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Parents

How does trauma affect children’s emotional well-being?

When children go through a traumatic event such as a sexual assault (SA), they must have a support system of parents and guardians there to ensure not only their physical safety but also their mental and emotional safety in the aftermath. It is not a surprise that children who experience trauma will have their world changed, but fortunately, there are things we can do to support them through this time and those changes. Trauma can occur across a variety of situations from being impacted by broad natural disasters all the way down to more personal and specific events such as SA. Trauma is a complex concept because every individual adapts and reacts differently from non-existent or acute reactions all the way to severe and chronic reactions; so viewing trauma as a sliding scale is essential in adjusting to a new normal after a traumatic event. Further, it is worth noting that two individuals can experience the same type of event or even the exact same event and still be impacted very differently, therefore different supports and approaches in healing are necessary. 

Now, to unpack how emotions in the brain are impacted by a trauma, this blog post indicates that SA is a traumatic event, and so in the aftermath of a trauma any of the upcoming information can occur. Trauma can specifically impact emotions for children by changing their ability to process and respond to emotions- which is called “emotional regulation.” All children are unique in how they experience the world, but understandably, when trauma occurs there is an added layer of difficulty for their growing brains to comprehend the world around them. The goal of this blog post is to give parents, guardians, and caretakers insight into the psychology of childhood emotional regulation and how they can support their child or any child through one of the most difficult things someone can experience. Below are some common questions one might ask in the aftermath of a trauma and when they are preparing to help a child heal. Accompanying each provided question is a response supported by trauma-informed scientific evidence that reveals what you can do to support your child through changes and challenges.

 

What happens to my child’s emotions when they experience a trauma?

A certain part of the brain called the amygdala can be impacted for those who experience trauma. The amygdala is responsible for emotional intensity including how we perceive and react emotionally. This can mean that children who undergo trauma have a greater experience of emotion compared to their peers, and that may be a lot for their body to handle since their brain hasn’t finished developing or understanding emotions yet. Further, scientists have studied the brain and the amygdala to reveal that there can be a decrease in brain activity in the amygdala which in turn can impact emotional regulation (Thomason et al., 2015). What this means is that structurally there will be some changes in the brain for your child after a trauma; so, as parents and guardians taking the time to work through emotions manually with a child can be very beneficial for the child to lighten the load of the emotional material they are working to process, since it can be too overwhelming to handle themselves. Of course, it is always important to recognize that not all children will feel comfortable expressing their emotions in a timeline you might expect, so as someone supporting them, we need to respect and understand their boundaries and decisions while continuing to make sure they have access to support.

 

How do I know if my child is struggling with healthy emotional regulation?

Children process emotions around the trauma and in day-to-day life as the event can impact pre-existing healthy emotional regulation because the child may soon experience emotional dysregulation which would not be considered healthy. To see if your child is struggling, there are certain signs that you can look for to indicate if dysregulation is happening. A child may experience prolonged states of sadness, they may lose interest in activities they typically love, or they may withdraw from peers or family in a social setting. These examples can all reflect symptoms of depression, indicating that healthy emotional regulation is not happening. Depression can specifically stem from struggling to “reappraise emotions” meaning that it impacts our ability to understand something from a different or more positive perspective (Skymba et al., 2020). Children especially can struggle in coping with negative emotions regardless of experiencing trauma because they tend to “ruminate” or replay their thoughts and emotions in their minds which further intensifies their feelings. We can support an individual through this by seeing a licensed therapist that can help them unpack these thoughts/emotions and give them the space to positively reappraise emotions, which in turn can decrease depression and set the child up to practice healthier emotional reappraisal and regulation techniques.

 

What are other ways trauma can affect a child? 

