How to Help Children Understand Diverse Families

Two moms with preschool son

Our world is incredibly diverse and families are no different, with varying 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 identify and 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 from 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 children 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 families with only children, families with many siblings, blended families, foster families, LGBTQ families, multi-generational families, and many others. This diversity of families makes life richer. 

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. Other families have one child, no children, or many children. 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. 

  • Families by Shelley Rotner

  • Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer

  • Saturday by Oge Mora

  • My Family, Your Family! by Kathryn Cole

  • Families Can by Dan Saks

  • Daddy, Papa, and Me by Lesléa Newman 

  • Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman

 

Two moms with preschool son
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