Middle school is a time of intense identity development. Your child may form a new relationship to their gender, sexuality, faith, race, ethnicity, immigration status, disability, or class status, among others. Supporting a child through this exploration can be challenging for parents, only because young people now have access to a much wider range of identities and vocabulary for these identities than many of us had when we were there age. The variety of options children have now is a good thing. It is up to us to learn these new terms and concepts, and to love our children unconditionally, no matter who they are. The following are a few guidelines to use when supporting your child’s identity development.
Believe your child
When your child claims a new identity, do not dismiss it. Come from a place of curiosity and faith, rather than a place of skepticism. Some of the concepts your child shares with you may be new to you, but that does not mean that they do not exist. Even if your child’s identity shifts over time, remember that change is natural, and that your child is the expert on their own life
Read books, join support groups, call your school counselor, watch documentaries, talk to family members – in short, do whatever it takes to learn about what your child is exploring. Although it is okay to ask your child questions, remember that it is not their job to teach you everything. Doing background research will not only show your child how much you care, it will also alleviate some of their burden.
Create a nonjudgmental space
Work with family members such as spouses, siblings, or any relatives who live in your house to ensure that they fully accept your child. Young people with non-mainstream identities often face bullying at school, online, or in their neighborhood. Your home should be a space where your child can feel safe, particularly as they are learning to navigate this side of themselves and their place in the world.
Make space to talk about your child’s feelings
Encourage your child to talk about how they feel about these transitions. Learn how to be an active listener, and do not discount what they are saying. If your child does not feel comfortable talking to you, find resources in the community like therapists, counselors, or identity groups that may be able to help your young person in the specific ways that they need.
Seek out therapy for yourself
As your child grows and changes, you’ll be processing a lot of emotions. You may miss the child you thought you knew, or feel anger towards a world that isn’t as accepting as you thought it might be. Although it is alright to share some of these feelings with your child, it is best to process them yourself, in a separate space, so that your child doesn’t feel that they are troubling you every time they talk about themselves.