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What do I do about my child's racist remarks, and more advice from Dear Prudence.

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Tags: psychology child-psychology attention-seeking-behavior slate.com
Clipped on: 2021-03-15

Dear Prudence

Help! I Can’t Stop My Young Daughter From Making Racist Comments.

Do I just hope she grows out of this, or is there something else I can do?

March 14, 20219:00 AM

Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we will be diving into the Dear Prudie archives and sharing a selection of classic letters with our readers.

Dear Prudence,

My 6-year-old daughter has beautiful blond hair and blue eyes. She gets compliments regularly from people on how pretty she is and basks in the attention. She attends a small private school and there is a little boy in her class who is black. He is sweet, well-mannered, and has a great sense of humor. His parents are lovely people. The problem is that over the last two years my daughter has been making comments about people’s skin, particularly addressed to this little boy. These comments are along the lines of, “I don’t want to sit by him because he has dark skin.” Her teacher and I have sat down to discuss this with her and explain that this behavior is unacceptable to no avail. The other day she watched the beginning of Love Actually with me and she commented that the interracial couple shouldn’t be getting married because they don’t look right together. Obviously my method of teaching her to treat everyone equally and be accepting of all different people is not working. Her school is getting more concerned, although they know I am trying my best to combat it. Do I just hope she grows out of this, or is there something else I can do?

What a win-win this is for an attention-loving child. Usually she can just show up, and like a quokka, know that there will be oohs and ahs at the pleasure of gazing upon her. But since her classmates and teachers are accustomed to her looks, she may find school less gratifying. Then one day she stumbles upon the realization that if she says something awful about the color of a classmate’s skin, a stunning amount of attention comes her way. Sure it’s of the negative kind. But if you enjoy being the focus of things, you take what you can get. I spoke to Molly McDonald, a licensed marriage and family therapist in West Hartford, Conn. She says once the original explanation that everyone deserves to be respected didn’t extinguish the behavior, the continuing focus on your daughter’s transgressions became a kind of fuel. McDonald says both you and the teacher need to redirect your own behavior in order to change your daughter’s. McDonald says to think of her comments as being equivalent to a tantrum and thus best ignored. For example, when your daughter said the couple in the movie didn’t belong together, you should have either said nothing, or replied nonchalantly, “Oh, I think they look nice,” then refuse to discuss it further. You should talk to the teacher about her doing her best to not respond to your daughter’s rude remarks in the moment. But later in the school day she should discuss generally that everyone deserves to be treated with kindness.

McDonald also suggests engaging in role-play at home with your daughter. You say you’re going to play a game in which you pretend to be some of the other kids in the class, and she’s going to show you how she acts when she’s playing nicely. Then, playing the black classmate, ask her to sit next to you. If she does, you give her a hug and tell her she’s being a good friend. You tell her how happy you’ll be if you hear from the teacher that when she’s in school she’s being a good friend there. If the teacher does tell you things have improved, give your daughter a reward, such as a small bauble, to reinforce the behavior. McDonald also says it might be worthwhile to check into whether your daughter is getting some of her noxious ideas from someone in her life, possibly a relative. I’ll add that since you have a daughter who likes the limelight, find productive ways to turn it on her. Praise the funny story she wrote or colorful drawing she made. Teach her to help you make dinner and tell her what a good cook she’s becoming. Let her see that what she accomplishes is more important than how she looks. —Emily Yoffe

From: Help! I Can’t Stop My Young Daughter From Making Racist Comments. (Feb. 7, 2013)


Dear Prudence,

I’ve been married happily for more than a decade and my husband and I are in our 30s with young children. We have an active bedroom life, and work together to keep our relationship and love life intact. My husband likes sexting (what man doesn’t?) and I usually don’t. I have to be in the right mood for it, and usually during the day I’m busy with work, errands, etc. I’m uncomfortable sending pictures of myself or saying things I’m not really thinking or feeling. I do indulge when I’m in the right mood, but most of the time when he asks, I just don’t want to! Recently, in a text conversation, he hinted toward it, I changed the topic (my gentle letdown tactic), he asked outright, and I told him to stop pressuring me. He said he didn’t like being accused of pressuring me, and we argued. Is this something I should do as part of my “wifely duties” even though I don’t want to? Is there any way to feel less resentful about it?

