Responding When Kids Use the "R" Word

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When I  was growing up, the word “retarded” didn’t seem like a big deal. If a friend was being foolish we might say, “Stop being a retard.”

If a school policy didn’t make sense we might say, “That’s just retarded.” It was one of many hurtful words they crept into adolescent vocabulary.

We were wrong.

I’m ashamed now to even type those examples.

Using the r-word is both crude and hurtful to others. While the phrase “mental retardation” was once a medical description, it has now degraded into a slur against people with disabilities. It’s sinful talk and has no place in the Christian vocabulary. As parents and church educators, it’s our role to help redirect children from such talk.

Here are three steps to structure your response. These same points can work in any situation where children taunt or make fun of other children.

Step #1 Inform
“That is a hurtful word because it makes fun of disabilities.”

Children copy patterns of speech from their peers, parents, and media. They are often ignorant of what a word means and how others can be offended. Many parents are still learning the truth about the r-word. Inform the group why this word is not kind toward others. I wouldn’t single out the child or react with anger, simply educate them about the word.

Step #2 Boundaries
“We do not allow that kind of talk.”

Even if the speech wasn’t meant to offend, it’s important to define the r-word as unacceptable. I consider it a form of cussing and simply don’t allow it. This should be a gentle rebuke directed toward the whole group. You might even acknowledge many of the children have used these words without knowing better. In any case, the line should be clear about what is not allowed.

Step #3 Expectations
“We will use kind and truthful words.”

The final step is to provide the positive alternative. Instead of hurtful words, we choose words that help. Instead of slang words that lie about people’s value, we choose truthful words that reflect God’s love for all people.

How do you respond?

I would love to hear your opinion and learn from your experience. Has the r-word been a problem in your children’s ministry? Do kids use this type of language in your community? Use the comment box below to join the conversation.

Need more convincing? Watch this video created by a mom about the r-word.

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