Thesis Title

Family Language Labels: Effect on Children Living With Non-Parental Caregivers

Graduation Date

Fall 2007

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Program Name


Program Director

Madalienne F. Peters, EdD


Schools work hard to create a caring environment for students, but they may be missing an important issue. Some students are having their home life misrepresented in classroom discourse. Teachers and schools are constantly using the word parent, mother, or father to describe children’s caregivers when in fact many students live, permanently or temporarily, with caregivers. In this paper a parent is defined as a biological mother or father. The purpose of this study is to examine the effects that continued exposure to the word parent has on elementary students living with non-parental caregivers.

Literature indicates that children live with many types of caregivers other than biological parents, including foster parents, adoptive parents, grandparents, and parents’ live-in partners. At the same time, schools are being encouraged to support diversity and use inclusive language. Additional research shows that when children’s experiences are not acknowledged in discourse, they can be silenced.

If language theories, usually applied to ethnicity and gender, can be extrapolated to include children with non-traditional families, then schools are doing a number of students a disservice. However, additional research is needed on the actual extent of the problem in schools and the effects on the students.

Six adult females were interviewed in a qualitative study collecting experiences and perceptions of students exposed to misrepresentative family language labels in the classroom. Participants perceived themselves as different from the norm, or did not see themselves represented in discourse. They wished teachers had used more inclusive words when describing families. This study adds to current research by giving a voice to students living with non-parental caregivers during elementary school.

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