Should my 7 year old be more PC?

I’m going to try to word this very carefully so as not to offend anyone as this can be quite sensitive stuff. By this I mean “diversity” and being PC. I was raised in a family where everyone was accepted – regardless of skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or ability. I was taught that I was equal to anyone else, no matter where they came from, what they had/had not, no matter what defining characteristics they might have.

During the peak of homophobia that AIDS created in the late 1980s, I remember my mum taking me to one side to tell me that a family member was gay, I was in my early teens and I clearly remember her insisting that there was nothing wrong with this, and that his relationship was as valid as hers and my dad’s marriage.

Since I became a parent I have tried to teach my children the same thing – we are all equal, regardless of labels that society might put on us, and we all deserve to be treated the same way.

We have books at home that illustrate these differences in society, in the hope that our children will be open-minded, tolerant and accepting.

One of L's books, illustrating diversity.

One of L’s books, illustrating diversity.

Living in London, L is in a class with children from a variety of backgrounds, including Jewish and Muslim children (and no doubt other religions that I’m not aware of), and a third of her class are not white. I love this variety and what L can learn from mixing with children from different races, religions and cultures.

However, just recently, she has started to talk about “brown-skinned people”. Which brings me to my question – should my 7 year old be more PC? More to the point, what is the correct terminology these days? When I was growing up “coloured” had replaced “black”, and we still talked about “half-caste” people. After living in France for 12 years I’m not really sure what the correct vocabulary is these days, can anyone help me as I don’t want to offend? And should I be correcting L when she talks like this?

It seems to be used in a descriptive way, in the way she might talk about tall people, or people with blond hair, so it certainly doesn’t seem to be meant to be offensive, and I don’t want to make a big deal out of it if it isn’t a big deal.

The only thing is she seems to be generalising – which I don’t like (having listened to and been insulted by French people generalising about “les Anglais”) – saying things like “brown-skinned people are all cool/are all really good dancers”. Now whilst it’s positive, I still don’t like this grouping together; we’re all individuals who deserve to be treated equally.

So, what would you do? Is L being offensive? Should I talk to her? If so, what do I say? What are the correct terms? Or do I just let it be and see what happens? I would love advice from anyone who’s been through this or from anyone who feels they might be on the receiving end of her comments.

I apologise if I have offended anyone with this post, it has been incredibly difficult to write and to get my thoughts across clearly. Thanks for reading.


70 Responses

  1. lisa prince says:

    to me its how we are taught to learn how to tell the difference s in people from a young age, colour, size, build , i see no harm in it myself my children dont use colour to describe another childs looks they use ethnicity , theres nothing wrong with that it just teaches them there are dffferent parts of the world other than the uk x

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I’m so surprised that she’s come out with it as 1/3 of her class is “non-white” so it’s not exactly an oddity for her, and she has friends from all races, colours and religions, it’s just a bit weird to come out with it and the generalisations.

  2. Swazi says:

    Hi love,

    It doesn’t sound offensive. Do you know the ethnicity of who she means, are they black or Asian in origin ? As you say the term ‘brown skinned’ is descriptive, not derogatory. The generalising may be based on her experiences of who she has met so far.

    You could talk to her about all the ‘cool’ people or good dancers she knows and show her that they’re different and not all brown. If it’s difficult for you to hear this language maybe ask her to use people’s names instead of general groupings by skin colour.

    It is difficult to say something, but well done for sharing your concerns.

    S xx
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks Swazi. It’s not so much that it’s difficult for me to hear this language, it’s more that I worry that she might come across as being rude, and that I don’t like the generalisations. I know at school they are taught to say “black” but that only describes a certain ethnicity, so I’m not sure what she should say for other people, as she uses “brown skin” for everything from a Mediterranean darkness of skin, right through to very dark. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. Sim says:

    Hi Sophie,
    I think this is an interesting one that we have all faced with our kids. I feel like telling my own grandmother to be more PC, but some things are really out of our control.
    In my experience as a mother my boy used these terms too and they were simply descriptors. He is 16 now and has well and truly grown out of that phase, so don’t worry it does not last.
    It’s not as if L has come home rolling out the ‘N’ word. She probably doesn’t know the other little girls name and is doing her best as a child to describe her.
    I would be worried if she started calling kids ‘fat’ for example, I don’t know that there is anyway but badly to take that descriptor.
    My personal view is that people who are waaay too PC can cause more harm than good. To me it can feel wrong to deliberately not acknowledge (or skirt around) someone’s colour. Why wouldn’t we acknowledge it? I’m brown, she is white, he is black. So what! I have dark hair, she has blond hair. My hair is curly, hers is straight. As long as one is not operating from a place of using these descriptors as pejoratives or to negatively ‘pigeonhole’, then what is the harm?
    Most people are very proud of their nationality, culture and ethnicity, to not acknowledge (when appropriate) it out of fear to offend, to me seems strange. That is what is so beautiful about the world, we are all unique!
    I would not focus or draw attention to L’s comments.
    Perhaps a way to make you more comfortable is to ask her if tomorrow at school she could introduce herself to said girl and find out her name.
    This would reinforce your strong family values by placing emphasis on the human being as an individual all the while skirting what seems to make you a little uncomfortable.
    In sum, relax, you are doing fine, so is L.

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I think the worst bit for me is the generalisation, as there are 10 “non-white” children in her class, so it’s not as if it’s a rare sight for her, and she’s good friends with a couple of them too. I’ve since spoken to other school parents who have repeated that their children are using this terminology, so I mentioned it to the teacher, who is going to talk it over with the kids in general. Thanks so much for coming by and taking the time to comment lovely x

  4. Mummy of Two says:

    I don’t think it sounds offensive at all, she is still young and learning about different races. I find it really difficult to talk to my son about different races and religions as we live in a little village where everyone is white and he just doesn’t come across other people other than on the TV. I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it, just carry on educating her!

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks for coming by and commenting – we used to live in a similar village in France when L was a baby, so I love the fact she’s surrounded by such variety now.

  5. My son is mixed race and he says he has brown skin and that we are peachy coloured. For children it is just a way to describe someone like saying they have black hair. I remember when my son was 2 I went to a playgroup and a mum said to me “which is your child? is it the half cast boy?” This really offended me and upset me, this was from a parent, I was stunned that she didn’t say “is your child the one in the red shorts?” For me his colour has never been an issue, he has asked me why he is the colour he is and I always tell him he is a beautiful colour. Now I’m babbling on sorry. Going back to the subject maybe have a chat with your daughter and just say that its easier for you to know who she is talking about if she tells you what they’re wearing or their hair instead of their colour. But saying someone is brown isn’t insulting, I feel that saying someone is coloured or half cast is more offensive xx sorry if I’ve gone on x
    Kirsty Hijacked By Twins recently posted…Point + Shoot – First PostMy Profile

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thank you so much for the reassurance, and I’m really shocked by that other mother too! My biggest bugbear is the generalisation, even if it’s positive as I don’t like generalisations full stop, and I don’t want her thinking that all white people are XYZ whilst people with a different colour skin are ABC, as it doesn’t work like that. We are all unique and deserve to be treated equally. Thank you for coming by and commenting.

  6. Kara says:

    It’s a tough one isn’t it! Maybe it’s worry asking what they are saying in school – they’re probably learning all about discriptive words so it is obvious to her to define people by their recognisable traits, eg so and so has brown skin, I have curly hair etc etc.
    My aunt is Ghanian and I know she hates the word black and prefers to use coloured however I once tweeted trying to establish what an actress had been in on twitter and got backlash for calling her coloured rather than black, so I am guessing it’s personal taste.
    At 7 the world is black and white, just keep teaching her that everyone is equal and I am sure grow into an accepting young lady xx
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks Kara, your comment sparked me to ask the teacher and they use “black” at school, but she is now aware that L and a few of her friends are using “brown-skinned” and is going to address it. Thanks for coming by and commenting x

  7. Lucie Aiston says:

    Really tricky! I have mixed race cousins and the term always used to be half cast…. I honestly didn’t realise until a few years ago that this could cause offence! My son with Autism (8) walked past an asian family in all their pretty dresses/attire and he covered his eyes. I asked him why he done this and he said he didn’t like the different way they dress. I was horrified! I had a long chat with him about how different everyone is but it didn’t matter as we are all people with feelings, love and families etc. How boring would it be if we were all the same?! It is hard but I’m sure you will figure something.
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks for coming by and commenting – this is when you realise just how tricky parenting can be sometimes!