It is not uncommon for other health issues to occur aside from depression, so it is important to be in tune with what may be going on in your child’s head and what you can look for to help them. Aside from ensuring that the child is physically safe after a trauma, we need to make sure they are mentally safe as well. There is evidence of not only depression but also anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurring in individuals who experience trauma (Ford et al., 2018). While this is no guarantee that your child will or will not experience these types of mental health struggles at any point following trauma, parents and guardians need to be aware that these things can and do happen. It is also important to understand that not everyone reacts to trauma the same way, and so the ways we support someone and the emotions they experience need to be adjusted to meet them where they are at and not where you want them to be. You can expect some changes in your child before and after experiencing a trauma, but you should closely monitor for instances of great emotional intensity, instances of muted emotional intensity, or instances that demonstrate incoherent emotions and be able to respond accordingly in those situations. 

Furthermore, because trauma can impact the way children process and respond to emotions since their brains are doing more processing than normal in the wake of a trauma, a child could potentially experience impact to both existing and developing friendships. Because a child can experience hardship in understanding and processing the emotions of others, play can be difficult because the interactions may be frustrating or confusing in the aftermath of trauma. Friendships are an important support system for children and for younger children play is very positive for growth and development, so as a caretaker it is important to support your child through these now potentially difficult experiences by providing them resources and support.

 

Are these effects long-term?

As mentioned above, certain brain structures and certain emotional processes are impacted by trauma. However, these impacts are typically not a forever-state and rather will result in a delayed development instead before resuming processes as they were before a trauma. When a child (or anyone for that matter) has experienced a trauma, their body and brain are working overtime to maintain “normalcy” and make sure they are okay. Because time and energy may be devoted so long to other areas, there is a trend of delayed development for children specifically in the processes that allow them to understand the emotions of others during their emotional regulation. Limited research exists to assess how the brain functions before and after trauma since trauma is unpredictable, but the general agreement amongst psychologists is that wherever the current emotional developments are they will pause in response to trauma. This is not meant to be alarming, but rather to let us know that a child is going to need extra support and understanding when dealing with not only their own emotions but when interacting with the emotions of others as well (Van Schie, 2017). Further, it is important to know that specifically, reappraisal does not develop linearly through childhood and adolescence, but rather it is a workable skill (even for adults!), so having a delayed development is not detrimental so long as we continue to work with and support children in building this skill (McRae et al., 2012).

 

What can I do?

It is important to know that as a parent or guardian, you are very important for helping a child heal, but it is also important to know that support systems look different for each individual. One important thing in healing from trauma is knowing that there is no “right way” to do things, rather finding your own way is the best option and making sure that you meet your child at their level of needs. Support can take the form of group therapy, individual therapy, having a family support system, attending family therapy, partaking in art or play therapy, and so forth to make sure an individual has the necessary resources to heal. There is evidence that being in these types of therapy settings and focusing on positive emotions in those such environments rather than ruminating or focusing on the past can decrease symptoms of depression in children in the aftermath of the trauma (Thomas et al., 2011). Further, parents should choose not to focus on the stress of the situation, but rather on the wellbeing of their child; it creates an environment that allows for positive emotions to flourish later in life for the child which is important for the healing process as it does not provide an environment for rumination to occur (Langevin et al., 2016). Parents can practice mindfulness in approaching this situation and play a part in decreasing the negative thoughts a child replays in their mind, since you are modeling healthy emotional behavior as well by doing so. Because parenting styles can easily be changed to adapt to our children, we must take the steps to support the child and adapt to their needs as they grow (Moreira et al., 2018). Mindfulness is another topic on its own, but for some parents/guardians it may be worth looking into as a way to personally cope and process while supporting a child through a trauma.

 

What happens now?

