How to Talk About ...


How to Talk About Divorce (Separation) With Your Child

Accepting divorce can be a painful and confusing time for a child of any age. Research shows that children never forget the manner in which they are told, which can lead to a lifetime of unresolved issues. When faced with this daunting task, it is important to think about how every aspect of the discussion will shape the child’s perspective of his/her relationship with both parents and others. Often the parents’ personal feelings towards the divorce can color the tone or message. Be thoughtful and mature when discussing this issue with your child. Divisive language can confuse the child and lead to feelings of guilt and/or bias. This conversation can provide an opportunity for your child to learn how to handle disappointment and conflict in a safe environment. Working cooperatively and calmly with your spouse to present a united front will help the children adjust to the changes and be emotionally healthy.


Be the adult

  • This means processing your feelings of hurt, guilt, and blame outside of the conversation and with your child.
  • Assure your child that the problem is an adult one and not the result of anything he/she did.

Put the child first

  • Your child should not feel as if he/she is in the middle of the conflict.
  • Give child phrases to be communicative/responses to questions that will be asked.

Be honest and concise

  • It is imperative that your message is brief, clear, and respectful. The child does not need to know every detail of the rationale and sharing such information will inevitably lead to accusations. However, if your child asks a specific question, be sure to answer that question honestly.

Make security and love the central themes

  • Assure your child that both parents will continue to love him/her and that he/she will be taken care of despite other changes.
  • Tell child(ren) how things will be going forward. “It is the best decision for the family- we are still a family.”


Avoid the emotions

  • It may be tempting to tell your child that everything will be ok or stay the same to avoid painful feelings, but it is better to be honest and accept that your child may feel a range of emotions about the divorce at any given time. Your job is to provide a space for working through those feelings.

Share the news differently

  • The news about the divorce should be shared with all of the children at the same time, despite age or maturity. Younger children can be dismissed when the older children have follow up questions, but it is important to begin the discussion as a family.

Rely on the child for comfort/reassurance

  • Although this will be an emotional time for you, it is critical to allow your child to remain a child in this situation. Phrases like “You’re the man/woman of the house now” will only add to your child’s confusion and worry.

Ignore signs of distress

  • Watch your child for changes in behavior, schoolwork, and personality.
  • Seek professional help, if needed.

How to Talk About Divorce (Separation) With Children Experiencing It (Teachers/Other Parents)


  • Acknowledge that it is happening and the feeling they may be experiencing.
  • Offer an ear as someone they can talk to.
  • Watch for behavioral changes
  • Try to keep routines in place (School may be the place where life is allowed to be the same.
  • Support/Help with organization around new living arrangements.
  • Reassure all children that these are adult and personal problems.


  • Assume that the parents are handling it well.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (2011, March). Children and Divorce. Retrieved from

Arnold, K. (2011, May 29). Mom and Dad Have Something to Tell You: Six Tips for Talking to Kids About Divorce.

Psychology Today . Retrieved from and-dad-have-something-tell-you-six-tips-talking-kids-about-divorce

Emory, R. E. (2006). The Truth About Children and Divorce: Dealing with the Emotions So You and Your Children Can Thrive. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Peters, R. Telling the Kids about Separation and Divorce [PDF document]. Retrieved from

Wallerstein, J.S., & Kelly, J.B. (1996). Surviving The Breakup: How Children And Parents Cope With Divorce. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Westberg, H., Nelson, T.S., & Piercy, K.W. (2002). Disclosure of divorce plans to children: What the children have to say. Contemporary Family Therapy , 24 , 525-542.

Resource for Children

Divorce: The Big Questions. Retrieved from

Body Image

How To Talk About Body Image with Positive Language

The Problem

Body image—a person’s beliefs and perceptions about her or his body size and shape and overall appearance—can present significant issues in terms of self-esteem and health.  Pervasive images in media tend to convey rigid and uniform standards of beauty and to make these standards seem real, normal, and attainable. In fact, standards of beauty have become harder and harder to attain. For example, the current media ideal of thinness for women is achievable by less than 5% of the female population. Boys, too, may feel pressure from media and peers to attain an ideal body shape in order to emulate sport stars and other public personalities. A “bias for beauty” operates in almost all social situations: experiments show we react more favorably to physically attractive people in settings ranging from classrooms, to job interviews, to court proceedings.