  8. Amanda says:

    Oh it’s a tough one isn’t it! I think the difficulty lies in the fact that actually as children they are simply making an observation on the differences between people rather than making an actual judgement. But as adults we are so used to making judgements (or hearing others judge) that we worry about it too much. So you need to strike a balance – you don’t want to make them worried about making observations by telling them that this isn’t quite “right” or “PC” because actually that draws attention to it which they don’t already have… but at the same time you want to make sure they don’t hurt anybody who might see it as judgement. Tough call…

    I think that simply talking it through and explaining that making sweeping statements (like “brown-skinned people are all cool/are all really good dancers”) isn’t quite correct as lots of white-skinned people are cool or good dancers. Maybe look at magazines and ask who they think is cool and then talk about how they are all different (different hair colour, different skin colour, different gender) and therefore it is really difficult to generalise like they are trying to do. Then you could go through and tell them who YOU think is cool and discuss how your opinion on what is or isn’t cool is different to theirs. This may spark up some interesting conversation and means you aren’t telling them what they are doing is “wrong” but are giving them more perspective on it all.

    Will be interested to hear what you do and how it works out – good luck!
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thank you so much for your advice, I’m going to take some quiet time with her, just the two of us, to talk about who I think is cool etc and look at some pictures/videos of celebrities to show her which ones, what a great idea, thanks!

  9. Katie Albury says:

    An interesting post which I don’t think sounds at all offensive. I think the problem lies where you are unsure how to broach this subject with your child as you are more afraid of offending someone and yet you clearly have a lovely outlook on all races and have been brought up to respect everyone regardless of their skin or religion. It’s sad that we live in a society where we are afraid of using different terms or words that will in no doubt offend someone out there even if it’s not directly aimed at them. If I were you, I’d talk to her teacher to see what terminology they are encouraging?
    Katie x
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thank you for the recommendation of talking to her teacher – I did that and she said they don’t use that term at school, instead they use “black”, and the teacher is now aware that some children are talking about “brown-skinned people” so is going to talk to the kids again about it. Thank you for coming by and commenting.

  10. I think, in your daughter’s mind, like you say it’s simply a descriptive term, although I am not sure how to handle it myself as my son is only 3.

    Actually, one of the things I loved about the area in which the hostel we lived in last year was in, was it’s diversity, being White British was actually a minority and Harry was one of just three White children in his nursery class. Now, it’s completely the other way around which actually makes me feel slightly uncomfortable!
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I do like living in London where we get the variety, and it means that we get the opportunity to discuss these things with her. Thanks for coming by and commenting.

  11. Globalmouse says:

    My son is 7 and is best friend is from Egypt and he regularly talks about her brown skin in a very matter of fact kind of way. He doesn’t see it as positive or negative just something she has and is different to his in the same way as his hair is blonde and hers is black. Personally I wouldn’t draw any attention to it. It sounds like you are teaching her about how everyone is equal so there is nothing more to be said. I think to talk about it draws attention to the need to talk about it when really there isn’t a need….just my thoughts!
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks, that’s what I thought too – the more I draw attention to it, the more I turn it into a big thing which, I’m hoping, it isn’t. Thanks for coming by and commenting.

  12. Eileen Teo says:

    I think she is still too young. It take time. I think slowly they will learn that they need to respect one another.
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks for coming by and commenting – I think it’s all such a learning process.

  13. Anna says:

    I don’t think this is offensive or something to worry about too much, as you said – it is positive and probably just generalising from the people in her class. I think kids may generalise quite a bit at that age and later will understand more? Maybe it’s their way of trying to make sense of the world at a young age – they observe, and draw conclusions – then try to apply that to everything?
    I wouldn’t make a big deal just keep talking to her in an open way and show a positive attitude yourself and it will be fine!
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks! It’s so hard to know what the right thing to do is, but I think you’re probably right.

  14. Louisa says:

    A very thoughtful post, thank you for sharing. It’s a difficult topic. I think when a phrase is used to describe a person it okay to use. However, you’re never going to get it right every time. In the same way that I prefer to be called tall and slim and get upset by lanky or skinny, someone may prefer coloured to black or visa versa.
    I’d be more concerned about the generalisations of peoples skills/personality dependant on race. A quiet chat about it should solve any confusion. You sound like an excellent role model to your children x
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks, it is so difficult. I try to explain that she can’t generalise, in the same way she wouldn’t want people to talk about “all French people” or “all girls with curly hair”.