Ultimately, all of this information demonstrates that trauma such as SA can impact a child, but as a parent, by taking part in their social support system we can help the child in better understanding their emotions and coping not only day-to-day but long-term as well. It is important to understand that having this information is a good step in moving forward and supporting children every day through one of the most challenging things someone can go through by having these questions answered, but we cannot forget that recovery is a process and not a destination. The Zacharias Center offers free counseling services that can be done in group therapy or individual therapy format to support that process. The phone number to reach the Z Center 24-hour support line is (847)872-7799, and this line is available to support survivors as well as their loved ones who are experiencing the trauma with them. As humans we really are resilient, and so recovery and healing will continue to be the desired outcome for those impacted by a trauma because through work it is attainable. Providing resources, reducing rumination and worrying, giving support to build coping and reappraisal skills, and ensuring that individuals have the specific mental tools to cope are all wonderful ways to foster resilience. The assistance of professionals or therapists who can help a child to discover those tools and resources also provide wonderful support options and pathways to help a child heal in the aftermath of a trauma.

 


Written by Haley Wold, ZCenter Volunteer from Lake Forest College.

ZCenter aims to end sexual violence, mobilize and educate the public, and support survivors of sexual assault. Our blog addresses issues related to ending oppression and violence, since all oppression and violence are intersectional with sexual violence. All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

References

 

Ford, Brett Q., Sandy J. Lwi, Amy L. Gentzler, Benjamin Hankin, and Iris B. Mauss. 2018. “The Cost of Believing Emotions Are Uncontrollable: Youths’ Beliefs about Emotion Predict Emotion Regulation and Depressive Symptoms.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 147 (8): 1170–90. doi:10.1037/xge0000396.supp (Supplemental).

Langevin, Rachel, Martine Hébert, Dansereau, Claire Allard, and Bonnin, Anne‐Claude Bernard. 2016. “Emotion Regulation in Sexually Abused Preschoolers: The Contribution of Parental Factors.” Journal of Traumatic Stress 29 (2): 180–84. doi:10.1002/jts.22082.

McRae, Kateri, James J. Gross, Jochen Weber, Elaine R. Robertson, Peter Sokol-Hessner, Rebecca D. Ray, John D. E. Gabrieli, and Kevin N. Ochsner. 2012. “The Development of Emotion Regulation: An FMRI Study of Cognitive Reappraisal in Children, Adolescents and Young Adults.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 7 (1): 11–22. doi:10.1093/scan/nsr093.

Moreira, Helena, and Maria Cristina Canavarro. 2018. “The Association between Self-Critical Rumination and Parenting Stress: The Mediating Role of Mindful Parenting.” Journal of Child and Family Studies 27 (7): 2265–75. doi:10.1007/s10826-018-1072-x.

Skymba, Haley V., Wendy Troop-Gordon, Haina H. Modi, Megan M. Davis, Anne L. Weldon, Yan Xia, Wendy Heller, and Karen D. Rudolph. 2020. “Emotion Mindsets and Depressive Symptoms in Adolescence: The Role of Emotion Regulation Competence.” Emotion, December. doi:10.1037/emo0000902.

Thomas, Renu, David DiLillo, Kate Walsh, and Melissa A. Polusny. 2011. “Pathways from Child Sexual Abuse to Adult Depression: The Role of Parental Socialization of Emotions and Alexithymia.” Psychology of Violence 1 (2): 121–35. doi:10.1037/a0022469.

Thomason, Moriah E., Hilary A. Marusak, Maria A. Tocco, Angela M. Vila, Olivia McGarragle, and David R. Rosenberg. 2015. “Altered Amygdala Connectivity in Urban Youth Exposed to Trauma.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 10 (11): 1460–68. doi:10.1093/scan/nsv030.

Van Schie, Charlotte C., Anne-Laura van Harmelen, Kirsten Hauber, Albert Boon, Eveline A. Crone, and Bernet M. Elzinga. 2017. “The Neural Correlates of Childhood Maltreatment and the Ability to Understand Mental States of Others.” European Journal of Psychotraumatology 8 (1). doi:10.1080/20008198.2016.1272788.

Spokes of the Wheel: Reproductive Justice

What is Reproductive Justice?

 

We often think that reproductive justice and reproductive rights are synonymous, that both are the work to give women rights about their reproductive choices. However, reproductive justice is a much larger issue that involves the entire lifespan of the parent, child, and entire community. It also acknowledges the intersection of class, race, and reproductive justice; reproductive justice is an act of racial justice.

