a coworker’s child keeps saying insulting and bigoted things to me

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I work in a nonprofit child care setting and the environment can be toxic at times. These people have all known each other for decades and have habits of lying for one another in professional settings to make the organization sound better than it actually is.

That being said, I am an openly gay man and recieve much support from my coworkers. I truly love working here. I have pride flags in my office, i wear pride themed clothes often, I paint my nails, and have sparkly gems decorating my desk in pinks and whites.

So here’s the issue: I have one coworker, Lynn, who makes me feel uncomfortable who is also good friends with most of the executive staff. I recently had to ask Lynn not to play Christian worship music in the office because it was making me feel uncomfortable and she understood. Now she’s brought her seven-year-niece in a few times and while she’s super cute and its not unusual for us to have kids in the office, this child is rude and mean to me but says she’s just joking.

This seven-year-old has told me I’m ugly, I shouldn’t be painting my nails, I shouldn’t like “girly” things, I’m too hairy, I’m a weirdo, and that she wants to cut up my pride flags and wreck my desk gems when I’m not looking.

Now, she’s a child and I understand she probably doesn’t fully understand the impact of what she’s saying, but I feel that children say what they hear at home and are more honest than the adults around them. It feels like Lynn and her family have these feelings and the child is just repeating it.

I want to say something to Lynn about it, but I worry that I’m going to be making bigger issues for myself here because she is super close with the organization’s executive director and is one of the most gossip-oriented people I’ve ever worked with. I was warned on my first day that she was a gossip and I have firsthand witnessed her repeat private conversations to entire rooms of coworkers.

My question is this: how would you address a situation where a coworker’s child, who doesn’t actually attend our child-care program, is saying offensive and mean things to you that genuinely hurt your feelings, even though as a child she probably doesn’t understand what she’s saying?

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 534 comments… read them below }

  1. Lilo*

    I’m on the parent board of my kid’s daycare and I have to say I think it’s deeply problematic to have children in a childcare setting who aren’t officially enrolled. For instance, how do these extra kids affect your legal ratio?

    Ultimately that plus the fact that Lynne is close to rhe executive director, I find this workplace really problematic. I suggest raising this issue with your supervisor, but I think I’d job search. some norms are seriously out of whack there.

    1. Chauncy Gardener*

      I was wondering how this impacts their liability insurance? The niece is not enrolled in the center.
      Also, what is she doing wandering around unattended?
      I agree with Lilo about this workplace being very problematic

      1. Pants*

        I’m on board with this. She’s not enrolled so she technically should not be under the care of the employees there. That’s a nightmare waiting to happen, on top of the nightmare that’s currently happening. Is there an HR person? (I know, I know.)

        I don’t have kids so I’m not sure how much she’d listen/care. What if OP responded to little Damiana with “that’s rude,” “that’s unacceptable behaviour,” or “that hurts my feelings?” The last one may be opening up for more abuse, but I feel like pushing back with a more forceful tone of voice may help. I do remember voice-tone being a big thing when I was a wee one…and now that I’m old, actually. “Stop it, Damiana. That’s rude and unacceptable behaviour. Leave. Now.

        While Damiana is probably repeating sentiments she’s heard before, I do think she has an idea of what she’s saying. She may not understand how much it cuts (as OP has said), but she knows it’s not nice or else she wouldn’t say she’s joking. She may also know she’s protected by her aunt.

        OP, document everything. Get yourself a Damiana book and write in everything that’s already happened. Then document anything that happens going forward with names/dates/times/quotes/actions. That way you’ve got coverage should anything go awry legally. I hate that it’s necessary, but CYA. Always C your A.

        1. Joielle*

          I don’t have kids but I have nieces and nephews, and I’ve occasionally shut down teasing that goes over the line with “wow, that’s mean!” They seem to get a lot of messages at school, etc about how bullies are mean and bullying is bad, and they definitely do not want to be considered mean. If she says she’s joking, you can respond “well I don’t think mean things are funny.” It’s a pretty mild rebuke but it might be impactful enough to stop her.

          1. Trillian Astra*

            I’ve used (in response to ‘I’m just joking’) “It’s not a funny joke unless both people are laughing. I’m not laughing. It’s not funny”

            1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

              I’ve used “We don’t talk to each other/say things like that in this family/at this school” with success. If they try the “I was joking” line I reply back “The who doesn’t matter, We don’t say things like that here. Period.” I’d also probably let her know that her getting to wander around an talk to people is a privilege that can be revoked. So she can be polite or she can sit quietly next to her Auntie’s desk until its time to leave. Her choice. But as someone who worked a decade in daycares, if Licensing walks in, that child will be counted as part of your ratio and not having shots/records on file will be a violation.

          2. IT Manager*

            This is good advice. I used this with my kids’ friends … it’s just enough pushback without trying to “parent” them.