Body image in terms of size and shape is of particular current concern. Weight-based teasing is associated with depressive symptoms and thinking about (and attempting) suicide among girls and boys in grades 7 to 12.  In one American survey, 81% of ten-year-old girls had already dieted at least once. A recent Swedish study found that 25% of 7 year old girls had dieted to lose weight – they were already suffering from 'body-image distortion', estimating themselves to be larger than they really were. Similar studies in Japan have found that 41% of elementary school girls (some as young as 6) thought they were too fat. Even normal-weight and underweight girls want to lose weight.

What to do and say: 

As an adult role model, remember that your body image plays a role in your children’s thinking about their own bodies. What messages might you be sending?

  • Use language that does not reinforce the idea that appearance is the most important thing.
  • Use language that avoids a single, narrow standard of beauty.
  • Let children hear you talk back to the media when they present destructive images.
  • Focus on the language that you use to describe others and avoid negative or competitive comparisons about appearance.
  • Acknowledge your own feelings of dissatisfaction with your appearance, shape, size, and weight and think about how you talk about your body and eating habits.
  • Avoid “fat talk”—speaking negatively about size and shape and, in particular associating size and shape with character.  Think a little about the impact of common statements like, “You’ve lost weight, you look great!”
  • Avoid talk about dieting or joking about how fattening foods are.
  • De-emphasize numbers!
  • Talk about play, movement, and exercise in your own life and that of your children as sources of pleasure and as essential to health rather than a means of looking good.
  • Make it clear that judging others on appearance and body shape and size is unfair and unacceptable.
  • Discuss the impact of prejudicial attitudes and behavior on individuals and communities.
  • Use your unspoken example to strongly support what you tell children about healthy eating and healthy living. For example: let them see you munching on fruit for a snack.
  • Watch out for and counter teasing and bullying based on appearance or body size or shape.
  • Emphasize an inclusive body-positive focus in physical education activities.
  • Examine your own teaching/parenting practices to ensure that body image discrimination does not occur in your teaching/parenting methods.
  • Watch for restricted eating habits – kids need fat and a variety of foods to grow.


Kate Fox, Mirror, mirror: A summary of research findings on body image
Motives: why we look in the mirror
, 1997,

The Student Body: Promoting Health at Any Size, Body Image Research Program
The Commonwealth Fund. (1997). In Their Own Words: Adolescent Girls Discuss Health and Health Care Issues.
Guillen & Barr. (1994). Journal of Adolescent Health, 15, 464-472.
Levine. (1997). Plenary Presentation at the Third Annual Eating Disorders on Campus Conference, Penn State University.
Aufreiter, N., Elzinga, D. & Gordon, J. (2003) Better Branding. The McKinsey Quarterly, 4.
Myers et al. (1992). Journal of Communication, 42, 108-133.


Tips for Talking About Race with Children



Look for teaching moments

  • Use children’s books as conversation starters or look for other openings in everyday life.
  • Observe how your children play with children of other races.
  • Help your children process feelings and reactions.

Don’t be afraid to bring up issues of race

  • For many years people subscribed to the idea that if you don’t talk about race then children will not notice it.
  • Research has shown that children notice difference as early as 6 months old.
  • Talk to them about racial prejudice.

Make the message age-appropriate

  • Use concrete examples of difference and commonalities.
  • Explain that sometimes things are unfair and that no racial group is all good, all bad, all victims, or all heroes.

Don’t try to be “color-blind”

  • Trying to ignore someone’s “color” or race or heritage is denying a part of who they are.

Answer the questions they ask

  • Example: Why is his/her skin light/dark? Hair straight/curly?  Give factual answers.

Don’t say that we are all the same

  • Do encourage your children to treat people the same.
  • Don’t make judgments and assumptions based on race.

