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Ways to teach your child to accept all families

One of the most important gifts we can give our children is the ability to feel good about their family's uniqueness.

In a world where all kinds of ties bind parents to their children- whether the adults are single, in a same-sex marriage, or adoptive guardians – it’s important to teach children that it’s not who’s involved but the love they share that defines a family.

Did you know that more than half of all children live in non-traditional families? Nonetheless, a segment of society regards the so-called traditional family as ideal. When this ethos is passed down from adults to children, it can perpetuate bias and ignorance, resulting in taunting and bullying of children in single-parent households, same-sex families, and every other variation.

Todd Parr, the author of dozens of children’s books about unconventional families, has witnessed firsthand how a parent’s ideas about family can influence their children. When he went to schools to read his books, The Mommy Book and The Daddy Book, to students, he received criticism for a sentence that mentioned two-mom and two-dad households.

“It caused problems for educators,” says Parr, “because parents were opposed to their children hearing this factual information, even if it was presented in an age-appropriate manner.”

When these attitudes are passed down to children, their peers in non-traditional families can expect to hear comments about their clan’s supposed strangeness. “You don’t resemble anyone in your family,” a child may say to an adopted child. When a child hears this, he or she may feel alienated.

The good news is that we are not helpless in our fight to change the outcome.

As any parent knows, children are sponges. They are always watching us, and our actions speak louder than our words.

Here’s how to give your child a broad and inclusive picture of “family”, so they can treat other children with kindness, take pride in their heritage, and grow up to live a happy life.

Find children’s media featuring all types of families

Through picture books and television shows, it is simple to normalise non-traditional families so that when your kids meet different types of families in real life, it’s not strange at all. A few include the animated comedy Despicable Me, about a supervillain who develops feelings for three girls from an adoption agency, and the book, It’s Okay to Be Different.

Spend time with a variety of families

Talk to your child about the differences in the family before the encounter “non-traditional” families so they don’t say something during the encounter that might unintentionally be hurtful. If children are accustomed to making friends with children from diverse families, they can be allies for one another.

Boost your child’s confidence

Instilling confidence begins at home. When confronted with ignorant or cruel comments or questions, a child with high self-esteem has a deeper reservoir of resilience. Allow your child to participate in household decisions such as what to make for dinner, how chores are assigned, and what your weekend plans will be if you haven’t already. Making them feel like they’re contributing to the family boosts confidence in the unit, provides them with a sense of self-worth, and prepares them for inner stability.

Answer all their questions

Parents may be hesitant to explain certain family types to their children, fearing that discussing divorce will make a child fear that their parents will also divorce or that bringing up a transgender parent will raise difficult questions about gender identity. But you’d rather your child get information from you than from others or make it up for themselves. Take your time and plan out what you want to say ahead of time, he adds. And keep in mind that complex conversations can sometimes strengthen bonds. Your kids will know they can talk to you about anything, and that is critical, especially as they mature.

Consult with teachers

If you notice your child has become withdrawn, appears embarrassed to speak about your family, or no longer enjoys going to school, speak with their teacher. Check to see if any bullying has occurred, and work together to share information about your child’s well-being. It’s also a good idea to inform the teacher about your family dynamics so that they can be a resource and an ally.

Discuss various family structures

Here are some wise words to help you teach your children of all ages about different types of families.

Foster and adoptive families: “Sometimes, mommies and daddies cannot care for a baby, so they find another family to love and care for them.” Note: If your child expresses concern about adoption, reassure them that you are capable of caring for them.

Family of transgender parents: “Some people identify as boys, while others identify as girls, and still others identify as neither. But no matter how a person appears or feels on the inside, they all love their children the same way.”

Households with same-sex parents: “There are families with two mothers or fathers who adore each other. They are fantastic and loving parents.”

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