Of course, we love our kids unconditionally, but it’s not always easy to know how to support them when they’re going through something you don’t fully understand or can’t relate to—like coming out as LGBTQ+.
If you have a kid who’s exploring their gender and/or sexual identity and is starting to express that in some way—well, no matter how LGBTQ-friendly you thought you were, you still might not know how to proceed.
It’s totally OK to feel uncertain about things, but what kids need most is our love and support. So read on to learn how to help LGBTQ+ kids have a positive experience when discussing their identity.
Even if your family isn’t in this situation currently (or ever), these are universal tips that EVERY parent should have in their toolbox.
Congratulations are in order
First of all, no matter how worried/afraid/unprepared you may feel about your kid’s LGBTQ+ identity, remember that there’s a lot to celebrate when a child is coming out!
- Your child feels comfortable and confident enough to express themselves to you and/or friends
- Your child shows a level of self-awareness that many people don’t have until later in life
- You have so much to learn from—and with—your child, plus an opportunity to bond with them during this important time in your lives
So be sure to tell your child how proud you are, and how proud THEY should be!
“Coming out” is a lifelong process
“Coming out” doesn’t have to be an official moment when an LGBTQ+ kid makes a big reveal. In fact, it’s likely to be something that evolves over time. At various ages, kids might:
- Explore gender through clothing/hairstyles
- Research LGBTQ+ identities online
- Feel different from others without knowing why
- Develop a crush that makes them wonder
- Test out different pronouns or names
All of these are natural ways to express and explore gender and sexuality, and may or not mean they’re ready to “come out” to the world, or even that they will identify as LGBTQ+.
Create an open, safe environment
Parents can do a lot to help kids feel safe, loved, and listened to regardless of whether they ultimately identify as LGBTQ+ or not. From an early age, you can:
- Encourage friendships with kids of any gender, and don’t make comments about little “boyfriends” or “girlfriends”
- Make sure kids have groups/communities where they’re safe to dress/express themselves however they wish
- Expose them to role models of various genders and LGBTQ+ identities, including people in nontraditional gender roles
- Speak positively about things like: diverse families/relationships, Pride flags/celebrations, nontraditional clothing/hair choices, etc.
Affirm, love, and thank your LGBTQ+ kid or teen
When a child is coming out, they first need to know that you love them no matter what. Your child is looking to you for love and support, not judgment.
Even if you have your reservations about what your child has expressed, affirming their identity and pronouns is one of the most important things you can do for your child’s mental health and resilience—and your relationship with them.
Thank your child for sharing what they told you. There was a lot leading up to this moment, and it was probably not easy.
Listen, learn, and be honest
Feel free to ask respectful (nonjudgmental) questions about their experience. They may not be ready to answer right away, but let them know you’re there to listen anytime.
Be honest: Say that you need to learn more and might make mistakes. But don’t expect them to do all the explaining/correcting.
Educate yourself so that you can be fully on board with your kid’s identity and pronouns, and help explain them to others when your child needs support.
There are plenty of online resources you can start with, such as:
- My Kid Is Gay
- Gender Spectrum
If you have issues with your child’s LGBTQ+ identity, remember that they are your issues. Understandably, you might be worried about your kid’s future, unsure of how to tell friends and family, or even upset that you didn’t know earlier.
You can talk to a support group, a therapist, a friend, or an online forum about how you feel. Be sure to take care of your own emotions, so you can be there for your kid.
(But also protect your child’s privacy, especially if they’re not ready to tell the whole world/extended family quite yet.)
Be an advocate for LGBTQ+ kids and teens
Learn what else you can do to support your kid’s coming out experience: Does your extended family need to work on its language? Does your school need to update its policies regarding bathrooms, prom, pronouns, or bullying? Make sure your child knows you’re there to help with problem-solving.
What else can you do in the wider community? Join a local LGBTQ+ group for families, attend Pride events or volunteer together, or learn how to advocate for policies that enforce LGBTQ+ rights.
This article was originally published June 17, 2021.