Family, Kids & Relationships LGBTQ+

How to have conversations about gender/sexuality when your child is embarrassed

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Are you doing your best to be a supportive parent when it comes to LGBTQ+ identities or sex ed, but your kid just shuts down or gets embarrassed when you try to talk about it? 

You’re not alone — most parents have had those moments when they’re trying their best to teach their kid about consent, bodily autonomy, nonbinary identities, dating, etc. and their child squeals, “Ew, I don’t want to talk about this!” and flees to their room. 

Don’t take it personally! It can be complicated for kids to talk about identity, sexuality, and relationships with their parents/caregivers. Even if you think you’re being as cool as you can be. 

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you try to open up the lines of communication with your child while showing your unconditional love. 

Don’t put them on the spot

Your kid might not be ready to talk or even ask you any questions directly. Be patient, and just make sure they know your door is always open!

When you do talk, initiate conversations in a neutral setting where they don’t need to make eye contact, like in the car or while doing chores together.

Don’t put your child in boxes

Wouldn’t it be nice if kids didn’t feel like they had to “come out” because you never assumed anything about them in the first place?

Maybe they’re not ready to name their feelings, they’re not sure yet who they’re interested in, they have a fluid/changing identity, they want space to explore, or they just don’t think about it in the same way you do.

Even if they do share something with you, don’t jump to conclusions about what that will mean for them.

Talk about it indirectly

Mention other people’s gender expression and sexuality in casual, normalizing ways, so that your kid already knows how you feel if they’re interested in testing the waters at some point.

You can tell a story about a bisexual character on a show, a gender-neutral clothing brand, or your coworker’s pronouns — and then be sure to show your unwavering, judgment-free support. 

Don’t expect a response or try to interpret their lack of response. Just think of it as you setting up the background scenery for an inclusive, supportive household.

Keep it practical

Rather than trying to tackle a big, abstract question, talk about the practical-level details instead. For example:

  • “Your grandma asked what kind of clothes you need. Do you feel like there’s anything you want to add to your wardrobe? She once told me that she hated having to wear skirts to school.”
  • “You know if you ever need contraception or another form of protection, I’ll support you in getting it. There are a lot of options that can be overwhelming.”

Model your support in other ways

Rather than just telling your child that you’ll love them no matter what (which is very important!), you can also show your genuine support for all identities by:

  • Being an actively ally to LGBTQ+ friends, coworkers, and community groups
  • Making everyday language choices to replace heteronormative and overly gendered phrases
  • Diversifying your media consumption, including family movie/TV/reading time
  • Taking a stance against hateful remarks in the news or by public officials

Offer communication options

No matter how supportive you are, kids might naturally clam up around you. You can let them know you’re there for them via many different avenues:

  • “You can always write me a note or email if there’s something on your mind.”
  • “If you ever want to talk to a counselor or check out a discussion group for teens, let me know and we can make it happen.”
  • “You don’t have to respond, but just give me a thumbs-down if I’m totally off-base.”
  • “Your older cousin started a QSA at her school. I’m sure she’d be happy to talk or text anytime. I’ll leave you her number just so you have it.”

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.