How to Help Children Understand Changing Families

By Lindsay Hornell, B.S.W, B.A., and Emily Koeppel, B.A., Graduate Research Assistants
Department of Human Development and Family Studies
Colorado State University

How to Help Children Understand Changing Families

Over time, the traditional nuclear family is becoming less common as a "new normal" family appears. Some examples of the "new normal" family includes: dual working parent families, single parent families, cohabiting individuals, un-married parent families, Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender families, and grandfamilies (i.e., grandparents and kin who assume parental responsibilities for children). With so many different types of families, it is a great time to focus on understanding the "new normal" family dynamics and how family structure has shifted in recent years. More specifically, with family dynamics shifting as a these "new normal" families surface, it is important for grandparents to know how to embrace changes and help their grandchildren accept all types of family backgrounds including their own.

One way to help children accept all types of families is to model acceptance yourself. As grandparent raising your grandchildren, be sure to be aware of the changes taking place as the "new normal" for families emerges. Look at your own extended family: siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. There are most likely a variety of family structures within your own family. It is important to be aware and be sensitive to all types of family structures. Children often mirror the actions of adults, especially grandparental figures. Therefore, modeling acceptance and most importantly, respect, to all families will help children respond in the same way.

Another way to help children understand that all families look different is to talk openly about it. This is likely to happen as grandchildren will ask you why their mom or dad does live with them. Explain to them that there is no "right" or "wrong" type of family. As long as a family loves each other, offers support, security, and companionship, it does not matter what the family structure looks like. If your grandchild asks a question about why a certain family is different-answer the question without getting uncomfortable and reiterate the point that all families look different. The more you talk about differences, the more normal they will become to children. Just keep in mind to keep dialogue open and light. Teaching your own grandchild to be accepting of different families, including their own, is a great way to teach acceptance in all aspects of life.

Information for this article was provided from: Dr. Peggy Drexler's on How to Talk to Kids About the New Normal