The comment will come out of the blue. One of your elementary school-age children will make a remark about something they heard on the playground. It could have to do with sex or violence, or it could be a curse word or a derogatory comment. It will surprise you and shock you. This is where tough parenting begins.

At that moment, you will face a choice. Do you jump in and provide context about what they heard? Or do you sit back and see where the conversation goes and then decide whether to jump in at all?

Depending on the comment, I believe a parent needs to turn into a translator to decipher what their child is learning on the playground. We have the life knowledge to understand that what they’re repeating might create misunderstanding about gender, race, a sexual orientation, or any number of things.

Here are some ways to handle this type of situation:

1. Build Trust Early

If you have an open relationship with your child, and your child feels comfortable talking to you about personal or uncomfortable things, you will be in a much better position to succeed. The best thing to do is be open-minded and non-judgmental. If your child feels they'll get brushed off, they will go elsewhere for knowledge and advice. Give your child the time and attention they deserve.

2. Ask Specific Questions

There’s no need to be an investigative journalist every time your child comes home from school. However, you should inquire about what they did, what they watched, and what music they listened to. You can also ask your child periodically about anything they’re hearing or learning that they don’t understand or have questions about. You might be surprised by their answers. 

3. Be as Honest as You Can Be

It’s time to put on your poker face. There very well may be questions that they have that will make you want to laugh, squirm, or run away. But you can’t. You have to respond with seriousness and as much as honesty as the situation will allow. There may be elements of a topic that you want to stay away from, but it’s important that your child knows you’re taking them seriously and giving them honest information. If they fact check you and you’ve tried to sugarcoat something, they may be less willing to come to you in the future with questions.

4. Make Sure They Understand

As parents, we want to protect our children as much as possible. The world can be a scary place and with the omnipresence of the Internet, smartphones, and social media, it feels like an uphill battle. But you don’t want the Internet or social media to be their teacher. You are. Take the time to properly answer their questions and fully explain things as best you can. If you ask them questions about what you’ve told them, it might help you see whether they properly understand it. 

5. Stop Letting Them Hang Out With Certain People

The world is a complex place and everyone in it lives differently. One parent might have no problem letting their child watch R-rated movies at an early age, or the parent might use foul language and slurs routinely around the house. If your child is hanging around that child, it’s likely that they will hear and learn about things that you might not be ready for them to hear and learn about. It might be difficult, but if you and your spouse are concerned about what your child is discovering, then you might have to scale back on time your child spends with them. Ultimately, you might have to make some difficult decisions along the way.