Accept that prejudiced comments may happen

  • That doesn’t mean your child is racist.
  • Ask children "what made you say…?"
  • Ask children what they think ___ means.
  • Examine stereotypes they may have heard.

Don’t avoid children’s questions

  • They will come to think that race is a secret, not to be discussed.

Be a Role Model –

  • Take inventory of your own biases.
  • Model an inclusive home. 
  • Widen your circle of friends and acquaintances. 
  • Show your children positive examples of other races in the media they watch. 
  • Make it a point to buy dolls and toys of every race. 
  • Read books that depict children from other races andcountries. 
  • Look for opportunities to immerse your family in other cultures.
  • Try to find situations where your family is the minority.

Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know, let’s figure that out together.”

Be clear in letting your children know that biased language is not acceptable.

Helpful Resources

40 Ways to Raise a Nonracist Child by Barbara Mathias and Mary Ann French


Latin/Hispanic Culture

Language Do’s and Don’ts for Hispanic/Latino Culture


(1) Try to find the most accurate term:

            Latino(a): Refers to diverse racial and ethnic heritages of Latin America;

            Used, primarily in the U.S., to describe people from South and Central America;
People from those areas refer to themselves based on their actual country of origin. (Guatamalan, Peruvian, etc..)

Also used mostly in U.S.;

            More formal and more encompassing;
Includes people from Spanish-speaking  countries (e.g., Puerto Rico, Spain, etc.

Many second and third-generation Latinos refer to themselves simply as American.

Term used by Puerto Ricans to describe themselves;
From indigenous Taino name for their island

            Undocumented immigrant
This term is more accurate and less dehumanizing than illegal immigrant

(1) Assume:

Most Latinos are immigrants.
2/3 of Latinos currently living in the U.S. were born here and are therefore not immigrants but citizens.

All Latinos/Hispanics
share the same values and cultures.
While they share some,
each country has its distinct culture.

(2) Ask
Some people have a strong preference for
Latino or Hispanic and will appreciate your
asking whether they do.


(2) Forget
Puerto Rico:
Anyone who is living in Puerto Rico
or living in the continental U.S.,
originally from Puerto Rico, is a U.S. citizen and therefore NOT an immigrant.

Most Puerto Ricans living in the continental U.S. consider themselves Hispanic

(3) Find out
the breakdown of Latino/Hispanic students in your classroom

(4) Celebrate
culture of the individual country
shared Latino culture (family, community, hospitality, faith, artistic accomplishments)

Suggested links:

Presentations made by Latino Student Fund on teaching students of Latin ancestry
NAIS Conference:
POCC Conference:

Articles in periodicals about terminology:

“Who and What is Latino” by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania“Hispanic

“Hispanic? Latino? Or What?” by Philip B. Corbett


Positive Adoption Language

The way we talk—and the words we choose—say a lot about what we think and value. When we use positive adoption language, we say that adoption is a way to build a family just as birth is. Both are important, but one is not more important than the other.

Choose the following positive adoption language instead of the negative talk that helps perpetuate the myth that adoption is second best. By using positive adoption language, you’ll reflect the true nature of adoption, free of innuendo. 

 Positive Language
 Negative Language
Biological parent
Birth child
My child
Born to unmarried parents
Terminate parental rights
Make an adoption plan
To parent
Waiting child
Biological or birthfather
Making contact with
Intercountry adoption
Adoption triad
Permission to sign a release
Child placed for adoption
Court termination
Child with special needs
Child from abroad
Was adopted
Real parent
Natural parent
Own child
Adopted child; Own child
Give up
Give away
To keep
Adoptable child; available child
Real father
Adoptive parent
Foreign adoption
Adoption triangle
Track down parents
An unwanted child
Child taken away
Handicapped child
Foreign child
Is adopted

Words not only convey facts, they also evoke feelings. When a TV movie talks about a "custody battle" between "real parents" and "other parents," society gets the wrong impression that only birthparents are real parents and that adoptive parents aren’t real parents. Members of society may also wrongly conclude that all adoptions are "battles." 

