We do our best to care for our children, ensuring that they are fed and clothed and have everything they need to thrive. Supporting their mental health is just as important as taking them to the doctor for a well-child checkup. How can you support your LGBTQ child’s mental health?
Make Sure They Know They Are Loved
Even if you take nothing else away from this article, make sure this is burned into your brain. Regardless of how you feel about the LGBTQ+ community or your child’s part, make sure they know they are loved. Only one out of every three LGBTQ+ children and teens live in a home that supports them and affirms their existence and COVID lockdowns and quarantine have made situations worse for many of them.
This tip isn’t just some intangible suggestion. Studies conducted by The Trevor Project show that having just one accepting adult in an LGBTQ+ teen’s life can reduce their chances of suicide by 40.
Most new parents right now belong to the Millennial and Gen X generations. When we were growing up, sexuality and gender identity weren’t a topic we could discuss at the dinner table. Many adults are learning in their 30s and 40s — or even later — that there’s a name for how they’ve felt their entire lives. There is a wealth of information available today. Take the time to educate yourself about anything you don’t understand about sexuality, gender identity or anything in between.
Make sure to choose LGBTQ+ affirming resources rather than those that might try to shed a negative light on gender identity or sexuality.
Pay Attention to Your Tone
If you heard about anything related to the LGBTQ+ community growing up, it was probably discussed in hushed whispers behind pointed fingers, so we all grew up thinking it was something to be ashamed of. We know now that couldn’t be further from the truth, but sometimes it can still creep out in how we talk about LGBTQ issues. Pay careful attention to your tone when you’re talking about LGBTQ news, even if you’re not having a conversation with your queer child or teen. Kids hear everything, and you don’t want to give them the idea that you won’t accept them for who they are before they even have a chance to come out of the closet.
Empathy, without judgment, is one of the most critical tools in your toolbelt when supporting your LGBTQ+ child’s mental health. You don’t need to experience their life firsthand to empathize with them. LGBTQ+ youth are at higher risk for experiencing anxiety and depression and substance abuse and are at a higher risk for suicidal ideations and tendencies. Putting yourself in their shoes may also push you to move on to the next step.
Advocate For Them
We’re always proud of queer children and teens who advocate for themselves, but they shouldn’t have to do all the work. Be their biggest supporter and the loudest voice raised in opposition when someone decides to pick a fight. They need our support, sometimes shouting down a loud Karen or anti-LGBT protester when they choose to get loud. It means speaking up in town hall meetings and voting out any politicians that build their platforms on being anti-LGBTQ. They can advocate for themselves, but they need to know that they have someone in their corner too.
Ask What They Need
It’s easy to assume that we know what our kids need because we’re adults and in the parental role. Besides, you know what they say about assuming. Don’t make assumptions. Instead, open up avenues of communication and ask them what they need. The answers might surprise you.
Provide the Care They Need
We do everything we can to take care of our kids. For LGBTQ+ children and teens, that might require a few extra steps, including therapy or gender-affirming care for trans teens. The exact care plan will vary from person to person, but ensure you’re taking all the necessary steps to provide the care they need. Start with your family doctor or pediatrician. Make sure you’re choosing an LGBTQ+ friendly doctor — or find a new one if your current physician has problems with your child’s lifestyle choices.
You may also need to look into finding a psychiatrist or psychologist for your child. Again, make sure to find an LGBTQ+ friendly professional. Psychology Today maintains a list of queer-friendly therapists and mental health professionals.
Don’t Treat Them Differently.
It sounds like common sense, but don’t treat your LGBTQ+ child differently than any other child. Show interest in what they’re interested in, offer compliments or praise when they do something well and help build their confidence. They spend much time feeling different or separated because of their sexuality or gender identity. Don’t make that situation worse by singling them out at home too.
Take Care Of Yourself Too
It’s easy to put all of ourselves into making sure our children are safe and happy, but to steal a famous line from the internet, you can’t pour from an empty cup. We need to forget the idea that self-care is selfish. It isn’t impossible to take care of other people without taking care of yourself first, but it’s easy to burn yourself out in the attempt.
Make sure you’re taking some time for yourself. That could mean a bubble bath and a glass of wine or making an appointment with a therapist to help you sort through your emotions as you figure out how to best support your LGBTQ+ child’s mental health. Self-care comes in all shapes and sizes, so make sure you find the one that works best for you.
Taking care of our mental health is one of the most challenging things, especially in today’s world. If you’re struggling to support your LGBTQ+ child’s mental health, hopefully, these tips can point you in the right direction. Remember, above all else, make sure they know they are loved. Creating a supportive home environment is just one part of the puzzle, but it can make an enormous difference. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help; seek the assistance of a professional for both you and your child and make sure you’re taking care of yourself.