            If she keeps doing it, you can say “that’s not how we talk in my office, you’ll have to go wait somewhere else”

          3. katkat*

            I agree with Joielle, this would be my response as well.

            I really enjoyed watching a friend handle a similar situation: she is brown and while we were walking through her new neighbourhood, some Kids (5-7years) yelled n-Word to her. She went to them, and very nicely but firmly said that the Word is very meen, and many People are really Hurt by that. Then she started asking about the game they were playing and they had a whole conversation about variety of things. Including the Kids being super thrilled when she showed them her palms (Our town/country is/was very white, its possible my friend was the first brown person they ever saw). They ended up being very close neighbours with the Kids and their family.

            Of course, this was overly genoreus of her, and she likes Kids, but it kind of reminded me, that often small children are open and curious towards new People, but they lack many social skills and knowledge.

          4. Cedarthea*

            I work with older children/teens, if they make an unfunny (or worse offensive) “joke” I will play stupid and tell them I don’t get it and have them explain it to me.

            This usually has the effect of if they weren’t aware that it was offensive (just repeating others) we can have the convo about why that wasn’t nice or okay, and then they learn.

            But if they know what they mean, it can force them to say the quiet part out loud and we can have a clear conversation about what kind of language and jokes are acceptable in our setting.

            It helps make sure that the children who need more information and understanding about why that might be offensive get information and learning and the children who are trying to be awful get an opportunity to correction and resetting of expectations around what sort of language we use in our shared environment.

            1. Pants*

              I use the “I don’t get it” technique when adults, almost always men, say inappropriate stuff, generally sexual. It flusters them quiet.

          5. Momma Bear*

            I was going to say similar. Be direct, firm, and give her comments little other attention. Children say horrible things for shock value. The coworker may herself say things, but the child could also be influenced by a number of other people. I would not blame the coworker unless you see more direct evidence. She turned off her music and otherwise doesn’t seem to be targeting OP.

            That said, OP could also mention to this coworker that her niece has been rude to others in the office or caused x or y problem, can she be kept closer to coworker’s desk if she has to be there?

          6. Ellie*

            I really like this approach. I’m not sure if OP has tried addressing it with the child themselves, but its a good place to start. My 4 year old used to like to tell her grandparents that they were very old. I was able to stop that by explaining, carefully, why people don’t like being called old and that its a mean thing to say. She stopped completely.

            If she is just parroting things that she’s heard from home, I bet this approach will reveal it as well (she will say that mummy or daddy say it too, and you will have more to approach your employer with). If that doesn’t work, does she say it in front of other people? You could try not being alone with the child at all, and see if that changes things. If she’s aware that its mean, she won’t say it in front of others, and if she’s not, then you’ll have witnesses, and one of them might intercede for you.

            I don’t think you can stop the child from coming there at all, I know where I live, almost every daycare has kids that belong to the carers. Its likely their only option, since daycare workers don’t earn enough to afford daycare anywhere else. Its a bad situation.

            I’m sorry you’re going through this OP. I wish I had some better suggestions.

          7. I&I*

            Other useful answers are ‘That’s not a very nice thing to say,’ or, if she keeps doing it, ‘Don’t be rude,’ or ‘You mind your manners, Miss.’

            And if she says she’s joking, you can be pretty direct. Just say, ‘Nonsense. Don’t talk to people like that, please.’ Kids her age can use phrases they’ve learned as get-out-of-jail-free cards until they find out that it doesn’t work, so don’t let it work. It doesn’t merit a debate. Just treat it like what it is, an attempt to get away with something that gets a brisk dismissal from your Firm Voice. (Which I am sure you have.)

            And if Lynn objects, act surprised. ‘Surely not? Manners is one of the most important things we teach here, isn’t it?’ (Which I’d expect a conservative Christian to consider an important value.)

            I’d suggest you don’t get into the bigotry with her, because that’s a can of horrible worms. Just stick to the undeniable fact that the kid is being insulting, and make yourself somebody that she can expect to (mildly, but consistently) tell her off if she insults you. She should learn pretty quickly.

        2. FrenchCusser*

          I would just say, ‘That’s a mean thing to say.’

          Repeat ad nauseum.

          Working with kids, one thing you really need to develop is the ability to not take what they say personally. I think you know it’s not about *you*, but if you’re an adult in their circle, you do have standing to correct their behavior.

        3. happybat*

          There’s a lot to be said for statements like “That was unkind” or “That was rude” said in a tone of indifference. Acknowledging the behaviour without an emotional reward can sometimes discomfit a kid who is used to a big reaction (and who might escalate if ignored). It also reaffirms your power to judge her behaviour without being damaged by it.

        4. JSPA*

          Treat the kid as the fixable sort of “ignorant” and treat her as teachable (whether or not it’s true).

