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My In-Laws Make Racist Comments In Front of the Kids

Expert advice on what to do if your in-laws say something that doesn’t align with your family’s values.

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We’re a very inclusive and accepting family but my in-laws tend to be racist. We don’t approve of some of the things they say about other people around our kids. How should we respond when this happens?

Brittni Fudge, MA, LPC, NCC, owner and therapist at Kindred Counseling, PLLC, shares the following advice for parents:

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Stay calm—both with your in-laws and your children. It’s normal to be upset with your in-laws if they say something that doesn’t align with your family’s values. Staying calm in these interactions will reduce tension and fear in your children, while modeling how to calmly handle conflict. Plus, staying calm fosters an environment where it’s safe to ask questions about race.

Responding to your in-laws:

Instead of shying away from a tough conversation, take advantage of the opportunity to model how to stick up for what you believe in front of your children.

Although it may be uncomfortable to confront their comments, be direct in stating that you would appreciate if they kept racist comments to themselves. Calmly and directly addressing this in the moment models effective conflict resolution for your children.

Starting your sentence with “I” rather than “You” reduces defensiveness and creates safety for tough conversations. Rather than saying, “You’re so racist. How could you say that?! You’re going to pass on your racist thoughts to my children!” Try this instead: “I feel uncomfortable when you share racist thoughts. Can you please be mindful of my children’s impressionable minds and keep your opinions regarding race to yourself?” The “I” statement is likely to lead to a more productive conversation while preserving the relationship.

Responding to your children:

As uncomfortable and painful as it may be to talk about racism, reframe it in your mind as an opportunity to discuss equality and tolerance.

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It’s healthy for children to learn that you can feel two conflicting emotions at the same time. Explain that you’re saddened by your family member’s comments—and use the moment to explain why this saddens you—while also still feeling love and respect for them as members of your family.

If your children ask you questions that you don’t know how to answer, encourage curiosity by telling them it’s a good question and be honest about not knowing how to answer. You can then do some research and revisit the topic when you’ve learned more.
You can also seek out teachable moments about race in your daily lives. Talking openly about stereotypes, racism, and bias that you see in day-to-day interactions or in the media can reduce the stigma around these discussions and encourage curiosity.

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