Q: We've got a relative who is an equal opportunity racist—he's quick to tell jokes or make disparaging remarks about any creed, color or culture. I'm afraid my first-grader is going to start repeating this stuff on the playground. What should I say to make him stop and explain it all to my child?
A: Oh, make no mistake about it: Your child will repeat the offensive remarks—children are sponges that way, particularly when it comes to repeating memorably naughty words emphasized with great verve by adults they admire. And your relative is not the one who'll be sitting in the principal's office trying to explain why your son is spewing racist, offensive banter out on the monkey bars—it'll be you in the hot seat. Nip this in the bud immediately. Start with your child. Sit him down and tell him in no uncertain terms that it is never acceptable to make mean remarks about other people's skin color, language, culture, or sex. Tell him that those are things that make people different—not lesser, not weird, just different—and those differences are what make our world interesting. You might drive the point home by helping him make meaningful connections with kids who are different from him so that he can see for himself not only the beauty of different but also our inherent similarities—the things that make us all wonderfully human. Then tell your racist relative to shut his piehole. Let him know that you don't agree with his ugly comments and jokes, and that you will absolutely not tolerate that kind of garbage in your presence and especially not in front of your impressionable child. If he can't—or refuses to—abide by those rules, he need not be around you or your first-grader, period.
Denene Millner has judgment-free advice for the trickiest kid (and grown-up!) behaviors. Send her your questions at email@example.com.