke, E. S. (2013). Children’s use of social categories in thinking about people and social relationships. Journal of Cognition and Development, 14, 35–62.
Signorella, M. L., Bigler, R. S., & Liben, L. S. (1993). Developmental differences in children’s gender schemata about others: A meta-analytic review. Developmental Review, 13, 147–183. https://doi.org/10.1006/drev.1993.1007
Simons, L., Schrager, S. M., Clark, L. F., Belzer, M., & Olson, J. (2013). Parental support and mental health among transgender adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53, 791–793. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2013.07.019
Smith, T. E., & Leaper, C. (2006). Self-perceived gender typicality and the peer context during adolescence. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 16, 91–103. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-7795.2006.00123.x
Sroufe, L. A., Bennett, C., Englund, M., Urban, J., & Shulman, S. (1993). The significance of gender boundaries in preadolescence: Contemporary correlates and antecedents of boundary violation and maintenance. Child Development, 64, 455–466. https://doi.org/10.2307/1131262
Stein, D. J., Lim, C., Roest, A. M., de Jonge, P., Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., Al-Hamzawi, A., Alonso, J., Benjet, C., Bromet, E. J., Bruffaerts, R., de Girolamo, G., Florescu, S., Gureje, O., Haro, J. M., Harris, M. G., He, Y., Hinkov, H., Horiguchi, I., Hu, C., & WHO World Mental Health Survey Collaborators. (2017). The cross-national epidemiology of social anxiety disorder: Data from the world mental health survey initiative. BMC Medicine, 15, 143. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-017-0889-2
Steinberg, L., & Morris, A. S. (2001). Adolescent development. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 83–107. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.83
Toomey, R. B. (2021). Advancing research on minority stress and resilience in trans children and adolescents in the 21st century. Child Development Perspectives, 15, 96–102. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12405
Trautner, H. M., Ruble, D. N., Cyphers, L., Kirsten, B., Behrendt, R., & Hartman, P. (2005). Rigidity and flexibility of gender stereotypes in children: Developmental or differential? Infant and Child Development, 14, 365–380. https://doi.org/10.1002/icd.399
Turban, J. L., & Ehrensaft, D. (2018). Research review: Gender identity in youth: Treatment paradigms and controversies. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 59(12), 1228–1243. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12833
van Beijsterveldt, C. E. M., Hudziak, J. J., & Boomsma, D. I. (2006). Genetic and environmental influences on cross-gender behavior and relation to behavior problems: A study of dutch twins at ages 7 and 10 years. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35, 647–658. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-006-9072-0
van Beusekom, G., Bos, H. M., Overbeek, G., & Sandfort, T. G. (2015). Same-sex attraction, gender nonconformity, and mental health: The protective role of parental acceptance. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 2, 307.
Waters, L., & Sun, J. (2017). Can a brief strength-based parenting intervention boost self-efficacy and positive emotions in parents? International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology, 1, 41–56. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41042-017-0007-x
Wilson, B. D. M., Choi, S. K., Herman, J. L., Becker, T. L., & Conron, K. J. (2017). Characteristics and mental health of gender nonconforming adolescents in California: Findings from the 2015–2016 California health interview survey. The Williams Institute.
Xiao, S. X., Cook, R. E., Martin, C. L., & Nielson, M. G. (2019). Characteristics of preschool gender enforcers and peers who associate with them. Sex Roles, 81, 671–685. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-019-01026-y
Xiao, S. X., Hoffer, A., Martin, C. L., & Jenkins, D. (2021). Early adolescents’ gender typicality and depressive symptoms: The moderating role of parental acceptance. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 42(6), 822–840. https://doi.org/10.1177/2F02724316221078832
Yunger, J. L., Carver, P. R., & Perry, D. G. (2004). Does gender identity influence children’s psychological well-being? Developmental Psychology, 40(4), 572. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-16188.8.131.522
Zosuls, K. M., Ruble, D. N., Tamis-Lemonda, C. S., Shrout, P. E., Bornstein, M. H., & Greulich, F. K. (2009). The acquisition of gender labels in infancy: Implications for gender-typed play. Developmental Psychology, 45, 688–701. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0014053
Zosuls, K. M., Andrews, N. C., Martin, C. L., England, D. E., & Field, R. D. (2016). Developmental changes in the link between gender typicality and peer victimization and exclusion. Sex Roles, 75, 243–256. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0608-z
The research was supported by the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics as part of the Children’s Attitudes Relationships and Education (CARE) Project, which is a Lives of Girls and Boys Initiative.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Xiao, S.X., Hoffer, A.L., Benoit, R.L. et al. Parents Matter: Accepting Parents Have Less Anxious Gender Expansive Children. Sex Roles 89, 459–474 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-023-01387-5