Families come in all shapes and sizes. Whatever family background a child comes from, at one point or another, they are bound to encounter families that don’t look like the kind they are familiar with. Because children are naturally curious people, they are also bound to ask some questions.
As an adult figure in a child’s life, it is important to be prepared to have these discussions with them. When you are not ready for the questions they ask, it could lead to misunderstandings or wrong perceptions about other families. This guide can help you approach the topic for different kinds of nontraditional families.
Helping a Child Through Divorce
Sometimes, a nontraditional family isn’t just a topic to a child. It is the life they are currently living. They ask not out of curiosity but as a way to process what is happening in their lives.
For children who are experiencing divorce in their family, discussing nontraditional families with them is also a way to help them cope.
Before approaching your child for a discussion, remember that they feel a certain level of distress at the separation. Take their feelings into consideration as you sit down to speak with them. They need not just straightforward answers but reassurance and comfort.
There are also concerns about the child’s future when the parents are going through a divorce. Divorce attorneys help to understand the legal consequences of the separation and how to assist and protect children throughout the process.
Divorce is never easy for any affected party, especially children. Co-parents and guardians should approach the topic always with empathy and love as the child learns to live with the separation.
Talking to Your Child About Nontraditional Families
Nontraditional family structures do not just include families with divorced parents. They may also take the form of single parents and their children, same-sex couples, foster parents, and even having other family members standing in as parents.
With such a diversity in families our children and we encounter, it is good to consider the best ways to explain them. Here are some helpful tips for doing so sensitively and easily for children to grasp.
1. Don’t try to force the conversation
Many adults try to rack their brains just trying to find a way to set their child aside and give them “the talk.” However, it doesn’t have to be so rigid! You don’t necessarily have to go out of your way to schedule a talk with your child about these matters.
What helps is to slowly introduce them to what nontraditional families are. One non-intimidating way to do this is by diversifying their storybook collection to include stories about nontraditional families. If they encounter different kinds of content they consume, they gain a broader perspective of what a family looks like.
If they don’t understand something, they will come to you to ask questions. The questions that come from them spark the conversation most of the time. In other instances, you can accompany them in reading books or watching shows with diverse families and explain as you go along.
2. Use a positive tone
There are situations where the questions a child asks strike something deeply personal. When these happen, always keep in mind that they are not asking out of malice or spite. Kids truly want to understand.
Avoid giving defensive or angry responses to their honest questions. They will pick up on your change of tone, and it may discourage them from asking any more questions in the future. Instead, take things lightly and frame your answers positively.
For instance, if your child speaks about a friend’s family and wonders out loud about why they don’t have the same kind, you can begin by saying something similar, “Every family looks different, but they are all special in their unique ways.”
3. Be honest and concise
When caught off guard by a child’s bluntness, the tendency is to shy away from their inquiries and change the topic, or worse, lie to them. Not telling the truth can confuse them even further or give them wrong ideas.
Answer them in a straightforward manner, but do not over-explain. Your child can digest a limited amount of information at one time, so the safest route is to respond to what they asked at the moment. There will be time to explain more later on!
Helping children understand that nontraditional families are more normal than they think does not have to be difficult! With a wise approach, it can be rewarding for both you and your child.