Reproductive justice aims to ensure that individuals have access to abuse prevention and comprehensive education for their entire lifespan of sexuality. It aims to support individuals’ choices about having children. It aims to support parents and children in the many years before and after the act of childbirth.

 

Reproductive Justice and Sexual Violence

 

At ZCenter, we offer prevention, advocacy, crisis intervention, and counseling as ways to support reproductive justice. We offer the Spokes of the Wheel: Reproductive Justice as a model for addressing reproductive justice at the individual and community level.

  • Learning about Healthy Relationships and Consent. For a healthy reproductive life, we all need to learn that sexuality can and should be healthy and should always involve affirmative consent. ZCenter offers this through our prevention services in PreK-12 grade and higher education.
  • Sexual Abuse Prevention. Learning that we can set boundaries, say no, and report to a trusted adult when there is sexual abuse are all crucial aspects of reproductive justice. ZCenter offers this through our prevention services in PreK-12 grade and higher education.
  • Support & Services for Those Who Wish or Do Not Wish to Have Children. Particularly in cases of abuse, individuals are more empowered when they have choices. As part of our medical advocacy services, we offer clients the choices available to them and help them with any resources they need for taking the next step in their decision.
  • Childcare. As we support parents’ choices, we must acknowledge that lack of childcare is a barrier to economic, social, and political power. Paid maternity/paternity leave, affordable or free childcare, and workplace support for parents are necessary as we work toward reproductive justice.
  • Resources to Make Healthy Decisions. At all ages, individuals deserve access to education and resources for a healthy reproductive life. This includes parent resources, education about sexual health, pregnancy resources, and access to quality educational content. ZCenter is proud to offer PATHH: Preventing Abuse Through Holistic Health, a course designed to help youth to comprehensively learn about healthy decisions in their sexuality. This course will begin in 2022.
  • Crisis Intervention Services. When abuse or physical crisis occur, individuals deserve access to support services. ZCenter continues to offer crisis intervention in many sectors of society, including schools, emergency rooms, a crisis support hotline, and counseling.
  • Gender & Sexuality: Support, Education, Services. Our understanding of sexuality and gender are ever expanding and all individuals deserve access to this knowledge. At ZCenter, we know that some vulnerable populations have a higher risk for experiencing sexual violence, including the LGBTQ+ community. We strive to support this community with our services while also partnering with others in the community, like LGBTQ+ Center Lake County.

We encourage you to contact us if you have questions about any of our services or reproductive justice. 

 

For more information:

National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice

Sister Song: Reproductive Justice

Reproductive Justice: An Introduction, by Loretta Ross and Rickie Solinger 

 


Written by Kristin Jones, PhD, EdM, Outreach Supervisor. 

ZCenter aims to end sexual violence, mobilize and educate the public, and support survivors of sexual assault. Our blog addresses issues related to ending oppression and violence, since all oppression and violence are intersectional with sexual violence. All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

Ghosts Aren’t the Scariest Thing About Halloween

Most historians trace back modern day Halloween to the Celtic holiday of Samhain, which marked the end of the year for those living 2000 years ago in the UK, Ireland, and Northern France. The Celtic year ended on November 1, and so the night before (October 31) marked when the veil between the living and dead was the thinnest. When the Romans invaded Celtic lands in 43 AD, they adopted some and added some to these traditions. The Romans integrated the holidays of Feralia (a day in October where the living commemorated the dead) and the day that honored the Goddess Pomona (whose symbol was an apple, can you think of the tradition that stemmed from this?– maybe… bobbing for apples?). We also see the celebration of All Saints’ Day moved from May to November 1. Yet, we see celebrations that honor the thinning of the veil between life and death in almost every culture, such as Dia de los muertos, Borgo a Mozzano in Italy, Daimonji in Japan, and many more celebrations that have not been properly recorded by Western cultures. 

