Talking to Children About Our Families
The Family Equality Council (formerly Family Pride) -- the national organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer parents and their children since 1979 -- created this guide to help parents discuss their family structures with their child/children in an age-appropriate way. Like all children, our children wonder where they came from. As they grow older and gain information about biology and how babies are conceived, they may come to ask questions about the creation of our families. The presumption of a mother and father creating a child (which may be valid for some of our children) is one with which our children will be saturated through their daily interactions with children's books, the media, school personnel, peer discussions and exposure to various family models.
Very young children are not naturally inclined to make judgments about family structure. They see family configurations as a matter of fact. As children become a part of the larger peer culture, they will be exposed to other peoples' judgments of their families. The earlier children are given appropriate information about their lives and their families, the easier it will be for them to understand and appreciate them.
The information that follows is divided into developmental stages based on the types of needs children have at different ages. It is intended to support parents in responding to their children's (spoken and unspoken) questions as they come to understand who they are in the context of their family and who their family is in the context of their community.
Children Under 3 Years Old
Babies and most toddlers do not ask us questions about their families. However, they do notice what goes on around them, and those observations form the basis of their thinking about families. Here are some of the thoughts they may have:
"Who are these people who take care of me?"
Infants and toddlers are focused on developing relationships. Their families are and will remain the most important relationships they have. Their sense of self is connected to their sense of family, and their way of being in the world is modeled through these early relationships. Infants and toddlers view their families as extensions of themselves.
"I call her my 'mima' but my grandmother calls her my 'mommy'."
As children learn to talk, they need to have their significant adults speaking the same language as they are. The terms used by others to discuss family members need to be consistent with those that are familiar to the child.
Parents can inform other people about the name or names they use to refer to family members. Childcare providers, extended family and friends should all use the same language to name the members of the child's family.
"These people are fun to be with. My moms seem to be having a good time with them."
People in a child's extended family and community are important in the child's life. If possible, create a community of other gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer families similar to yours or who are supportive of your family. Doing so can create a network of people who communicate warmly and positively to children about their families and reflect similar family structures.
For example, this is possible when children who visit a family just like their own have adults who point out and reflect on the similarities between families by saying something like, "You have a daddy and a papa and so does Juan." The more they see and hear about similar families, the more it reinforces who families can include.
"Who is mine? Who is yours?"
Anyone who has been around toddlers knows that they are learning about and focused on "mine." This is a natural part of their development and of coming to know who they are. This is a good time to begin talking about who "belongs" to them.
Children need to hear about their families from an early age and be told who is in their family. They never tire of hearing who loves them and how they are wanted. Simple language and family pictures can help children become aware of how their family came to be.
When they become older toddlers, they will be interested in other families. Specifically, they will want to know who belongs to whom. Talking about the many ways to be a family becomes important, as in: "Thomas has two moms, and Evan has a mom and a dad. You and Kati have two dads." Children learn about the world through their own personal experiences and therefore, think all families are like their own. These simple statements help children develop a concept of "family" that includes others' as well as their own.
Reprinted with permission from Family Equality Council. © Family Equality Council.
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