How to Best Support Your Child “Coming Out”

January 25, 2024

Hello friends! I am passionate about working with children of all ages, but I find
that preteens especially experience many complex transitions that serve as
catalysts for their future growth. In particular, most children ages 9-12 begin
puberty and therefore begin exploring their sexuality*. I wish to provide a helpful
framework for parents in preparation of their child potentially “Coming Out” as a
member of the LGBTQ+ population so that they may best support their child with
compassion. Try to remember the 3 L’s when your child opens up to you: Listen,
Learn, and above all Love.

*NOTE: In this article I may discuss specifics related to being transgender, which is a part of
gender identity and NOT sexuality. However, I believe most of these points would also be helpful
for supporting a child coming out as trans.

Your Child Is the Expert

As someone that mostly works with adolescents, I know one of their biggest
complaints is that they feel like adults “never listen!” In vulnerable situations such
as revealing they identify as LGBTQ+, preteens will already fear judgment and
cruelty from the world around them. Therefore, aim to be a safe space where
they can speak freely about their life’s changes. Whether your child shares a ton
of information all at once or maintains a guarded demeanor, it is necessary to let
them share at their own pace. I understand that parents want all the answers
because they want to fiercely protect their child, but you must accept that it is not
possible to know the future! Kids might change their mind, they might not, and
they might face uncertainty at every turn that can be alleviated by a supportive
parent. In addition, please try not to invalidate their admissions because they are
the expert of their own experiences. Avoid comments like “Are you sure?” “You
are too young to know what you want” “This is just a phase”. The resulting
feelings of judgment from these words can cause irreparable damage to a child’s
self-esteem and the parent-child relationship.

Support Through Action

The next important step of supporting your LGBTQ+ child is openly displaying
your acceptance of the community. While you might already know the term “ally”,
to actually be an ally to the LGBTQ+ population one must be prepared to learn in
the face of their own discomfort! That means educating yourself on your child’s identity and the community as a whole (do not force your child to be the source of your education). This acceptance can be shown in attending Pride events, supporting queer artists/businesses, and volunteering time to organizations fighting LGBTQ+ persecution. In addition, let your child HEAR you be an ally: make it known that you do not tolerate discriminatory language, laws, or
treatment of the LGBTQ+ population. Call out prejudiced politicians and be
prepared to defend your beliefs to extended family or friends. This modeling of
acceptance will be priceless to a child feeling alone in their struggles.

How to Show Unconditional Love

The most important step in supporting a child coming out and exploring their
queer identity is to love that child. I want to remind parents that your children
cannot read your thoughts to see how much you care about them, and how you
would do anything for them no matter what. Preteens experience high levels of
insecurity and perceived judgment, so they require consistent validation and
affirmation to truly feel that love. Besides simply saying “I love you” (but please
say this a lot!), your compassion can be shown in your common habits. For
example, parents can take their children shopping for gender-affirming clothes or
self-care items that do not fit society’s norms. You can discuss their dating life
casually in the same way you would if they were cisgender and/or heterosexual.
Finally, you can discuss your rules and boundaries for safety in dating
relationships and emphasize that these rules are put in place because you love
them so much. Preach acceptance at every turn, show up for your child where it
matters, and treat them with the same level of kindness you have since they
were born.

When Additional Resources are Needed

Even if you provide a nurturing environment for your LGBTQ+ child, it is okay to
admit when you need more help. There are support groups for parents of trans
children that can help educate you and build community, and it might be helpful
to pursue your own individual counseling to process these changes. Look out for
warning signs of mental distress in your child and refer them to therapy and/or
psychiatric care as indicated. If you discover your child is being victimized at
school, do not hesitate to intervene through the proper channels and possibly
change schools if safety is at-risk. Overall, being a parent means trying your best
and accepting that things will never go perfectly. If your child comes out to you,
be prepared to welcome them with open arms.

Informative Resources:

jennifer sacco lcsw counselor therapist
Written By: Jennifer Sacco, LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker


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