  15. Don’t worry, your post isn’t offensive at all. It’s great that you have shared your concerns. I am not sure if I have the answer, only having a younger one. I think I would try to encourage other descriptive terms and comment on the generalisation, but in a more casual way. To her it is just a descriptive term isn’t it x
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      She certainly sees it just as a descriptive term, as she included a white friend who tans well in her brown-skinned generalisation!

  16. Jo Bryan says:

    My son used exactly the same term, at the same age, although not intended as offensive, I felt that it may be be seen as not nice to hear, for a child of mixed or other nationality. I said it was better to call them by their nationality, eg Asian, Chinese, black (as this is the acceptable term for West Indian or Afican children). He said but their skin is brown, so its purely an observation of skin colour. Then strangely enough his twin sister said Its rude, if they called you white skin you would not like it, sometimes straight talking works!
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Very true that straight talking is often the best way, it’s funny that your twins viewed it different ways!

  17. Charly Dove says:

    As you say it really does sound like she’s being descriptive – like mentioning a hair colour for example. The generalisation I’m sure will pass when she has a better understanding of where people come from. We only have a 3 year old daughter so no experience with 7 year olds – yet!
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I’m hoping the generalisation passes, as I think that is almost the worst bit.

  18. Charlotte says:

    Oh my gosh, reading this I feel awful. I never realised terms like half-cast were offensive, when I was growing up we were encouraged to use those and everyone I know who is mixed race calls themselves half-caste! I have no idea about being PC though, if there were a a group of people and 5 were black and one was white I would just say ‘the white one’ referring to them without even thinking of it. It’s so confusing to me as different people are offended by different terms

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      It’s true that what offends one person may not offend another, and vice versa. It’s hard to know what to say sometimes.

  19. Lori says:

    This is such a tricky subject, especially as it’s around kids. Although it’s important for children to know that people come in all shapes and sizes, I personally try to get my child to describe people in a way that does not pass as a personal remark. So rather than that fat boy he might say the older boy or refer to what he’s wearing. To be honest I don’t really know what the correct/pc term is and my husband and I were discussing this the other day, as my brother in law’s girls are British but half trinidad descent. He says that dual heritage is the correct term but that’s quite a lot for a kid to use. We wouldn’t use the term that fat woman as it would be derogatory, nor would you want to be picked out as that white girl in a group of people from different ethnicities as that would make you feel uncomfortable. I’m not sure what the right age is to talk about pc but I don’t envy you. Thankfully f is only 3 so I have a while yet. x
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks for commenting, it’s true that it’s tricky, and when do they need to learn about PC? I try to explain to her to treat others in the same way she would like to be treated, as a rule of thumb.

  20. Kirsty says:

    Having taught in primary schools in inner London it sounds like your daughter is just using the normal vocabulary to describe other people and not being derogatory in any way. I understand your concerns about generalising and pointing out to her that good dancers come from all different backgrounds, as do good doctors, scientists, gardeners and chefs, won’t do her any harm. The world just gets more and more complicated from here for a 7 year old and it is wonderful that you are looking out for her and guiding her.
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks for your insight, that’s a very good point to make about people with talents coming from all sorts of backgrounds. The world certainly gets more complicated for her with each passing year.

  21. I found this post and the comments really interesting. As labels go I’m White Irish and my husband’s from Pakistan. We’ve had many a debate about using skin colour as a descriptive and I think your view depends a lot on where you’re coming from.
    It’s natural to pick the most instantly recognisable feature when describing a person and for me, growing up in Ireland not seeing anyone with skin any other colour than my own, that’s different coloured skin. There’s no prejudice attached, it’s just a descriptive.
    For my husband though, as an Asian raised in a minority (he grew up in Huddersfield and Edinburgh), it’s an unnecessary allusion to something that should make no difference. Having been subject to racism growing up, you can understand the reason for his viewpoint: you don’t want to be singled out for your skin-colour.
    As long as it’s purely descriptive, without malice or prejudice, I wouldn’t worry. We’re all a product of our environment to some degree. You can’t embrace difference and diversity if you render it invisible. It’s not so much the words that matter as the feeling behind them – and different people will have had different experiences (see commenter above on using the terms ‘coloured’ and ‘black’). In the end communication is key. Compassion and discrimination are readily distinguishable, the main thing is not to make people too afraid to speak.
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      That’s such an interesting comment, thank you. So much depends on perspective and what you have grown up with, as you say, and compassion is key I think.

