Bias and the “S” Word

My spouse and I have tried to teach our nine-year-old son to use respectful language, and to model it ourselves. Melanie Coffee’s recent piece at HuffPo on “Talking About Martin Luther King Jr. and Race With My Biracial 5-Year-Old” struck a chord with me, however, because she’s made the same exception that I have. In trying to explain racial bias to her son, Coffee says, she used “the six-lettered s-word in our home that is considered profane”—”stupid.”

Just about the only times I’ve used that word in front of our son, too, has been when talking about similar issues of prejudice, whether related to race, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, or anything else. It feels a little like an oversimplified cop-out, but like Coffee, I do try to frame use of the word with a bit of age-appropriate context (e.g., referring to our country’s history of slavery to help explain biased attitudes towards African Americans). In some ways, though, I feel simple is good. A simple word clearly conveys that I do not condone such attitudes and behaviors—and sometimes that’s the most important first message for kids to get. I also don’t use “stupid” when referring to a specific person, but only to the attitudes and behaviors in general.

I was wondering, therefore: Do any of you also haul out “stupid” or some normally frowned-upon word when discussing bias with your kids, in order to make a firm point? In what other ways you explain biased attitudes to young children?