How do I discuss being gay with my 8-year-old?

Q: My 8-year-old son asked what it means to be gay. How do I answer correctly for an 8-year-old?

A: When an 8 year-old asks this kind of question, the answer is almost always more straightforward than most parents fear: the truth. Most 8 year-olds will gladly accept an answer that is honest and to the point (without giving excessive details). This might sound something like, "Sometimes men fall in love with men and women fall in love with women - when they do, we call it a 'gay' relationship." The question of why it is called gay is a whole different story, but the good news is that when you don't know the answer to a question, it is perfectly fine to simply say, "You know, I don't know the answer to that!" Some parents may fear that if they tell their younger children that "gay" is what it means when people of the same gender are attracted to each other that they will be forced to answer questions about sexual relations between same sex couples, but in my experience that is rarely the case - it doesn't occur to most kids that age to ask. And, even if they do, the answer is pretty simple: they do the same things that straight couples do. Some parents also fear that telling a younger child that sometimes men are attracted to men and women are attracted to women will put ideas in their kids' heads about "becoming gay" themselves. This could not be further from the truth. The reality is that in the absence of information provided from a reliable source (a.k.a. you!) kids are more likely to get faulty information from other sources or just fill in the blanks themselves. Rest assured that your children are what they are, and providing information will only help them have a better understanding of the world around them.

Answered by Jeff Palitz, MFT

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