So, how did we end up with Halloween that we know today? Well, like most things Halloween was brought to the United States by immigrants and then assimilated to better meet Western Standards. Halloween was not celebrated by the puritanical colonial settlers. There were harvest festivals where ghost stories were told as a way to teach moral lessons, but it was not until Irish immigrants fleeing the Potato Famine came to the United States that Halloween was celebrated as we know it today (coming from the words All Hallows Eve). 

Other cultures, other religions, other identities are not a costume for you to wear.

Now it is time to have the conversation that we must continue to always have. Other cultures, other religions, other identities are not a costume for you to wear. Going as Pochantas wearing a headdress is offensive and invalidates the lived experiences of the horrors that indigneous people have faced at the hands of Americans. It is not okay to darken your skin tone to better “look like” a person or to have a more authentic costume. You are taking aspects of another person’s culture and identity and using it to your benefit with none of the threatening and scary implications that it means to be a person of a marginalized community in today’s society. 

When you get home from a night out on Halloween, you can take your costume off and be safe and privileged. So while you have the time of your life wearing a headdress or a sombrero or your cornrows to imitate your favorite rapper, Black and Brown Children in Milwaukee have to trick-or-treat when the sun is still out, so that they are safe and can make it home. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself about your costume: Does the culture you’re imitating have a history of oppression? Are you benefiting from borrowing from the culture? Are you able to remove something when you get tired of it and return to a privileged culture when others can’t?

In Northbrook, Ill., Jess Lifshitz has her fifth-graders take a letter home. She explained to NPR that, “A couple of years ago I noticed that every Halloween, there were one or two kids who came in costume and for whatever reason the costume just made me uncomfortable and I worried it made others uncomfortable,” because it portrayed a stereotyped image of a group of people or it was someone dressing in a way that almost seemed as if they were putting on the identity of another person as a costume.

It may seem like a light-hearted matter, a once-a-year thing, but it is not. People die world-wide every year wearing their cultural clothes and fighting to be their authentic self for things that they cannot, nor should have to, change about themselves. So when you wear clothes that other people have been murdered for wearing you are disrespecting their legacy. Please think this Halloween of the people who have longed to show their truest forms of identity, but have not felt safe, nor allowed to do so. 

Read these articles below for ideas on non-offensive Halloween costume: 

 


Written by Cassidy Herberth, she/her, Education and Prevention Specialist

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

Resources

  • https://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/halloween-is-for-white-people/
  • https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/10/30/culture-not-costume/
  • https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/10/31/halloween-politics-racial-divides-milwaukee-221955/

Security in the LGBTQIA Community

Security is a term that evokes a sense of safety, more specifically in your home and the community surrounding you. As an individual, in a large complex world, wanting and needing this security is essential to survive. But how about if it is difficult to obtain? It may be hard to envision a form of freedom from danger if security threats to adolescents are presented by the government and local community. On the other hand, we do know that the feeling of safety is a crucial aspect in a child’s emotional and social development. The more abundant the safety feeling is, the easier it is for them to be able to explore and experience the world around them. It creates a safe space for one to learn and grasp what is encompassing them in the world.

 

Bill HB1570

On April 6, the citizens of the United States were informed of the first bill to outlaw gender- affirming treatment to minors in Arkansas. The Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act limits youth in receiving gender-changing services as it prohibits insurance from covering hospital bills, prevents medical professionals from seeing transitioning youth, and puts a restriction on all medications and surgeries until the age of 18. Any physician providing health services to a transitioning minor is seen as breaking the law and will face legal consequences in the state of Arkansas. Priya Krishnakumar, while presenting information from the Human Rights Campaign, states that approximately 33 states in America have introduced more than 117 bills to hinder transgender rights (Krishnakumar, 2021). We see spiraling restrictions on individual rights, which can become messy and a concern for the transgender community as well as their mental health. 

