Talking about Family with Preschoolers

Jul 21, 2022 9:00:00 AM / by Amber Lappin

For young children, their families are essentially their whole world. Infants and toddlers depend on their caregivers for everything—and even though preschool-aged children are more independent, their family members are the center of everything they do. That’s why it’s especially important to pay attention to how we talk about families at church with our littles. When we work to include all sorts of families, we help children feel safe and seen in our presence. Here are a few tips for family inclusiveness:

  • Stay connected to families: The most important part of making sure you’re representing the families of your kiddos well is to make sure you know their families. That means taking the time to interact with them on a regular basis. Remember that most families change structure over time. Death, divorce, deployment, incarceration, new relationships, new siblings, changes in housing, marriage, older siblings or other relatives moving out (or back in), housing crises, changes in jobs, the onset of physical or mental illness—there’s an endless list of positive, negative, and seemingly neutral occurrences that could impact the family identity of the children in your class. When family structures change, the needs of that child could change. Not sure what adjustments to make? Ask! “What can I do to make sure your child feels welcome here?”

  • Pay attention to your language about families: So often, even those of us who don’t come from a nuclear family default to the phrase “mommies and daddies” or “parents.” There are many different ways to make sure your language doesn’t exclude children from “nontraditional” families:
    • If they’re making a craft, ask, “Who are you making that for?” or “Who would you like to say ‘thank you’ to?”
    • If you’re likening a Bible story to their lives, you may try “What grownups make you feel loved?” or “Who hugs you when you are sad?”
    • When reminding them to sign up for an event, “Tell your grownups to stop by the registration table!”

  • Check your environment for representation of families: Make sure that your children don’t just HEAR about different types of families; let them SEE them, too. Posters on the wall, books you read and have for them to explore, toys—all should reflect the various types of families in your church. If you have a dollhouse, be sure to add a variety of choices of people—different ages, genders, skin tones—and multiples of each. (Note: dollhouses are a wonderful way to connect with young kids—if you don’t have one in your classroom, this would be a good wish list item!)

  • Encourage inclusivity: At this age, it’s developmentally appropriate that children will notice that some families are different than others. Your reaction is the key. If a child says “Hey! You can’t have TWO mommies! You have to have a daddy!”—it’s your job to step in and reassure. With a kind tone, you can redirect the conversation by just stating facts. “You noticed that Chantal has a Mama and a Mommy who love her so much! That’s a cool family. Your family has a Mommy and a Daddy who love YOU so much. Aren’t families so cool?” Sometimes, people will want to add, “and that’s okay” but this can be unnecessary—and perhaps imply that it’s our job to decide if a family is or is not acceptable. Instead, simply acknowledging differences in a positive way can imply acceptance without suggesting that rejection is an option. “Yep, Mai’s family has a grandma and an auntie who take care of her. Dante has a dad who takes care of him. Isn’t it wonderful when grownups take such good care of their kids?”

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, one of the big goals of antibias education is for children to feel a sense pride when it comes to their identity—especially in regard to family. In children’s ministry, we help children feel confident in God’s love for them by taking intentional steps to make sure they know that all parts of their identity are beautiful. Learning their family stories and respecting them are wonderful ways to show kids this truth.

Topics: Early Childhood Ministry, family

Amber Lappin

Written by Amber Lappin

Amber Lappin, M.Ed., is a speaker and writer with three decades of experience in early childhood development and children’s ministry. She works as a professor in the School of Education & Teacher Prep at Riverside City College. Amber enjoys her small farm in Southern California with her husband of 30 years, Jason. They have three adult children and an ever-growing assortment of weirdo animals.


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