          “[waggle finger] Oh no, sugar, we don’t say things like that here.”

          “Hon, how old are you? Oh, seven? Well, that’s old enough to learn politeness. Today’s lesson is, we don’t comment on other people’s bodies, or their personal style.”

          and the classic– which should get zero pushback from anyone–
          “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

          It’s not your job to figure out where she’s learning it, or to second guess the stances of her mom–ESPECIALLY if you’re assuming it comes from mom on the basis of mom’s taste in religious music. Could be any parent, grandparent, neighbor, babysitter (etc).

          But you can shut down active rudeness by a child! There’s no rule that every child gets to say what’s in their head, at every moment of every day.

          1. KateM*

            That’s what I was thinking, too. It’s a childcare – even if you are not an active child-caring personnel, telling kids what they are allowed to do and what not in a teacher’s voice should be expected. For example the janitors of our school are perfectly capable to tell kids not to run in corridors or to wipe their feet when they come in from outside, or to lead a child who ran in corridor and fell to nurse (while explaining that that’s exactly what the child shouldn’t have run).

        5. Kevin*

          mwrite down the child’s next 10 insults with dates and times recorded and read all of them at the next staff meeting.

      2. Heffalump*

        The commenters raised issues of a child being unattended in the “I manage my daughter and someone complained about her” post.

    2. ferrina*

      Former daycare teacher here. Both of your complaints aren’t actually uncommon in the preschool industry. At my kid’s daycare, there’s actually a school bus stop at the daycare for (I assume) the teacher’s kids to get to/from school. Until we get universal preschool, I support this (assuming the legal ratios can support it). Teachers make very, very little money and work very long hours. There are almost no social support systems they can fall back on. If they start work at 7am and their kids’ school doesn’t start until 9am, there’s not much else they can do. (And it can be really hard to switch schedules, since there’s usually a high demand for certain schedules; and good afterschool programs are high demand in our area and can be costly).

      Having weird nepotistic dynamics are also unfortunately common. There are some good preschools with fair, unbiased admin, but it’s not uncommon for there to be a lot of politics (think mini-academia). How problematic it is depends on which center you work at- often it’s a case of picking which weird situation you’re okay with.

      1. Lilo*

        The place I’m on the Board for has to run a really tight ship to keep a certain accreditation that allows military and foster care families to get reimbursed, so that may be some of it. we have some extra government oversight so having extra kids would be a big problem.

        1. ferrina*

          Yep, that def makes a difference for the extra kid issue. Defense/military childcare contracts are much tighter than state regulations. It also shifts priorities- usually a big challenge is retaining staff (cuz you know, low pay and long hours), but when there’s a contract issue in there, it doesn’t matter if you have a full staff if you have no center.

      2. DisgruntledPelican*

        Yeah, we’re in the middle of a teacher strike where I live, and about half of our preschool teachers have school aged kids. So our options were close the preschool until the strike ends so the preschool teachers can stay home with their school aged kids, or set up a special classroom with a support teacher where all those kids could come hang out.

    3. The Prettiest Curse*

      In my previous job (family service nonprofit with a childcare area in the office), staff who bought kids into the office either had to drop them off in the childcare area (if available) or make sure that they were supervised by an adult at all times. No exceptions.

    4. doreen*

      I’m not sure that the niece is actually in the childcare setting – the LW mentions “the office” a few times and the impression I got is that Lynn and the LW don’t do childcare but have the sort of jobs that exist in any business and that Lynn’s niece is in the office with them rather than than in the same room as the children enrolled in the child-care program.

      1. H3llifIknow*

        That was my read as well. It’s tough when it’s a child because you some people are weird about you correcting THEIR child, etc… but I do agree with many that a “wow, that’s not a nice thing to say” or “do you say those kinds of things to your friends?” or “why would you say you want to destroy MY things? Wouldn’t it make you angry if someone did that to your toys?” etc… is fine, and even necessary. But also, why not say to Lynn, “Look I know Jezebel is your niece and she’s only 7 but, she’s been saying some pretty disturbing stuff about wanting to cut up my stuff and break my things; can you maybe keep a tighter rein on her when she’s in our office?”

  2. Me ... Just Me*

    I know that this is not the issue, but is it possible for you to simply ask this coworker not to allow her niece/child into your office without explicitly saying why? If this child is wandering around saying inappropriate and bigoted things to people, I’d feel free to educate the child in an age appropriate way that she’s being mean/rude and that she should leave your office if she cannot say anything nice. And then ignore her.

    1. Snarky McSnarkerson*

      yes, this! I have never had a problem correcting other people’s children and would likely make it my mission to make the child as uncomfortable as possible while doing out basic manners instructions.

      1. Loulou*

        it’s not appropriate for an adult (especially one who works in childcare) to make it their mission to make a child as uncomfortable as possible…is this comment a joke?