 

 

Looking into the future instead of the present

What does this mean for transgender Americans? The new legislation signifies a reverse effect as we lose the decades of fighting for equality with the new statutes devised. A majority of the legislation bills will unfortunately affect the transgender youth in America. The Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2020 confirms the concerns of high risk of suicide and ideation. “Nearly 15% of LGBTQ respondents attempted suicide in the past twelve months, including more than 1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary youth” (The Trevor Project, 2021). With the alarming statistics present, this brings us back to the original question. What does that mean for transgender youth? As we are presented with the numbers, we as a society need to take a step back and ponder the concerns that may arise for the trans youth community. 

Society might be at a questionable standstill, debating on whether we will be helping these children or harming their development. As a community, let’s pay special attention to our blossoming children by reaffirming their thoughts, feelings, and autonomy. Let’s share a moment of togetherness to show collective understanding and support for our youth at this confusing time. By doing so, we are choosing as one to put the child’s needs and emotions on the front line rather than the rules and bills. The transgender youth in Arkansas are already facing concerning outcries; transgender youth feel depressed and demoralized that society does not allow them to be their true self.  As Nelson Mandela articulates, “Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear” (World Vision International, 2016). Similarly, we owe it to the youth to be emotionally available by hearing their concerns and protests. Join us as we come together as allies, support our youth, and build a safer world for them.

 


Written by Adella Moss, Intern, Northern Illinois University

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

References:

Cole, D. (2021, April 6). Arkansas becomes first state to outlaw gender-affirming treatment for trans youth. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/06/politics/arkansas-transgender-health-care-veto-override/index.html.

Jenco, M. (2019). Studies: Suicide attempts high among transgender teens, increasing among black teens. The Official NewMagazine of the American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.aappublications.org/news/aapnewsmag/2019/10/14/suicide101419.full.pdf.

Krishnakumar, P. (2021, April 15). This record-breaking year for anti-transgender legislation would affect minors the most. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/15/politics/anti-transgender-legislation-2021/index.html.

Paley, A. (2020). The Trevor Project National Survey 2020. The Trevor Project – Saving Young LGBTQ Lives. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2020/?section=Suicide-Mental-Health.

Paley, A. (2021). The Trevor Project National Survey. The Trevor Project – Saving Young LGBTQ Lives. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2021/.

World Vision International. (2016). Partnership Key to Ending Violence Against Children. https://www.wvi.org/development/blogpost/partnership-key-ending-violence-against-children

 

LGBTQ+ Community and Coming Out: Information for Parents & Guardians

Oftentimes, parents and guardians can feel unsure of what to do and how to respond when their child expresses to them or “comes out” as someone who identifies within the LGBTQ+ community. This list of options is meant to serve as a guide for enabling conversation and growth to those findings themselves in this situation.

Prepare to do the work and educate yourself. Perhaps you are fortunate enough to be in a situation where you fully understand what your child is experiencing and know just how to respond and support them. Perhaps you feel as though you know nothing. It is okay to acknowledge to yourself and them that you are not sure what is going to happen next, but now is the time for you to put in the work and educate yourself to the best of your ability. This may include utilizing the internet, seeking support services through a network such as PFLAG, or even seeking advice from a friend who has experienced the same thing if your child is comfortable with you doing so. The important thing is that you are doing this work on behalf of them, and making sure they feel comfortable, safe, and respected is essential as they express this aspect of their identity to you. 

Actively listen. Your child is likely more nervous than you are as they initiate this conversation with you. Make sure you give them the space and support to express whatever they may be feeling by coming out. This may be something your child has rehearsed and given plenty of thought to, or it might not be at all. In this moment, as they are sharing things with you, practice active listening so that you are taking in what they are saying to you. This may or may not be the right time for you to ask them questions about this, but you can soak in the information they are giving you so that you hear their needs and can understand what can be done in your position to support them rather than interjecting over them with whatever it is you desire to respond with at that moment. There will be the time to express your own feelings, but make sure you are giving them the floor in this crucial moment first.

