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  Insensitivity to Physical, Racial, or Ethnic Differences

By Lesia Oesterreich, M.S.
Family Life Extension Specialist
Human Development and Family Studies
Iowa State University

child in parade with dragons Ethnic, racial slurs, or personal comments about individuals with physical disabilities are examples of behaviors that need to be stopped. Such behavior embarrasses children, parents, and caregivers. Children who are teased often or victimized by inappropriate comments or actions suffer tremendously.

Young children often do not realize that this type of behavior is inappropriate. Like forbidden words, children have a tendency to pick up and use ethnic and racial slurs. For instance, a younger child may have heard an older child or adult use words ridiculing some ethnic group or race. He may then try to use the same word either to imitate or to see if he gets the same response. Children pick up words and gestures from television too.

Dealing with a child who is making fun of another person's race, religion, or disability is a true challenge. Racial and ethnic slurs and comments based on physical disabilities cannot be ignored. They are like verbal slaps and are too hurtful or damaging to the victim to be ignored.

When providers witness a child saying something hurtful or disrespectful, they should immediately address the situation.

- Speak directly to the child. "It is not OK to use that word to describe Trisha. That word hurts her feelings and makes her feel sad or angry."

dancing kids - Reaffirm the value of both children. "Her skin (religion, language, etc.) is different from yours. That makes her special and unique. You are also special. Everyone is different. Some people have white skin and some have brown. Some people have blue eyes and some have brown eyes. Some people speak different languages. Everyone is different in their own way. I care about you both."

- Comfort and acknowledge the victim's feelings. "I know it made you angry when Jeremy called you that name. It's okay to feel angry about that."

- Teach appropriate words to the offending child and give additional information. "Trisha is African-American."

- Model respectful behaviors for children. Treat all children fairly and respectfully. Invite children to share information about their culture or disability as they feel comfortable.

- Include books, toys, and materials in your program that discuss physical, racial, or ethnic differences. Bias and discrimination often stem from ignorance and fear of the unfamiliar. You can combat destructive attitudes by purchasing books, dolls, and dramatic play props that make children aware of other races and cultures.

Document Use/Copyright

©National Network for Child Care - NNCC. Part of CYFERNET, the National Extension Service Children Youth and Family Educational Research Network. Permission is granted to reproduce these materials in whole or in part for educational purposes only (not for profit beyond the cost of reproduction) provided that the author and Network receive acknowledgment and this notice is included:

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC. Oesterreich, L. (1995). Guidance and discipline. In L. Oesterreich, B. Holt, & S. Karas, Iowa family child care handbook [Pm 1541] (pp. 241-242). Ames, IA:Iowa State University Extension.

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