Mental Health

What To Do (& NOT Do) When Your Child Comes Out to You

By January 25, 2024No Comments

Coming out can be an intensely emotional and personal experience for a queer or questioning person, despite the recent progress the world seems to have made around LGBTQ+ rights and equality. Coming out means making yourself vulnerable and facing the potential of rejection. So when it’s a child who’s coming out, it’s particularly important to be supportive. Kids can feel very alone, especially if they live in an area without an active LGBTQ+ support system, don’t have good peer relationships, or if family dynamics make having a queer identity difficult. Kids also don’t often have the resources or abilities to advocate for themselves in an adult world, so it’s important for the grownups in their lives to step into that role.

Let’s start at the beginning: what does the phrase, “coming out” mean? Coming out (or “coming out of the closet”) is a metaphor used to describe an LGBTQ+ person’s self-disclosure of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Why might your child decide to come out? If they’re coming out to you now, trust that it’s something they’ve been thinking about for a while. Maybe they are tired of hearing other people use negative stereotypes or homophobic labels. Maybe they are ready to start dating and want their close friends and family members to know. Or maybe they just don’t want people making assumptions / gossiping about them.

At any age, coming out to a parent or caregiver can be a monumental moment for most LGBTQ+ people. So if your child comes out to you, there are plenty of things you can do (and some things you should definitely not do) to support them. This blog shares tips that parents, adult family members and caregivers can lean on when kids in their lives come out to them, to provide the child with the care, support, and validation they need to thrive.


What to Do (& NOT Do) When Your Child Comes Out to You

Most kids probably won’t verbalize that they’re having questions about who they’re attracted to, or that they don’t feel right in the body they were born in. Being comfortable enough to reveal these feelings to parents, friends (or even to ourselves) can be a long and difficult process. And you shouldn’t push your kid to talk about it, even if you’re picking up on signs (e.g. things they say, changes in the way they dress, things they post on social media, reports from school or other parents, etc.). So instead of saying something like, “do you think you might be gay?” or “I’ve noticed you’ve been dressing differently,” it’s usually better to check in with more open-ended questions that let them know you’re there if they need you. Comments like, “I hope you know I’m here for you no matter what, and that you can talk to me about anything that’s going on in your life.” You can also let them know that if they’d rather talk to someone outside the family, that you can arrange for them to meet with their pediatrician, another trusted adult, or with a therapist.

  • DO listen, & let them speak. Listen respectfully to your child’s experience and what they’re telling you about their identity, and don’t interrupt or pass judgment. Regardless of whether it’s a big announcement or something they mention in passing, it’s important to listen and follow their lead, then respond respectfully. You may feel awkward at first, but that’s okay – because your awkwardness pales in comparison to how they’re feeling! The important thing is to help them know that you take their feelings seriously.
  • DO tell them you believe them, and love them. The fear of parental rejection is very real for most kids, so if you do nothing else, just tell your kid you love them. It’s literally impossible to say those words too many times right now.
  • DO thank them for telling you. Thank your child for being vulnerable and trusting you with this information, and assure them that they are safe and loved. Yes, they may roll their eyes or try to minimize the impact, but they need to hear you say those words.
  • DO ask them what kind of support they need:
    • Find out if they think they’re ready to come out to anyone else in your family, or if they’d like you t to keep this between the two of you right now.
    • Ask if they’re comfortable being out at school, and if there are any situations (bullying etc.) that need to be addressed.
    • Ask if they know of / would like you to look into local youth programs to try out to meet other LGBTQ+ kids in the area.
    • If it appears they are struggling with the coming out process or with their identity, now is also a good time to consider whether therapy might be a good support.
  • DO get support for yourself, too. It’s completely natural for you to have questions and even anxieties after your child comes out to you. Finding support for yourself in the form of tools and knowledge will help you better support your kid, and finding someone to talk to (trusted friend or a therapist) can help you process your feelings. Look into affirming books, websites and programming too, to help you learn more about being the parent of an LGBTQ+ child. If your child’s pediatrician is a trusted resource, you can ask them for info too.
  • DO commit to being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+ terminology is evolving and important to your child, so take the time and learn more! Also learn about the understanding of identities; the history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement; LGBTQ+ icons that you and your child can look up to; and organizations around the world and across town that are working to make the world a more affirming place for LGBTQ+ kids.

Here’s some important things to NOT do. 

