When kids use cruel words, it's vital that adults speak up
Solution: It's both OK and important to speak up, said family therapist Fran Walfish, author of "The Self-Aware Parent."
Equally important is your tone.
"Your job, as the adult in the situation, is not to blame or judge or be punitive or harsh," Walfish said. "You want to have an almost benign tone of voice."
This will set the stage for the little offender -- and your own child -- to actually hear your message, rather than bury it in a pile of embarrassed defenses.
"What I would say is, in a very compassionate tone, 'I get it. That's how your friends talk. But in our house we have the rule that we don't hurt each other with hands or words. Those words can be hurtful to some people, and in our house we don't take that chance,'" Walfish suggested.
"Then leave it at that. Only say, 'And you're only welcome in our house when you don't use that word' if she keeps using the word over and over."
If your child's friend is directing derogatory words at your child, you can alter your approach a bit to help her see the effect of her language.
"You position yourself as a mediator," Walfish said. "Your first question is to your own child, 'Hey, how do you feel when your friend calls you that?' You want to empower the receiver of the hostility and encourage her to tell the other child how she feels.
"Then you explain to the friend that in your house, it's a rule that you don't hurt each other with hands or words."
Tone remains critical in both cases.
"You can't be sarcastic," Walfish said. "You can't be mean or seem overprotective. You're just being clear: This is how it is. That language has to stop."
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