Coming out: How to support your child

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Coming out can still be an intensely emotional experience – especially for a child, teen or adolescent. According to stats by Stonewall, an LGBTQIA+ rights charity in the United Kingdom, approximately half of the LGBTQIA+ community have experienced depression and 3 in 5 struggled with anxiety. Furthermore, 1 in 8 have died by suicide.

Coming out to your family can be one of the most difficult and courageous steps for anyone – young or old – in the LGBTQIA+ community to take. As a parent, what you say, how you react and the way you show support will lay the foundation for protecting your child’s mental health and self-acceptance.

Use our guideline to ensure you provide the right support to a child who identifies with the queer community.

How to navigate the conversation

Tell them you love them
Affirmation starts at home, and fostering an accepting family is as important as an accepting society. When your child opens up to you, tell them that you love them and thank them for telling you. This reassures them that they are safe and still have your support. It also shows that they can trust you and that they don’t have to fear rejection.

Don’t ignore them
Even if the news is difficult to process, don’t dismiss what your child has shared. Opening up, particularly when there’s the possibility of rejection, takes a great deal of courage. If you need time to think, listen to them attentively and then suggest another time to discuss everything in detail. This will give your child a breather and you the opportunity to gather questions and resources.

Avoid saying ‘I knew all along’
Revealing that you’ve made assumptions about your child’s identity while they were still trying to process their feelings can be hurtful. It may also show that you subscribe to society’s stereotypes of the LGBTQIA+ community. Your child has a unique journey, so ask them to tell you their story so you have a better understanding.

Don’t call it ‘just a phase’
Chances are your child took months, if not years, to work through their identity. Furthermore, they navigated this while dealing with society’s pressure to label everything. Even if you don’t agree with or believe what your child has shared with you, respect it. Don’t force your views on them, as it invalidates their thoughts and feelings.

Show your continued support

There’s a real possibility that your child is experiencing challenges that you aren’t aware of or may not fully understand. This could include bullying at school, insufficient support and a lack of resources. Ask them what kind of support they need, but do your own research too.

Some local resources for the LGBTQIA+ community are:

  • The Triangle Project, which offers counselling and support to the South African queer community.
  • Same Love Toti, which provides local workshops for schools, businesses and communities. It also is a safe environment and offers support to queer children and their families.
  • The South African Depression and Anxiety Group, which offers support and therapy for children, adults and families with issues related to identity, sexuality and general mental health issues.

Do your homework
Showing a continued interest will cement your support. Try these activities to become an ally to your child and the queer community:

  • Learn important terminologies. For example, if they have come out as pansexual or bisexual, read up on this to get a better understanding.
  • Do some research. This could include how much the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community have changed over time, and the discrimination they have faced historically and currently face.
  • Support those organisations that support the queer community with donations or volunteer work.

For more parenting and family advice, read these helpful articles:

The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a professional. E&OE.

References:


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