Anyone with even the faintest memory of adolescence can likely remember how terrifying it was to let your mom and dad in on a secret you’d been keeping (from them, at least). Even so, the fear and anxiety a kid feels when they open up to their families about being gay is unimaginable to anyone who hasn’t had to come out themselves. The reaction a child gets in this situation can have a profound and lasting impact, so what are the best things to say when your child comes out to you?
No matter how surprised they are, parents should “show empathy, support, and acceptance” during that initial conversation with their child, licensed clinical social worker Kathryn Smerling, Ph.D., tells Romper. What does the ideal response look like? It depends on your unique situation but, in general, it will leave your child feeling secure, supported, and like a weight has been lifted from their shoulders.
A child’s coming out can give their parent a “deeper understanding of who they are,” licensed professional counselor Leigh McInnis tells Romper, and serves as an opportunity for the two of them to “build a foundation for meaningful conversations and a stronger relationship.”
And while it’s natural to feel a spectrum of emotions when your kid comes out to you, this is not the time to bring up any worries that you might have.
“Reinforce the parent-child boundary by allowing them to voice questions, concerns, and fears without unloading yours onto them,” says McInnis. She notes that you should “have other supports in your life,” such as a friend, partner, or counselor “with whom you can discuss your own big feelings.”
Let the following expert suggestions for what to say when your kid comes out inform and inspire your own responses and read all the books and articles you can on the subject to educate yourself so that you can be an ally to your LBGTQ child.
- “I love you no matter what”
Both McInnis and Dr. Smerling agree: Reassuring your child that they’re loved is one of the most important things a parent can do in this (or really any) situation. Don’t worry about how to say it; your words can be as simple as, “I love you, no matter what,” says Dr. Smerling
- “Thank you for trusting me”
Coming out can be an incredibly scary thing, especially for kids. The fact that your kid feels secure enough in their relationship with you to open up is a really big deal. “Let your child know that you appreciate their openness [and] that they trusted coming to you,” says McInnis.
- “I respect and admire your self-awareness”
Making the decision to come out to your parents is incredibly difficult, and any kid who does it needs to know they did an admirable thing. Telling your kid that you love and accept them is important but telling your child that you “respect their choices” will help them to recognize their own bravery and integrity, says McInnis.
- “I appreciate you coming to me. I’m always here to talk about anything.”
As much as you may want to dive into long talks and learn more about this part of your child, they may need a little space to come down from such an emotional experience. If that’s the case, McInnis suggests using this line to let your your kid know that they can always come to you and that you will be ready to listen: “I appreciate you coming to me. I’m always here to talk about anything.”
- “What is the best way for me to support you right now?”
You might be tempted to ask your kid a thousand questions (like how long they’ve known or if they’re seeing anyone), but Dr. Smerling says the best question a parent can ask their child is simply how they can help. Maybe they’ll want some tips for telling another family
- “I will fight for you”
Your child may be confident in coming out to you, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t nervous about how the rest of the world will respond. “Parents can be truthful about what is going on regarding tolerance and equality,” says McInnis, “but should tie conversations back to the fact that no matter how your child feels or what they go through, you will be their backbone of love and support no matter what.”
- “I’m excited to learn about this part of your life”Talking to your child about their relationships may feel uncomfortable in general, but it’s especially important not to let your child’s coming out be your first and last conversation on the topic. “Deeper conversations of support and regular check-ins should be ongoing,” says McInnis. So, let them know you’re open to, and planning on, talking about this again.
- “I’m sorry. I didn’t handle that the way I would have liked to”
As with most things in parenting, your initial reaction might not be perfect, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be rectified. “If your immediate reaction wasn’t ‘ideal,’ start with an honest apology,” McInnis explains. “Your support and acceptance likely matter much more than others, so let your child know they can count on that from you,” she continues. “Ask open-ended questions to avoid intentionally or unintentionally communicating judgment.”
Leigh McInnis, a Licensed Professional Counselor and Executive Director of Newport Academy in Virginia
Kathryn Smerling, Ph.D., LCSW
Article originally published on Romper