How to Help Children Understand Diverse Families
Diverse family structures are more common and children will ask questions about non-traditional families. Learn simple ways to teach children about diverse families.
Our world is a melting pot of different family configurations, beliefs, cultural norms, and personal practices. One of the most important gifts we can give our children is to help them feel good about the uniqueness of their family and help them learn to accept, respect, and include people whom they may experience as "different."
Answering Questions about Diverse Family Structures
Families come in many different structures and sizes. Young children often have questions when they notice families that seem different than their own. This is a great opportunity to share your values about families, diversity, and inclusion with your child. Here are a few ideas to guide the conversation.
Keep it simple. Young children generally don’t need or want long, complex answers. Something like, “Cody lives with his grandmother. His grandmother is his family,” or “Malia has two mommies. They are her family,” are sufficient. Preschool children are concrete thinkers and not ready for a philosophical discussion.
Celebrate diversity. Children’s growing awareness of diverse family structures provides rich opportunities to celebrate family diversity and engage them in conversation about who is in THEIR family, who lives in THEIR house and more importantly, who takes care of them. Point out the wonderful, interesting diversity of families, which might include blended families, foster families, LGBTQ families, multi-generational families, and many others. This diversity of families makes life richer and ensures that every child can hopefully have someone who loves and cares for them.
Define what makes a family. Children tend to thrive when they come to understand there are varying family structures and that all families are wonderful, so long as the people in them love and care about each other. This repeated message helps children feel secure, even if their family configuration changes through death, separation, or other life events.
When children ask, "Can a family have two mommies?" one suggested response is: "Yes, some families may have two mommies, one mommy, no mommy, or even lots of mommies. And some families may have two daddies, one daddy, no daddy, or even lots of daddies. Some families also include grandparents, foster parents, aunts, and uncles. Any combination works. It’s love that makes a family—just like in our family."
Children's Books about Diverse Families
Literature is a wonderful way to expose children to the world. By sharing books such as the ones listed below, you are communicating that diverse families and people are all acceptable. There may be different values and structures, but in the end…it’s about family.
- The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman. This book features a diverse variety of family structures, what family members do, and where they live.
- The Family Book by Todd Parr. In this book, the author celebrates all types of families in a funny, reassuring manner. He includes diverse family structures like adoptive families, step-families, single-parent families, two-mom and two-dad families, and families with both a mom and a dad.
- Whoever You Are by Mem Fox. This beautifully illustrated book reminds children that we may be of different nationalities, races, ethnicities, languages or faiths, and may live our lives very differently, but we all still have the same daily needs, hopes, and dreams.