Even if you are uncomfortable with the news, show affection, respect, and avoid saying things that are purposefully hurtful:

  • DON’T ignore it. Even if you’re fine about your kid coming out, ignoring it may send them the exact opposite message, or make them think that you didn’t hear what they said or weren’t paying attention. Coming out is a process that involves more than one conversation. You’re both bound to think of more questions / things you want to say. It’s totally fine to respectfully return to the conversation when you’re both in the mental space to do so.
  • DON’T be hard on yourself if you say the wrong thing. Apologize, make note of your mistake to avoid making it again, and move on. And after the conversation, commit to doing a little research and learning more.
  • DON’T say you “knew all along.” Our society has successfully crafted powerful stereotypes around what LGBTQ+ people look like, how they act, and what they’re interested in. But the process of someone understanding themselves and their identity is a unique journey for each individual who walks it. Comments like, “I knew it!” diminish that journey. Instead, respectfully ask them about their journey, and you’ll learn new insights about your child along the way.
  • DON’T tell them “this is just a phase.” Telling your kid that they’re just going through a phase invalidates their feelings, tells them you aren’t accepting of what they’re saying, and can shut down the potential for further conversation. Likewise, we all gain new understandings of ourselves as we go through life, so understand that if in the future, your kid identifies in a different way, that this doesn’t diminish or negate how they identified before. Instead, be proud that you have an introspective kid who is capable of opening themselves up to new truths as they grow!
  • DON’T use religion or family values to shame them. If your family is religious or socially conservative, chances are your kid is already carrying some of that conflict (perhaps even shame) between their upbringing and their identity. It’s important to care enough for your child’s mental health and well being to keep an open mind and not fall back into dogma.

In the days ahead:

Overall, support is the most important thing to offer kids who come out to you. The importance of unconditional support at home for kids who are questioning cannot be overemphasized. Even if you don’t agree with what your child is saying or doing, them knowing that they have your support is vital. That means explicitly letting your child know that you love them, accept them, and will stand by them, even if you’re confused or upset by the thoughts and feelings they’re expressing.

  • Don’t hover. Instead of asking, “how are you doing?” every day, check in periodically and ask, “how’s everything going?”, “is there anything you want to talk about?”, “is there anything you’d like to talk to someone else about?”. While ultimately this is an issue your child needs to figure out on their own, knowing that they have the support of the adults in their life makes all the difference.
  • Emphasize acceptance. Take steps to make it clear to your child that your family is accepting of all gender identities and sexual orientations, even without explicitly talking about it. Some examples include:
    • making a genuine and continual effort to use other people’s correct pronouns
    • talking openly, affirmingly & without judgement about LGBTQ+ issues in the news / media or in entertainment programming you watch together
    • referring to non-straight or gender nonconforming people in your family’s life with respect and compassion, and
    • standing up when anyone in your life speaks disparagingly or makes bigoted remarks about the LGBTQ+ community or people in it.
  • Be aware of a higher risk for mental health challenges. Just because your child is having questioning thoughts doesn’t mean they’re upset about it. But these feelings do have the potential to cause mental health challenges such as anxiety or depression, especially if they feel rejected by family members or peers. It’s important to notice if your child seems constantly worried or withdrawn, doesn’t want to see friends, isn’t sleeping or eating well, or has lost interest in activities they usually enjoy. These are signs of mental health challenges that may or may not be related to gender or sexual identity. If they last more than a few weeks or if they seem to be getting worse, it may be time to get your child help from a therapist.
  • Deal with bullying. LGBTQ+ kids can be targets for bullying. If you suspect bullying, start by talking with your child about what they’re experiencing and how they want to handle it. It’s best to get their consent before talking to someone at school. At the same time, you can let them know that it’s important to stand up for themselves and that you’re ready to back them up. Comments like, “we don’t have to do it now, but we might need to talk to someone at the school if this keeps happening.” Even if you don’t have specific concerns about bullying, it may be helpful to bring up the subject during parent/ teacher interactions, too.
  • Get a handle on your own feelings. It’s normal to experience upsetting feelings when your child is questioning their gender or sexuality. You might feel anxious about the challenges your child could face, how / whether to share news with extended family, or how best to support them. In some cases, parents of kids who are questioning their sexuality or identity might feel a sense of mourning or loss over the child they imagined they’d have. These feelings are valid but do try to avoid letting them get in the way of supporting your child. Joining a support group for parents of kids in similar situations (e.g. PFLAG) is also a good place to find support and information. You might also consider working with a therapist of your own to process your feelings separately from your child. These are complicated issues, but it’s not your kid’s responsibility to manage your emotional responses.

Remember too that questioning kids’ identities may evolve, so don’t expect that the labels or pronouns kids choose for themselves today will necessarily be fixed. The goal isn’t for your child to settle into an identity, but rather to support them through their exploration. All parents want their kids to feel safe, happy and loved. And being supportive, open and informed are the best ways for parents to help questioning kids have that experience.

IntraSpectrum Counseling is Chicago’s leading psychotherapy practice dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community, and we strive to provide the highest quality mental health care for clients of all ages – including children and adolescents. For anyone needing affirming and validating support or healing with any issue, please click here or email us at