For some people, one of the pleasures of sex is not having to form coherent sentences. Also, since most of us are bombarded all day with electronic communications, getting demands to write sexy texts, or send risqué photos while at work or at the grocery store, is not an erotic enterprise. You two need to talk this out—and not right after having a spat about it. Tell your husband you want to accommodate his sexual desires, but sex is a mutual enterprise and for you, his enjoyment of sexting feels burdensome, not stimulating. There’s also the issue of your not wanting to get caught doing things during work that could compromise your employment—which also goes for your husband. You both need to understand and accept each other without pressure or resentment, and I hope your husband can openly and sensitively hear you out. (And he better not threaten to take his sexting needs elsewhere!) In any case, if there isn’t an app for this there should be, something with canned phrases (“I can’t wait to get home and see you standing at attention, you big, big …”) you can generate while standing in the check-out line. —EY

From: Help! My Husband Pressures Me to Sext With Him. (March 3, 2015)

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Dear Prudence,

I live in a small town, and recently a number of local doctors signed a petition against Planned Parenthood, based on proven lies and obfuscation of facts. I was horrified to find a number of my own providers on the list, including a physician at my group OB practice. I am pregnant with my second child now, but long ago I had an abortion. I feel legitimately concerned about the quality of care I might receive if my OB knows I had an abortion (I disclosed this on my medical history). I’m almost into my third trimester, but I’m completely panicked about the potential of a doctor who may judge me or even deny me crucial medical care if something devastating were to happen during my pregnancy. I want to switch practices, but my husband thinks I am overreacting. There are not many other OBs in town. Should I talk to someone at the practice about my concerns? Am I being unreasonable here?

I think it’s perfectly fine for you to talk to your primary physician in this group practice, one who didn’t sign the letter, about the concerns it raised for you. Explain that of course doctors are free to sign petitions and letters, but you were disturbed that physicians would sign onto a letter that was demonstrably false. You can add that because you had an abortion, and that fact is in your chart, you were concerned about the care you might get from the doctor in the group who signed the letter. I’m sure your doctor will reassure you about the group practice and about the professionalism of the doctor who signed. That should reassure you that no matter what the doctor’s personal beliefs, you do not have to worry about the level of care you will receive. Having done that, I think you should then let this go. You are near the finish line, and you have doctors you like. I agree with your husband that there is no reason to create a major disruption now in your care. —EY

From: Help! I Just Found Out My Obstetrician Is Anti-Abortion. Is It Too Late to Switch Doctors? (Oct. 27, 2015)


Dear Prudence,

I don’t get along with my sister-in-law. She adores my brother and makes him very happy so I try to be friendly when I see her, but now that we’ve moved back to his hometown and she lives just a few miles away, it’s gotten much harder. She criticizes my taste in furniture, my clothes, and my cooking. I try to deflect the comments, but she will not let it go. Recently, my husband and I adopted two rescue dogs and posted pictures of them in Facebook. I then get a text from my sister-in-law telling me that I have to change the names of my dogs because she is going to use those names for her kids, and that she is now pregnant but I can’t tell anyone. This is ridiculous and I don’t know what to do. Do I just ignore her and hope it goes away? Share the text and get raked over the coals for spoiling the pregnancy surprise? Post tons of pictures of my dogs and refer to them as my babies? I have to live with this woman in my life and I don’t want to hurt my brother but I am not changing the names of my dogs.

This is a sister-in-law for the record books! I’ve heard of plenty of fights over baby names, but I’ve yet to come across the dog-versus–unborn baby combo, where the dogs in question have already been named and the baby does not yet exist. I almost—almost—admire her ability to mine conflict from a seemingly peaceful landscape. As tempting as it might be to start rubbing Ruby and Synthesizer in your sister-in-law’s face, I think gentle nonengagement is the row to hoe here. “We’re not going to change the dog’s names, but congratulations on your pregnancy! What exciting news.” Don’t get drawn into an argument or an explanation for your behavior, because what she’s asking is so absurd that the only response it merits is a flat refusal. There is a nonzero possibility that this pregnancy is invented solely to try to get you to do what she wants, which is why she asked you and not your brother, and why she’s swearing you to secrecy now. Perhaps I’m being paranoid, but your sister-in-law has already displayed a propensity for the irrational, and it’s quite a coincidence she favors the name of both your pets, not just one. Plenty of dogs have human names and vice versa; your sister’s children, whenever they come into being, will have to share their names, no matter how unique, with any number of other humans and animals. They’ll be just fine. —Danny M. Lavery

From: Help! My Sister-in-Law Says We Stole the Names of Her Future Children for Our Dogs. (Sept. 22, 2016)

From Care and Feeding

I hate playing with my kids. They’re 3 and 6, and I find it torturous. They beg and beg till I give in, and within five minutes I’m snapping at them and having to use breathing exercises because I just want to scream and punch walls. I hate myself for not being a better parent. I cuddle them and read to them and fix their boo-boos, I help them with homework and take them for walks and check on them at night, but I hate pretending to be a cat or playing Twister. All the books say that they need quality time with parents. Am I screwing my kids up for life?

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