By: Sara Phou, LCSW
Director, Center for Children and Families
Young children are taking in the world and making sense of it all of the time. At different ages and stages, they are attributing meaning in different ways. As parents and caregivers, we are our child’s first teacher and the way we respond and make sense of the world influences our children. Parents are everything to a young child and as they enter toddlerhood and become social, they get to know their friends and their friends’ parents and families. As they move into preschool and elementary age, they notice differences and start to compare “their world” or view of the world with others. And may begin to have more questions and wonderings.
It is important to acknowledge and respond to your child’s wonderings and curiosities. Here are some things you can keep in mind when talking to young children about friends with same sex parents.
Be proactive and think about healthy exposure.
Expose your child to a variety of lifestyles and different kinds of families. This exposure can be through friends and family, your community, and attending different events. This exposure can also be through books and other media including shows and movies. You may want to have discussions about all families being different and that difference isn’t a reason to exclude, avoid or tease anyone, and emphasize lessons of kindness.
Manage your own feelings.
Be aware of your own worries, fears, anxieties, prejudice, and comfort or discomfort. It is important to pay attention to what feelings come up for you and how to regulate and manage them. We know that kids are keenly observant, and even when you don’t say something, you are saying something. If you avoid the conversation and change the subject because you are uncomfortable, your child may get the message that there was something wrong with the question they asked. Instead find your calm, listen to what they are asking, and do your best to answer. And remember you can always go back; this should be just the start to an ongoing conversation.
Keep it simple.
Be direct and simple in a developmentally appropriate way. You don’t have to get into the details, historical or political context. Start with their questions and expand from there based on their age, interest and further questions. You may say something like “some families have two moms, or two dads and they are just like any other family.” “Families can look different, and difference is good.” “One or both of their parents may work just like ours, they both have chores or jobs at home, and eat meals and play together just like our family.” You may want to remind them that ‘love is love’ and people deserve to love and be loved. If children are a little older and have more detailed questions, again remember to keep it simple and stick to answering their questions. If you are unsure how to answer, you can do your best and say, “these are good questions, and you are very curious. I want to make sure I can answer your questions fully so I am going to think more about this and do my own research so we can discuss this more.” If you do this, please be sure to go back to it in a timely manner. Don’t wait for your child to bring it up again. Instead get what you need and go back to your child and say, “We were talking about this the other day, and you had some questions I was unsure how to answer. I have some information now; do you want to talk about it?”
Be thoughtful and responsive. Follow your child’s quest for understanding. And know that you can always go back to clarify, add more detail and keep the conversation going.
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