What to Do When a Child Uses a Racist Term

By Carly Seifert
Providing your child with opportunities to hang out with a diverse group of peers helps shape healthy attitudes about race.
Providing your child with opportunities to hang out with a diverse group of peers helps shape healthy attitudes about race.

If your child uses a racist term, it is important to deal with the behavior -- and any underlying causes -- quickly and effectively. By continuing to maintain an open dialogue with your child about race and discrimination, you can help prevent such an incident from repeating itself while also instilling in him an attitude of respect.

In the Moment

Make clear to your child that all forms of racism are unacceptable by responding immediately when the term is used. If any other peers or adults heard the term being used, make sure that they know that you do not tolerate racism. If your child directed the term at someone, be sure that he apologizes to the person, following up with the victim's parents if necessary to let them know that you handled the situation. Remove your child from the situation as quickly as possible so that you can discuss the attitude behind his comment privately.

Follow Up

The Cumbria City Council of Cumbria, U.K., states that you will be more likely to encourage your child to re-evaluate his views if you ask thoughtful questions that encourage dialogue. Ask him where he heard the racist term and why he thinks it is all right to use it. This will give you an opportunity to discover whether your child simply did not understand the negativities associated with the term or if there is an underlying attitude about race behind the comment that needs to be addressed.

Ongoing Discussion

According to The Leadership Conference, the experiences children have in childhood shape their attitudes as adults. Do not avoid the subject of race, because your child will be exposed to images and ideas that you may not be aware of at school and in the media. Instead, be an active part of shaping your child's views, talking freely with your child about race and ethnicity, answering his questions, and openly discussing the similarities and differences among people with him. Teach your child to recognize and speak out against discrimination when he encounters it.

Practice What You Preach

Be aware of your own attitudes about race, being careful to model for your child inclusive behavior and respectful language when it comes to people of other races. Part of encouraging your child to reach across racial and ethnic lines and shaping healthy attitudes about race is to provide opportunities for him to be around diversity. Surround yourself with friends from a variety of cultures and backgrounds and provide role models for your child from different ethnic groups. Read books, purchase toys and hang artwork that depicts people from a variety of races.

About the Author

Carly Seifert has been a piano instructor since 2001. She has also covered adoption and introducing children to the arts for "Montana Parent Magazine." Seifert graduated from University of California, Irvine with a Bachelor of Arts in drama.