A child once said that a family is "a group of people who love and take care of each other." Keeping this definition firmly implanted in the front of your brain and heart will allow you as a child care provider to more fully understand the importance of family to us all and the importance of accepting the make up of the families whose children are in your care. It is important for you to help children being raised in diverse family arrangements to feel that they are apart of a real family. The children may know that their family structure is not the normal one in the community and may be self-conscious about it. You can help the child understand that this is okay .
You can help children accept different family structures by defining families in terms of what people do for each other. In many ways your center provides an extended family for the children.
Have the children list what a family provides for its members. Have them draw, cut out and paste, or list things a family provides. Even very young children will be able to name many of these. Discuss how these things are provided in families. Use the experiences of your children. Then you may expand upon this by reading stories about other times in history or other cultural groups. How did they meet the same needs?
Family groups provide: food, shelter, clothing; a sense of identity and a feeling of belonging; language for communicating with others; cultural heritage; economic support; affection; care in sickness and in health; spiritual belief or world view; rules for appropriate behavior; survival skills; values and traditions; education; recreation; relaxation and a haven. How does your child care program provide these things?
Consider your own attitudes! Are you unknowingly conveying a negative image about some families? Do you consider some families as "broken"?
Talk to the children about the many different ways people can be a family. Again you can use stories from other cultures and times in history or if the children are comfortable their own stories.
Encourage children to ask questions. Answer these honestly referring back to the functions of a family and avoid making personal judgements about adult choices in family formation.
Let children talk about their own families only when they are comfortable doing so. No child should be coerced into sharing information they do not wish or may have been told not to share.
Understand that it may be difficult for children to explain their family structure. Encourage parents to spend time helping their child to describe their family in terms of how needs are met and to help children develop the words to describe the family.
You may ask children to draw a picture of all of the people who are a part of their family. Let them talk to you about the picture.
There are many different ways to do most everything in the world. This includes providing the supports for individuals to allow them to be healthy and happy. These systems and groups are families. Who belongs is defined by the group. Children need your acceptance and the acceptance of others in your program, regardless of the composition of that family group.