Positive adoption language can stop the spread of misconceptions such as these. By using positive adoption language, we educate others about adoption. We choose emotionally "correct" words over emotionally-laden words. We speak and write in positive adoption language with the hopes of impacting others so that this language will someday become the norm.

Reprinted from OURS Magazine, May/June 1992

Gender & Sexual Diversity

Sexual Orientation/Family Diversity

In order to make our school safe for every participant—children, teachers, parents—it is critical that we are aware of and responsive to the language that we hear, whether from students, teachers, or parents.  Language that is anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) needs to be addressed immediately and directly.  This includes comments made among young children who make gender-specific comments such as “Only boys can do that.” or “You’re a sissy.” or  “That’s so gay.” along with other similar comments.  

According to GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network), anti-LGBT speech in schools is “still something of an epidemic across the United States.”  Furthermore, LGBT students have reported that faculty do not intervene frequently enough.  For example, on the latest GLSEN study, 41.4 percent of self-identified LGBT students reported that staff members never intervene, and another 43.4 percent reported that staff members only sometime do so (Educational Leadership, Vol. 69, No 1, page 57). 

As Robert A. McGarry writes in his article “Breaking Silences” in the September 2011 Educational Leadership, “It take courage to break the silence and have hard conversations about aspects of teaching practice that we otherwise tend to repress or ignore.”  The following terms, definitions, and language are to help us all directly respond to language and comments that are degrading, hurtful, or disrespectful to others. 

It is important to remember that sexual orientation is a fundamental, normal part of a person’s identity (Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth:  A Primer for Principals, Educators, and School Personnel). This publication is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, American Psychological Association, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, National Association of School Psychologists and can be found on several websites.  See below. 

“It is important for students from every kind of family to see their lives reflected in the classroom or the school.” An Introduction to Welcoming Schools

Terms to Know with Child-Appropriate Language from That’s a Family: Discussion and Teaching Guide and Welcoming Schools.

Gay:  a man who loves another man [in a romantic way], or a woman who loves another woman [in a romantic way].  Or, “A person who loves, in a very special way, someone who is the same gender. For example, a gay man wants to be involved with and love another man.”) An Introduction to Welcoming Schools, page 51. 

Lesbian: a woman who loves another woman [in a romantic way].

Heterosexual:  A person who loves someone of the opposite sex in a romantic way.

Homosexual:  A person who loves someone of the same sex in a romantic way.

Straight:  Another word for heterosexual.

Bisexual:  A person who can love either a man or a woman in a romantic way.

Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.
Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.  To put it another way:
Male and female are sex categories, while "masculine" and "feminine" are gender categories.  (World Health Organization Website)

Transgender:  When the sex a person is born with doesn’t match the sex they feel inside their heads and hearts.  In other words, a person who is born a boy, but feels inside like a girl, or a person who is bon a girl, but feels inside like a boy.  Being transgender is not the same as being gay.

Mixed Family:  When people of different racial backgrounds are part of the same family, it is a mixed-race or transracial family.  People of different ethnic, religious, or national backgrounds can also form families that are “mixed” in terms of culture, skin color, language, and religious practices.  Other terms people may use include blended, double, or interracial. 

Blended Family:  Two families that come together to form a new family. 

Some Family Structures:  Mixed Families, Adoptive Families, Grandparents/Guardians, Gay and Lesbian Parents, Separated and Divorced Families, Single-Parent Families, Foster Parents

Do:  Use Gender-Expansive Messages:  Instead of saying, “Girls don’t…, Boys don’t…,” messages should be “Boys can…, Girls can…, Children can…”

Don’t: Use hurtful language or allow it to go unnoticed:  “That’s so gay,”  “queer,” “sissy,” and  “fag” are all words used to hurt another person, “put down” another person, or to say something or someone is stupid. 

Important Documents:

Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation & Youth:  A Primer for Principals, Educators & School Personnel   This document can be found at;,

“What Does Gay Mean?”  How to Talk with Kids about Sexual Orientation and Prejudice This document and others can be found at 

Useful Websites: (American Psychological Association) (American Academy of Pediatrics) (Mental Health America) (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Educator Network)  (Teaching Tolerance)


People with disabilities prefer to be seen for their individuality, not their disability.

