It’s easy to fall into the trap of letting your children believe that the bubble they live in is the same world as everybody else’s. Whether your children are growing up in a single parent home, a traditional nuclear family or with same-sex parents, foster parents or an adoptive family – Christmas is a great time to teach them about diverse families.
No one family looks entirely the same and, as extended families get together to celebrate the holiday season, it might be the first time some children become aware of the fact that families come in a variety of different shapes and sizes.
Clinical psychologist Dr Elizabeth Westrupp, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Deakin University says children are quite quick to put people and families into “categories” in an attempt to help them to understand the world.
“Children go through quite a concrete stage which means things are very black and white. So, they tend to think in terms of ‘boys do these kind of things’ and ‘girls do those kinds of things’. Of course, not all kids are the same but in general, developmentally, they orientate towards things being quite concrete,” Dr Westrupp says.
“It’s good to keep that in mind because, unless kids are directly taught, they will make their own categorisations about people. And, because of that, kids will often make inappropriate comments.”
Children draw conclusions to simplify their world
According to Dr Westrupp, children will often come up with their own conclusions about people and families because they’re trying to simplify their world.
“They’re just trying to make sense of the people and the world around them and, similar to research around preventing racism, it all comes down to how you go about talking to your kids. So, it’s important to educate children around different families as well.
“Parents are advised to be very direct and have regular conversations with their children, and there’s nothing wrong with being blunt and quite explicit about the variety of families that they will come across.”
Dr Westrupp believes some parents are scared to talk to children about topics that society is sensitive about. However, children aren’t necessarily aware of what is likely to be perceived as a sensitive topic.
“Most kids aren’t sensitive to topics in the way some adults are. So the rule of thumb is that it’s all about how you pitch things to them. It’s completely fine to be really open and, when kids are curious and ask questions, you should do your very best to answer them.
“It’s a good idea to keep the conversation going. You can talk about how not all families are the same, and they can look different in different ways. You can also talk about the pros and cons of different families. And you shouldn’t have a problem talking about those issues.”