  22. Sarah Bailey says:

    I have to admit I don’t have children so the only experience is from school myself – I know at that age I would describe people in a literal way. I didn’t mean it offensively, it was done with the pure innocence in some things that I still had back then. Could she perhaps be hearing the things she is saying from her peers?
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      It certainly seems to be the way all her peers are describing others, in that way I don’t feel to bad, especially as it’s descriptive.

  23. I was told “coloured” is apparently very offensive 🙁
    It is hard to be on top what is and what is not acceptable these days…
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      It’s hard to know what the correct terms are for everything these days, and sometimes we can offend people without knowing it or meaning to.

  24. Aly says:

    As long as you’re teaching her the way you have been, I don’t think she can go far.Being descriptive is different to be racist.What one set of people deem ok and other set of people will not.Carry as you are but make her aware that what she says maybe offensive to others.
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  25. Kizzy says:

    It is so hard to get this right. My little man how is 5 asked the other day why people had different skin colours and I found it difficult to answer it in a pc way. They are exploring their surroundings and I am sure that as a child no one would take offense.
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks. It’s so hard to know what is right, what is wrong and also what they’ll understand at different ages. Parenthood is such an ongoing minefield!

  26. Tarana says:

    It can be difficult for a child to be politically correct. I think it is up to you to decide what you are comfortable with her saying, and gently steer her in that direction.
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      Thanks, that’s very true. I had a chat to her teacher and she was going to talk to the class about it, so maybe that will help too.

  27. Oh I totally get why you’re struggling with this one! There’s been some great advice on here too, I don’t think it’s offensive, just observational but I do agree with the person who said ‘how would you just like to be described as being white?’ I suppose we point out the differences in others otherwise we presume they are the same as us? If that makes sense and doesn’t come across as being offensive?! Observational I guess 😉 My son is currently pointing out when people smell, observational, true, but not good…
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I’m glad I’m not in your shoes, having your son pointing out smelly people!

  28. With children; they just say it like it is, without any other thoughts other than what they see. My boy and girl do the same. All they are doing is saying what they see, with no racist connotations, so are they really not being PC – or just being description nothing more!
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  29. Shell Louise says:

    I want to say thanks for writing this post because I’ve found all the replies very helpful. I haven’t been faced with this yet but it is hard to know what’s right/PC nowadays.
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  30. HPMcQ says:

    she is in no way being offensive and neither are you by writing about it. she is being literal, that is all. ronnie did the same when i wasn’t sure who a boy was in his class, when i got it wrong he said no no that’s not so and so he has brown skin. so i asked out of interest what colour skin he thought he had and he said peach. they are only young still they say what they see, it’s a shame this innocence stops really 🙁
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      It’s such a shame the innocence stops, and we all get caught up in what’s PC and right or wrong.

  31. Vicky Myers says:

    A really interesting post which I am glad you shared. My daughter is 7, in a totally white class. I am delighted my daughter has outgrown being frightened of people with different colour of skin but have no idea what language she would use, and I have little knowledge what would be viewed as offensive.
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I’m glad you liked the post, it’s hard to know what is right and wrong these days.

  32. Hannah Ruth says:

    It sounds like you are doing all the right things to keep your children from having prejudices. I was lucky to grow up in very mixed schools where the teachers encouraged us to speak openly about our different ethnicities and cultures, and we spoke about and agreed the words that we were most comfortable to be described with. Your daughter will most likely learn a lot from the friends she has at school and you may find a lot of her ‘PC-ness’ will develop naturally with the addition of the support you’re already giving her.
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    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      It’s strange because there are so many races, religions, colours and cultures at her school, and they are very good at addressing this with the children. We’ll see what happens when her teacher speaks to them about this again.

  33. An interesting post – I think she is just using desriptive language that she is hearing at school. I would model the language I would expect my children to use – they tend to pick up the language you are using. Anything that is offensive I would correct and explain why – most times my kids are mortified when I explain what it really means.
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  34. J Wilson says:

    I find the PC crowd are more offensive. Personally if we are all happy with each other all being one big happy human race then describing a skin colour accurately is no different from describing a hair colour or eye colour. Personally I have peely wally skin but there you go !

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I think the PC crowd can really get too OTT, but I do worry about offending….

  35. J Wilson says:

    And in some ways I suspect the teacher might just make things which were perfectly innocent and accepted by the children become something it isnt by speaking to them but its too late now if she is already speaking to them.

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      She dealt with it all very well fortunately, we are so lucky in having such a great teacher, who’s so clued up.

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