As children grow, they develop a framework that helps them understand themselves and the world around them. Among other things, a child’s environment teaches them what romantic relationships look like and what being a “girl” or “boy” means. No matter where children are in their development, parents can create a supportive environment for a child who comes out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or who questions their sexual orientation or gender identity (LGBTQ).
Research shows that family acceptance correlates with improved physical and psychological health for LGBTQ youth. However, acceptance does not begin when children or adolescents come out as LGBTQ. Children learn their family’s level of acceptance of LGBTQ persons through their actions and words before coming out.
Here are some ways that families can create an accepting environment for children and adolescents to feel comfortable coming out.
Understand LGBTQ Terminology
Words matter. Parents should keep up to date on appropriate LGBTQ terminology and teach children about what the terms mean as well. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has resources on how to talk with children about LGBTQ words and has definitions for both kids and adults.
Read Books Featuring LGBTQ Individuals to Children
Books can show children examples of LGBTQ families and individuals. This teaches children that there are many types of families and that people can identify either with the sex they were assigned at birth or with a different gender.
Use Language That Makes No Assumptions
When someone assumes a person is attracted to the opposite sex or identifies with a sex assigned at birth, this implies that any other sexual orientation or gender identity is “not normal.” It is best to use language that incorporates all sexual orientations or gender identities. Examples would include “partner” instead of “husband or wife” or “everyone” instead of “ladies and gentleman.”
Stand Up to Derogatory Comments
Standing up to people who use derogatory comments sets an example for children that negativity about others will not be tolerated and that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. Many children are exposed to derogatory statements about LGBTQ individuals in society. Prepare children to acknowledge that it can be scary to challenge mean comments, but it is important to show that it is not okay to be mean and hurtful to others.
Spend Time in LGBTQ Inclusive Spaces
When children are in schools, places of worship and health care environments that are not LGBTQ affirming, it perpetuates the notion that being LGBTQ is “weird” or “not normal.” Ensuring your child is exposed to an affirming environment in the home and outside of the home as much as possible can improve your child’s physical and mental health and create a safe place for LGBTQ children to come out.
For more information on Nationwide Children's Hospital’s THRIVE program, which specializes in care for differences/ disorders of sex development (DSD), complex urological conditions, and gender concerns, click here.
Gina Minot (pronouns she/her/hers) is a clinical social worker in the THRIVE gender program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Her background includes experience working in behavioral health, substance use treatment, and crisis intervention. She received her Master of Social Work degree at The Ohio State University.
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