        1. Risha*

          Yeah, I’m actually blown away by that response. An adult wants to make a child as uncomfortable as possible? I truly hope that’s their way of joking because I cannot imagine an adult being serious. You can correct a child, set boundaries, and teach them some manners without actually making them uncomfortable. Wow. Some people are truly mean to children and have no business being around them. It’s one thing to correct someone’s child (I’ve done it), but it’s unacceptable to actually want to make them uncomfortable.

          It’s not the child’s fault she’s that way, she’s just a child. The adults should lead by example and teach the child in the proper way.

          1. morethantired*

            Making a kid uncomfortable isn’t necessarily being mean to them. I don’t care for kids and I especially don’t want kids in my office when I’m trying to work. When coworkers would bring kids into the workplace at some of my previous jobs, I would be nice and say hello, maybe give out a sticker or two. But if they came into my office unattended and tried to just hang around, I would make it clear I didn’t want them there without being mean. I would ignore them and if they spoke to me say “I am sorry but I have a lot to do and need quiet. Could you maybe go play somewhere else?” That makes the kid uncomfortable and they usually just leave.

          2. Goddess Sekhmet*

            I don’t see how it’s the OP’s responsibility to do any of this. He has no connection with this child, and I would take serious exception to any requirement to ‘teach the child the proper way’ when I was at work.

            1. Risha*

              It’s not OP’s responsibility to teach the kid, and I never said it was. But it’s also not their responsibility to make the child as uncomfortable as possible either. Also, my comment wasn’t directed at OP, more at the person who made the comment.

              None of us are obligated to teach another person’s child. But only a crap adult would make it their “mission” to make said child uncomfortable. If a child is getting on your nerves/insulting you/etc and you don’t want to teach them the proper way or correct them, that’s fine. You can send them on their way and tell them to leave you alone. You can refuse to engage with them. You can do any number of things except make it your mission to make the child uncomfortable. You are the adult.

              I know there’s a lot of hatred and disgust for kids nowadays so I’m not expecting my comment to be popular, of course. But children need and deserve adults who will show them proper behavior. It truly does take a village. And if you don’t like children, then hopefully you chose not to be in a job where you have to be around them all day.

              1. tessa*

                “…only a crap adult would make it their ‘mission’ to make said child uncomfortable.”

                Agreed, but I thought personal attacks weren’t allowed in this forum.

              2. Kat*

                Thanks for saying this. I feel like it’s almost a competition some days for internet commenters to prove who despises kids the most. I’m not sure why we accept this any more than we’d accept vitriol towards any demographic of people.

                1. Risha*

                  Well Kat, it looks like you and I are in the very rare minority who still has any compassion for kids and doesn’t think it’s funny to mistreat them or make them uncomfortable. Everyone came for me (I’m even accused of making a personal attack!), but only one other person said anything about the commenter who wants to make it their mission to make a child (!!) uncomfortable. Look at the responses my comments have gotten. Nowadays it’s cool to hate children and find them to be an inconvenience. People will jump to the defense of a dog right away but will go along with the hatred of kids. I remember one time, someone made a comment about having a dog in the fight and so many commenters jumped all over them. But it’s perfectly fine to speak bad of kids-to the point where people jump all over anyone who tries to defend kids. I just don’t get it. But honestly, I’m not surprised that there’s so much hatred for young humans.

                  I know this is so off topic and I’m really sorry the LW has to experience this from a child. But LW, please show the child some compassion. You don’t have to tolerate bigotry and abuse from anyone, including kids. But the kid learned it from adults and most likely is encouraged by the adults around her to act this way. Set boundaries with this little girl, let her know she can be polite and stop hurting your feelings, or she can get out of your office and you can ignore her. Tell your supervisor as well. You shouldn’t have to deal with this at work.

                2. Gato Blanco*

                  Could not agree more. It’s hateful and disgusting behavior that should not be tolerated in this space or any other polite forum for that matter.

              3. Not a Morning Person*

                I don’t think the commenter was being mean by saying they choose to make children who are bothering them uncomfortable. It’s the same for adults isn’t’ it? If you are disturbing me at work, I can say to you, “I’m busy and don’t have time to talk.” Or, “Please find somewhere else to sit.” or whatever makes that person, whether child or adult leave me alone to continue my job, I’m confused about why it’s “mean” that people would get uncomfortable. I love children, most of them anyway. And it’s necessary to teach them that being uncomfortable is a normal part of life. It’s a learning experience. If someone feels uncomfortable because I choose to tell them how what they are doing impacts me, I don’t see the problem. I’m not angry. I’m not yelling. I’m uncomfortable with what they are saying or doing and I tell them, matter-of-factly. It just naturally makes people uncomfortable and it’s not a deliberate attempt to be mean, but to say what the issue is rather than suffer continued slings and arrows and comments or whatever that people need to learn not to do or to say. That’s an adult’s responsibility to teach children who don’t yet know or haven’t yet been taught. It’s a teaching moment. Some adults still need the same teaching moments.

