“Mommy, Lainey says she has two mommies. I said she couldn't.” Families come in different shapes and sizes, and while your preschooler may understand her family makeup, she might not be familiar with other variations. Her questions might make you a bit uncomfortable, but answering them at home where you have some control over the environment may prevent public embarrassment. It might even help her understand family units in her own family tree.
1. Our Family
Your preschooler might look at pictures in the family scrapbook and identify connections, such as Aunt Helen, Uncle Pete and Tracy are a family unit and Gramms and Pops are Aunt Helen’s parents. You might point out the diversity in your own family. For example, you can ask him how families changed following a divorce or death. To provide another visual activity, he might use paper dolls to represent your family and others related to you. Alternatively, you might help him build a simple family tree.
2. Fairy Tale Families
Familiar fairy tales your preschooler knows contain family diversity. For example, Cinderella has a stepmother, two stepsisters and a dead father; Pinocchio has a single father but never had a mother and Snow White runs away from her evil stepmother to live with seven short guys in the woods. Those tales and many others introduce your preschooler to families that differ from hers. You might ask her how Cinderella felt when her father died or why Dorothy lives with her aunt and uncle in the “Wizard of Oz.” She might have ideas about why Peter Pan and the lost boys don’t have parents.
3. Modern Family Stories
Modern books contain descriptions of family groups that display a much greater diversity than fairy tales. Stories he might enjoy include Todd Parr’s “The Mommy Book,” “The Daddy Book” and “The Family Book;” Carol Thompson and Lesleá Newman’s “Mommy, Momma and Me” or Nina Pellegrini’s “Families Are Different.” He will discover children living with two mothers or two fathers; single parent, adopted and foster families and grandparents raising grandchildren. He will see that each unique family is special.
4. Things Families Share
Families may look different, but they often share important characteristics such as love, respect and challenges. Your preschooler might compare her family to the ones she meets in stories or to those of her friends. She can tell you about the elements these families share. She might also notice that animal families can share commonalities with human families such as parents caring for babies or parents defending children from danger. Baby animals might demonstrate that siblings like to play together, but don’t always get along.