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Parents Matter: Accepting Parents Have Less Anxious Gender Expansive Children


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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Sonya Xinyue Xiao.

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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).

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