        2. raktajino*

          I didn’t read it as “I will be actively awful to the child,” but I also tend to assume better intentions until given reason to assume otherwise. You can correct a child firmly but politely–or even brusquely–and then not give the child further attention. That will make the child uncomfortable and also be an acceptable path for a child care provider.

          Others have given decent “we don’t talk like that here” scripts. Follow that up with no further discussion, removal of the enticing thing from their reach, or closing the door (with them on the other side). Kid’s uncomfortable, you’re just setting a boundary. It’s not even like a parent putting their child in time out because you’re not engaging in a power struggle or banishing them when they’re emotionally distressed.

          1. Loulou*

            we have a reason to assume otherwise? it’s the comment saying, verbatim, that OP would try to make this child as uncomfortable as possible!!!! asserting a boundary might make someone uncomfortable, but that’s different from having a goal of making someone uncomfortable….which again is very inappropriate in this situation.

            1. Risha*

              And there’s commenters here that obviously agree. Look at the responses my above comment got. I realize that nowadays so many people hate children (which I truly don’t understand as kids are the continuation of our species and we were all kids at one time), but to make it your “mission” to make a kid uncomfortable is outrageous. Imagine if someone said that about a dog!

              (General) you don’t have to like kids, but you also shouldn’t be actively trying to be mean. I love kids and have 6 myself. I also grew up around adults like these commenters so it brings back painful memories of these types of people actively trying to make me uncomfortable, letting me know they hated kids, pushing me away. Just stay away from children if you hate them so much.

              1. metadata+minion*

                I would be much more likely to say that about a dog. With a 7-year-old kid you can actually communicate and have options. If there were somehow a dog in my office who I couldn’t get to leave by normal means, yes, I would try to make the environment as unfriendly to the dog as possible short of actually hurting it.

                1. Kat*

                  It is SUCH a common theme online. I see a ton of comments on videos with children starting with ‘I hate kids, but ok this one’s pretty funny haha’ or relishing seeing kids fall over, etc. It’s pretty gross.

                2. Risha*

                  Not nonsense. Just like Kat said, have you seen comments online on other sites? Have you read thru comments here? I’m curious as to why my defending children got so many responses but those who encourage making kids uncomfortable or flat out admit to disliking kids are A-OK. I guess it’s not cool to defend small human beings.

                  Kids are called “crotch fruit”. Parents are called “breeders”. Just sickening. Without “breeders” giving birth to “crotch fruit”, our species would die out. If (general) you hate kids, fine. But why the vitriol for children? Even people in AAM have admitted to disliking children. Imagine the response if someone admitted to hating women (I am one before anyone comes at me for that too). They would be crucified (and rightfully so).

                3. sagc*

                  lol at comparing disliking children to misogyny, which always seems to come out.

                  Also, you know the person who said “make the child uncomfortable” got a ton of pushback, right? You seem to be reading a lot into this comment section, and then using it to make some pretty vitriolic statements about other commenters.

              2. Courageous cat*

                Risha, you are all over this thread acting as though you were victimized by those comments. You were not. Please tone down the dramatic responses. Making a kid uncomfortable doesn’t mean anything as horrific as you think it does. It just means they no longer find it actively enjoyable to torment that person or stay there, maybe because they’re bored, or because no one is giving them attention.

            2. Raktajino*

              Eh, I took that as text-based awkward phrasing, because you’re right, someone taking extreme strategies such as “defense against creepy person on subway at night” or “encourage entire family to ostracize racist uncle” would be unwarranted here.
              Boundaries and admonishment make small children feel uncomfortable. Clearly they also make adults feel uncomfortable. That’s the point. It’s not necessarily harmful. Making a child uncomfortable, as in not comfortable, is not inherently a bad thing.

              I realize there are people who make hating children their personality, but that’s not me and from their replies, that’s not the original commenter either.

              1. Not a Morning Person*

                I agree with your comment and that’s how I interpreted the comment about making children uncomfortable. Not as being mean to the child, but not encouraging or allowing them to continue behavior that is inappropriate or is interfering with the workplace. I don’t see the language about children on this site that I see on other sites and I don’t appreciate it being used to berate people who have not made ugly comments about children.

            3. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

              The commenter is saying that, in the situation described in the letter, they would try to make the child uncomfortable. It’s unfortunate phrasing, but I think it’s clear from the actions they go on to describe, that they mean they would make a rude child feel unwelcome in their office. Which is essentially what everyone’s constructive advice is–don’t reward the child for their behavior by giving them a gratifying response. Only, this commenter is also saying they don’t care about educating the child on top of that.