Use: Instead of:
People-first language –
   People with disabilities
  • the disabled
Specific language –
   Person with cerebral palsy
   Person who uses a wheelchair
  • physically-challenged
  • handicapped
Connotation-free language –
   Person with disabilities
  • physically-challenged
  • differently-abled
  • handicapped (derives from “cap-in-hand” an association with beggars)

How and What to Say

The guiding rule is to show respect.

Speak directly to a person with a disability, even when using a sign language interpreter or special aide.

Do ask questions! 
Education, information, and interpersonal relationship building are the best ways to counteract stereotypes and negative attitudes about people with disabilities.

It’s okay to: Just be:
Ask about a person’s disability Respectful
Ask a person with a speech impairment to repeat themselves Respectful
Above all, think about what you say! “I’d rather die than be in a wheelchair.”

Special Considerations (Key Word: ASK!)

Ask before Helping.
   Accept No for an Answer!

Ask exactly how to help...
   ... if they say Yes!

Ask before touching an assistive device.
   These are an extension of their bodies.
   Do not lean on, push, or help with any assistive device.
   Never move an assistive device out of reach.

Ask if it is acceptable to shake hands.
   Shaking hands with someone who relies on his or her arm for balance or who has an artificial limb could be unsafe.

Many people with disabilities lead independent lives and prefer no assistance.
People with visual disabilities need their arms for balance; it is therefore best to offer your arm or elbow to lead or for support if they ask to be guided.

For visual disability:

Guide dogs must remain alert and unobstructed.
   Do not pet or distract.
   Always walk on the side opposite to where the guide dog walks.

Introduce yourself first ...
    ... before asking to make any form of physical contact. Ask others to do the same.

When directing to nearest exit ...
   ... give instructions based on where they are in the room and mention any obstructions.

For people using hearing aides:

Speak in a normal tone.
    Hearing aides are set to standard voice levels.


Check for accessibility for people with physical and/or visual disabilities.
Ensure that all items, facilities and tools for safety are within reach.

Adapted from Anti-Defamation League article, “Equal Treatment, Equal Access”

Additional Information:

Famous People with Disabilities

Disability Glossary

Religion & Belief

Talking Respectfully about Religion and Belief

For many years people subscribed to the idea that it was improper to talk about religion and belief in heterogeneous settings. Unfortunately, the failure to talk about these topics can contribute to misconceptions and prejudice. Acknowledging the large number of differing world religions (20 or more major religions and tens of thousands of faith structures) and the significant number of people who identify as non-affiliated or non-believing, some general guidelines for respectful speech about religion and belief follow.

  • Do not assume that you know another person’s belief system.
  • Recognize that some people do not subscribe to a theology or faith tradition.
  • Talk about your beliefs from the “I perspective.”
  • Talk and listen without trying to convert others to a different faith or belief system.
  • Use positive and inclusive language.
  • Focus on common values and practices while noting differences.
  • Be knowledgeable. Ensure that all faiths and belief systems are represented accurately. (Check in library and curricular materials, too.)
  • Avoid words that have a pejorative connotation—fanatic, cult.
  • Avoid words that convey stereotypical images.
  • Do not confuse religion with race, nationality, or language group.
  • Do not confuse family traditions with religious beliefs.
  • Use accurate religious definitions of words, particularly those that are misused or controversial such as jihad, fundamentalist, etc.
  • Confront jokes and other statements that include slurs.
  • Discuss the impact of prejudicial attitudes and behavior on individuals and communities.
  • Know and respect people’s boundaries.                                  

Helpful Resources

What to Tell Your Child About Prejudice and Discrimination

Countering stereotypes about the mid-east and Islam

Information about Buddhism

Information on Hinduism

Local resources --The National Cathedral – The Islamic Center of Washington The Washington Hebrew Congregation  --The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception -- Soka Gaki International (Buddhist) -- Greek Orthodox Cathedral DC