LGBTQ+ Pride colors are everywhere along Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood. Photo by Samanta Helou Hernandez with LAist.

By Jackie Fortiér/LAist

Originally Published June 7

In recent years, discussions surrounding LGBTQ+ curricula and Pride events at schools have sparked debate and controversy which have even turned violent. 

The most recent example: Tuesday night, outside a Glendale Unified School District board meeting.

These events can be difficult for adults, but hateful images, videos, and social media can also leach into schools. So how do we talk with kids about what’s going on?

First, check in with your own feelings

Before you begin a conversation with your child, check in with yourself. Do you feel angry about the situation? Calm down before you talk to your child.

“If we are already angry, then it’s really hard for us to be calm and supportive with our children,” said Brandi Hawk, psychologist at the UC Davis CAARE Center.

“Especially when we’re talking about events that are potentially scary or potentially very emotional for parents, simply acknowledging the feelings that parents are having so that they can be warm and open when they go to their children,” she said.

Ask your child: ‘What do you know?’

You may not think so, but in all likelihood your child already knows at least pieces of what happened from friends or snippets of news. Ask children what they know in a direct, but developmentally appropriate way.

Here are a few ways to bring up the topic that work for any age group:

  • “Hey, your teacher told me that there were some protests outside of a school today. What do you know about that?”
  • “I know that this is happening and some of your friends or some kids of our friends are scared or curious about it. I wonder how you’re feeling?”

“You’re opening up the discussion for children, but not telling them how they should feel or what they should know,” Hawk said. “You want to get their understanding first, and then we want to provide clear and truthful, developmentally appropriate information.”

It’s OK to say ‘I don’t know’

You don’t have to justify the actions of others.

According to Hawk, it’s fine to say something like, “I don’t really understand why some people don’t like us,” or “I don’t know why some people are concerned about you celebrating our LGBTQIA community.’”

The expert said it’s important to make it clear that mental and physical safety is paramount. Hawk suggested telling children “it’s never OK to say hurtful things to other people, and it’s never OK to hurt other people.”

Reduce media exposure

You can control the amount of media exposure and information, especially with young children. Try not to let your child experience the news without you, including leaving TV or audio playing in the background. Hawk also recommended keeping them away from your smartphone scrolling.

“The more they see on the news or on your social media as you’re scrolling, the more that’s going to become anxiety provoking for them and we want to allow our young kids, especially our preschoolers, to say, ‘I have no idea what happened’ and be OK with that,” Hawk said.

“We need to be able to then provide just a little bit of information because they are probably going to hear it from friends at school. They’re going to hear it from other people. But we don’t need to go into a deep dive on all the things going on in the political landscape right now with a four-year-old if they’re not concerned,” she said.

How do I talk to my LGBTQ+ child?

Ask what they know and how they are feeling about it.

“But you would go into it knowing that your child is probably feeling a whole lot more hurt than other people are, and you want to affirm, ‘I love you and I am excited to celebrate who you are, this Pride month,’” Hawk said.

The psychologist suggested asking if they feel safe or if they feel unsafe anywhere, and if they feel unsafe, come up with a plan to manage that. If a child is being bullied, get the school involved to make sure they are aware of what’s happening and put a safety plan in place.

What it means to be an ‘upstander’

If your child tells you about bigoted or bullying behavior that they saw, talk to them about it calmly.

“They need you to show that you can be calm and you can hear what happened to them without becoming dysregulated, so giving them space to talk about what happened,” Hawk said.

“‘That’s terrible. That’s not your fault. I understand why you were upset.’ Giving them emotion words, talking through their experience, and then talking about when this happens again, or if this happens again, how do you want to respond? And potentially coming up with some really good comeback lines.”

Discuss speaking up when you see bullying happening, or when you hear someone say something inappropriate, said Hawk.

“Ask them ‘how do you stick up for other people?’ And then that also helps kids know how to stick up for themselves,” Hawk said.

Let teenagers explore their emotions

When talking with teens, allow for deeper and more involved conversations. They may be more civically minded as they consider their upcoming right to vote. But they are still kids who can feel scared.

“You want to go slow, pause and be comfortable with silence so they have time and the ability to think, and you’re communicating, ‘I have time for you. You are important, your thoughts are important.’ And it tells your child, ‘I’m willing to sit here and talk through this with you,’ and give them the space to really grapple with big issues,” Hawk said.

Additional resources

This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2023 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.

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