              It is not anyone’s responsibility to educate people who discriminate against and harass them, even a child. It is kind to try to educate children constructively. It is not acceptable to be cruel to children. But you don’t have to give them a lesson on manners if they invade your space without your invitation and then say bigoted things to you. The behavior the commenter described when asked to elaborate was not cruel, nor was it any kind of targeted campaign of harassment.

              The people you are complaining about do exist, but I think you’re making a leap here to say that this commenter is one of those people. They did phrase their statement boldly, and I understand being triggered by that phrasing, but on elaboration they are clearly talking about a normal response.

        3. Starbuck*

          Sometimes just showing your disapproval can have the discomforting effect that’s needed. A surprised/disappointed sounding “wow, that was a really mean thing to say” can be all you need to get the point across. It’s ok if they then feel bad about what they said, that’s part of the lesson.

          I hope Snarky didn’t mean physical discomfort, as that obviously would not be appropriate.

        4. New Jack Karyn*

          We learn through discomfort. Telling a kid that their comments are rude and unkind makes them uncomfortable. If she claims she was just joking, follow it up with ‘Those comments aren’t jokes, and they’re not funny. They are rude, and I need you to stop saying them to me.” And either let the silence continue, or turn away from her.

          Right now, she’s very comfortable saying bigoted things to an adult. That can change. She can handle a little discomfort.

          1. GrooveBat*

            Yes, this. I didn’t take the comment to mean “hurt the child” literally; any sort of reprimand or correction is bound to make anyone, not just a child, feel uncomfortable. And that’s okay, because that’s how you learn the consequences of saying hurtful things.

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              It’s one thing to acknowledge that having difficult conversations with a child may make them uncomfortable. It’s quite another to state that making them uncomfortable is the *goal.*

      2. Seashell*

        Making the kid uncomfortable is just going to cause the kid to think you’re a jerk and they may disregard your corrections because of it. Saying something like, “That’s not very polite” in a pleasant tone of voice is more likely to get the desired result of the kid stopping those comments.

            1. metadata+minion*

              But the things the kid is saying aren’t just rude. It’s not like she used a curse word or asked inappropriately personal questions. She is saying bigoted things and threatening to destroy someone’s property. It needs to be ok to tell her that this is actually not ok ever, not just that she needs to be on her best behavior right now but it might be ok when she’s not visiting Auntie Lynn’s office.

              1. Marthooh*

                I don’t understand what you’re objecting to here. “That’s not very polite” covers the situation pretty well. The OP does not need to say anything else.

                1. SixTigers*

                  “That’s not very polite” is not likely to have any effect on a child who’s enjoying the thrill of flinging insults at an adult.

                2. Courageous cat*

                  “That’s unacceptable to say to someone” followed by leaving is a pretty good response that covers it a lot better.

      3. Puggles*

        Document everything…what the child said, who you went to for resolution and what they did or said. Write in in front of the child and if she asks just let her know that you are taking notes. This is discrimination at work and it has to be dealt with.

      4. nobadcats*

        When I was teaching overseas, my DOE said, “You’re really strict with your children.” I said, “Yes, and? They love me for it.” About 20 seconds later my next class was rushing into the school and all the kids were all clinging on me like lovely little lemurs, “Teacher Sam, Teacher Sam, Miss Sam, Miss!”

        One of the few times I gave a smug look to someone, see I TOLD you.

        Then when I came back to the States, friends of mine who had wee small people, I was polite but very firm with the small people on what was okay and what was not okay. “No, it’s not okay to say that to Auntie Sam. No, we don’t take other people’s things. Listen to me, we will have to agree that you won’t do that anymore.” SOME of my friends took some umbrage because I’m childless, but all of them in the end were like, “Holy crap, you can say that to a kid and it works?”

        Yeah, it often does, unless the behavior is already so ingrained in the small person’s brain. Use the Voice of Power* and the tone and mindset of, “we’re not having a discussion, we’re not having an argument, I’m telling you how things are.”

        *low, calm, serious, and you’re down at their level making eye contact, probably on your knees

        1. Daisy*

          Yes! Kids, especially young ones, love having structure in their life. The world can be a big, scary place when you are a small person and knowing “the rules” can be very comforting.
          Which does make me wonder if this 6-year-old is pushing boundaries on purpose to see what she can get away with and when she will be repremanded.

          1. nobadcats*

            Not bragging at all, my babies loved me. I taught preK-G5. (okay, totally bragging)

            Structure gives our small persons comfort and the ability to predict outcomes, so their life is less chaotic and so they feel secure. They know what the consequences are if they f*ck up as well as the rewards. Predictable consequences for our actions is one of the most valuable lessons we can teach. “you are safe here, you know the rules.” And it’s never punitive, it’s just giving them a framework to negotiate the world as it is, not the world as we wish it could be.