Respond intuitively. Your child coming out to you is likely something that is a big deal to them. Make sure you are in check with your body language, facial expressions, thoughts, emotions, and words. Altogether, those can impact your child whether you realize it or not. So stay in tune with these feelings so that you can provide the most welcoming environment for your kid and that they leave the conversation feeling supported.

Don’t focus on yourself. You may want to tell your child about a friend or family member within the LGBTQ+ community that you know, or you may even be in a position where you identify within the LGBTQ+ community and are ready to talk all about your own experiences and give advice. Take a breath and remember: baby steps. Unless your child is actively asking to hear this information, don’t turn the conversation towards yourself because that will only take away from the experience for your child.

Acknowledge that you are there as a resource. Your child might not feel comfortable following up with you consistently on this, and as hard as it is to hear- you are not entitled to updates either. However, what you can do is make sure your child knows you are there to confide in, talk with, and to provide support. After this, the ball is in their court and they can decide what to do. It will not help your child if you pressure them and pester for more details. Instead, that can hurt your relationship in such a crucial moment as your child has just opened up to you.

Don’t pressure them for a backstory or details. To elaborate upon the previous point, know that there are certain things that as a parent or guardian you don’t actually need to know. Perhaps your child feels like they want you to know about how they realized they identified within the LGBTQ+ community, but if they don’t want to share that information that is okay. You should never utilize the power dynamic over your child to force them into giving you information because that can set up extremely unhealthy situations for them in the future. In fact, your child may not even have an answer to the questions you want to ask them- that’s okay and you need to accept that as you care for your child, having all of the information possible does not make you automatically supportive and does not make them feel automatically loved. Rather, the continuous work you do to educate yourself and support them will be what makes your relationship positive.

Acknowledge the feelings and bravery needed to invite others to learn about your identity. This very well could be one of the hardest things your child is facing by coming out to you. Far too often those within the LGBTQ+ community are persecuted for their identity and even kicked out of their homes after coming out to loved ones. Your child may not know how you will react and may be aware of the negative consequences potentially facing them, yet they trust you enough to invite you into this aspect of their life. Respect them for that and know they are so brave to do so. This is not the moment to question your child, but to see how brave they are and to remind them of that.

Approach this as a learning process for your relationship. As mentioned above, prior to this moment you may feel as though you have no knowledge, all of the knowledge, or somewhere in between when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. It is completely acceptable to let your child know this. Let them know this will be a learning process for you, but that you are determined to do what it takes to learn specifically how to support them.

Know that you cannot compare yourself to other parents and guardians. It is worth mentioning that you may have seen the experiences other parents and guardians have had as they experienced similar situations. There is no one right way to go about this just as there is no one right way to go about parenting in general. Being honest with yourself and your child is what will make the difference for upholding a healthy relationship, so don’t compare yourself to others doing it “perfectly” because at the end of the day what needs to matter to you is your child’s health and safety, which fortunately you can enhance through your love and support.

Know what this means. This is a defining moment in your relationship. Your child may want you to be hands on or not, but as you educate yourself on the terminology and backstory of the LGBTQ+ community, educate yourself on the statistics as well. Acknowledge higher levels of sexual assault, increased suicide rates, and how the likelihood of being a victim of a crime increases for those within the LGBTQ+ community. This information is not meant to be something that scares you, but is meant as something to show how needed your support is. Places like ZCenter are doing the work for outreach and prevention education to end sexual violence, but the battle is ongoing, and in your role as a parent you can be there as a knowledgeable support system for your child to help them be aware of other support systems as well.

This guide is not necessarily foolproof in that you are guaranteed a perfect relationship with your child by following these tips. As any parent knows by now, there is no such thing as a perfect relationship with our children because of so many things that are out of our control. What you can do in this moment however, is control your response and give support so your child feels safe and sees you as the ally you are for them.


Written by Haley Wold, Intern, Lake Forest College

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

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