What To Say When Your Kid Makes a Cringe-Worthy Comment (Using An Anti-Bias Approach)
Updated: Apr 1, 2022
Ever hear a comment come out of the mouth of a young child that seems incredibly rude and uncaring, yet they say it with complete innocence and candor?
And then you're left to deal with the aftermath. What can you possibly say to make this situation better? How can you respond gracefully? Should you correct or reprimand the child? Should you apologize? examples:
Wow! Missy's Mom has a big butt!
Kids can't have 2 Dads!
Is George's Mom a boy or a girl?
Why are you in a wheelchair?
Why is his skin ugly?
The answer to this dilemma lies in your core beliefs about inclusion. It forces you to examine your own attitudes about differences in order to come up with an appropriate response.
Though the child's choice of words put you in a difficult situation, it's your response that matters. Chances are, the child is just curious and doesn't mean any harm. So what do you say?
These situations have all happened to me in my 43 +years as an early childhood teacher and parent. Most of the time, the person being addressed answered the child in a matter-of-fact way for me and diffused the situation. But recently I learned some words that can actually teach children to form an anti-bias attitude about other human beings.
Anti-bias experiences in early childhood are those that support respecting and embracing differences and acting against bias and unfairness. Anti-bias teaching requires critical thinking and problem solving by both children and adults.
The phrases I use go something like this:
Missy's mom might be a different size than you're used to. Good people come in all different shapes and sizes. (Sometimes, if the situation feels right, I might add something like, "Missy's Mom spends a lot of time volunteering at the neighborhood community center where we play sometimes, remember?)
This can be adapted to many different situations successfully!
Good people can dress in many different ways.
Good people have all different kinds of abilities.
Good families can look different than your family and enjoy many of the same things.
Good people come from many different places and cultures and they don't always look, talk or smell the same way as you do.
Grandma skin looks different than baby skin doesn't it? I wouldn't call it ugly, just different.
Here's a link to my article on "I messages" and how they can be used to set boundaries.
When you choose words like these, you're helping children learn to accept human beings for who they are instead of how they look. This is at the core of an anti-bias attitude of acceptance and inclusion.
It's what I call The New Empathy and it means both power and peace through non-violent communication.
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Do you want to know what to say when your child or a child you're caring for tattles?
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Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.
Derman-Sparks, Louise. Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children. National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2001.
Derman-Sparks, Louise, et al. Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves. National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2020.
Hammond, Zaretta, and Yvette Jackson. Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. Corwin, a SAGE Company, 2015.
Iruka, Iheoma U., et al. Don't Look Away Embracing Anti-Bias Classrooms. Gryphon House, 2021.
Anti-Bias Curriculum for the Preschool Classroom. Redleaf Press, 2021.