          2. Firefighter+(Metaphorical)*

            I 100% admit that this is 1000% speculation/projection but when I read this story my heart went out to the kid and I thought “oh noooo poor little baby lesbian”. (Lesbian commenter here, fwiw.) She wants to hang around the queer adult and test his boundaries to see if he’s safe or if (as her parents have told her in one form or another) he/queerness is bad and dangerous! She is completely drawn to all his queer stuff but she’s been told queerness is ugly & should be destroyed, so she’s using the only language she has to express some really confusing and awful feelings!

            Which doesn’t change any of the advice in this thread so far – OP has a total right to protect himself from bigotry and hateful words, and also I think what the kid needs is boundaries and “this is not ok” from a safe queer adult anyway. Just, I couldn’t help thinking it & wanted to offer this perspective.

        2. Properlike*

          It’s the “old school” way that shouldn’t be old school, but basically — all adults get to call out kids who are not acting according to the social contract. And the parents accept (and welcome) that their kids will get boundary reinforcement outside of the home.

          Yeah, I know, I know.

          But it’s true: Kids LOVE boundaries, they love knowing where they stand with people, and they like knowing the rules. It gives them security. Being loving and keeping boundaries are not mutually exclusive; they’re the same thing.

          1. nobadcats*

            And… give your kids the opportunity to peer and self correct. Every day, I’d start out dividing them into teams (per seat) [also, I kicked the door in barefoot every day, but that’s another story], they’d each choose a team animal (I can only draw stick figures, but rock it on animals). Then every time one team was effing up, I’d just caaaaaasually walk to the other end of the board and slooooooowly just add points to the other team not saying a word. The team effing up would be like, DUDE seriously, Miss is adding points to the other team? Don’t say anything. They will peer correct.

            Peer correction in action. [huffs nails and polishes them]

            My babes always knew where they stood with me. I treasure those moments.

            1. nobadcats*

              Just to be honest, I’d not just enter talking, I’d enter yelling. Barefoot kicking in the door and loving all my kids from pre-K to 5. My TAs were like, “Miss Sam, you are so loud and you talk so fast.” I said, “the babes understand me, so let’s go!” [kick in the door] “Hello! How do you feel today?” “Miss Sam, I feel good today!” “Miss Sam I feel sad today.” Though all are different, all are great. And I addressed them all in kind.

              My greatest gift was when they finally learnt that the games and sentences were not just game and realized they could actually talk to me. It was usually the G3 “what is this” “what is that” lesson. We skipped the break and answered each other in full sentences.

              One of my proudest moments of teaching was when a G3 student picked up on random language I used in class, “you are killing me, you are killing your teacher.” but used it later. We were playing a gerund game with a ball, and my student said, “I am killing teacher.” I fell down laughing, he knew what he was saying.

              Kids are so smart, they just need roots and wings. And it’s so so so hard in these times, we have so many strictures and weirdness. Even though I work in edupub, I think we’re just stifling at some point. Like if I had to do the interactive differential exercises, I would die a thousand deaths as a teen. Just give me the book, I’ll memorize it and lets get on with it.

      5. Ppmarigolds*

        At yes. Visit your vendetta against the parents on the child.

        My parents were garbage ppl and as a child I inadvertently parroted far too much of what h heard at home. People like you who went out of their way to make me feel bad but not really explain how what I said was wrong (and even if you get around to it children will feel the embarrassment but not recall the lesson because that is how brains work) loom large as traumatic confusing figures in my already sad and barren childhood. Having mean or bigoted parents is painful. Why make it worse and entrench those values in the process?

        1. morethantired*

          People who are targeted by bigoted harassment from others, even children, have a hard enough time in life and should not bear the burden of educating the children of hateful people. It is terrible to not only suffer those indignities but then be told over and over again that you need to be kind and polite to the people verbally attacking you, even if they are children. OP just wants to work without being harassed.

  3. Viki*

    I think in the moment you can say to the child, “That’s not a very nice thing to say.” Or “We don’t say “you have ugly hair here””. She’s seven not three, so she understands the idea of feelings and rudeness.

    I’d then let Lynn know that her niece has been saying rude things to you, and you would appreciate it if she made sure niece kept her language appropriate, as you don’t want other children in the program repeating mean things.

    If you went to your boss and did an “FYI, Lynn’s niece keeps on saying I’m ugly etc, I’ve talked to her about it but if it continues, is there some sort of acceptable language/code of conduct thing we can make sure people are aware of for visitors?” That also helps.

    1. Pink Marbles*

      I really like that framing. If OP is nervous about a bad reaction from Lynn or the Director, it could really help to frame it as “I want to make sure visitors and parents don’t think we allow bullying or mean language.”

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I think this is a very critical concern. How many parent or other kids in the program have heard this and will repeat it. Bullying is a serious and hard problem to deal with, and letting the niece wander around and make comments and threats like this is problematic (and if a parent sees/hears and doesn’t feel safe reporting to the program – they could report it to the licensing authority instead, spawning a much larger problem depending on the severity of what they see/hear/have reported to them by their kids).

        1. JM60*

          Homophobia – and bigotry in general – is like a disease. It’s best to quarantine the infected (discourage bigots from spouting their bigotry where people can hear them) to keep it from spreading.

    2. Tio*

      This would be my suggestion. If she says she’s joking, you can always say “Jokes like that hurt my feelings. Can you not joke about those things?’ Then if she does it again, tell her “I’ve mentioned this hurts my feelings. Why did you want to continue to do this when it hurts my feelings?” in a very non-angry, just-asking-a-question sort of way. It’s probably something she’s hearing at home and repeating back, and if she realizes it’s not nice, it may curb the problem. If not, then after that escalation options may be the way.

      1. Essess*

        I had a relative who only ever said insults to me, then would constantly complain that I had “no sense of humor”. I very bluntly said to him, “insults are not jokes.” That is exactly the sentence that should be said to the child. They need to be told that is NOT humor.

        1. Momma Bear*

          I like this – I wouldn’t even make it about myself to let the kid know she got me. Saying “insults are not jokes” is broad but also pointed.

      2. penny dreadful analyzer*

        TBH I wouldn’t let on that the OP’s feelings have actually been hurt, and would focus on how it’s objectively not acceptable behavior – “That’s a really mean and inappropriate thing to say,” and when she says she’s joking, just “It’s a mean and inappropriate joke.” The most I’d make it about OP’s feelings would be something like “I don’t like mean jokes, so don’t tell them to me.”

        1. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

          Or make it a broad “Mean jokes like that can hurt people’s feelings. Why would you want to hurt somebody?” (source: also an educator)

          1. Irish Teacher*

            That’s exactly what I was going to say. The kid is almost certainly looking for a reaction and saying “that hurt my feelings” might even make the kid feel powerful – wow, she upset an ADULT! – or make it seem like they are equals, having an argument, whereas “that’s wasn’t a nice thing to say,” “I was only joking,” “well, jokes like that can hurt people’s feelings, so please don’t do it again” makes the same point while also making it clear that the LW is the adult figure of authority who is teaching the child how to behave.

            1. Starbuck*

              Yes, having worked with kids a lot I think this is the more effective track. A 7 year old is not really at the empathy level where they’re necessarily going to care about hurting your feelings. Some might! But naming the negative behavior and giving some consequences (even if it’s just showing your disapproval, that can be very powerful) is what I’ve found to work best. A simple, “wow, that was a really mean thing to say” can get the job done.

      3. Lenora Rose*

        I’m on team, “That is not a joke. It is an insult. They are different things.”

        I haven’t noticed a lot of success with “That hurts my feelings”myself, though I try it first (Also “You say you like me but then you say mean things that you know are mean”, which works a bit better if he’s calm but bounces off if he’s already mad. But that’s to a child who does like me.) “That is not appropriate to say” or “We do not insult people here” get a little more traction even with an angry child.

        (Admittedly, my experience is as a parent rather than minding others’ children.)

    3. NotBatman*

      Yeah, I think directly saying to the kid “what a hurtful thing to say! Those are very mean words and mean threats!” could go a long way. Or outright stating “you hurt my feelings and I’m upset with you right now” is both true and entirely defensible. If Lynn tries to raise a stink (because even if Lynn’s not a bigot this kid isn’t learning bigotry from nowhere) then too bad. You told the truth and explained a rule of etiquette to someone who didn’t understand it; you’re under no obligation to endure verbal abuse just because the speaker doesn’t understand they’re using prejudice to verbally abuse you.

    4. Wanna build a snowman*

      I might go the other way. befriend the kid. Oh, I’m ugly?!? have you seen this really ugly animal? and then show her a pic of one. ask her what color you should paint your nails, etc. then if she continues, say it really hurts my feelings when you say those things, and I don’t want you around if you’re going to keep saying that. I don’t let my friends talk to me that way,.etc.

      1. Torvil and Dean*

        That’s an awful lot of work for a child that’s neither their relative or a child in the program.

      2. Zoe Karvounopsina*

        As Michelle points out below, I’d be really cautious about that, as it is entirely possible that could be taken in bad faith.

      3. Gerry Keay*

        This is way way too much and could potentially backfire on OP, as some folks are saying below. I am a queer person who works in an education-related field, so I say this from a place of fear and concern and heartbreak for my community, but this is the exact sort of thing that, if the mom really is a bigot, could get OP accused of trying to “groom” the child.

      4. something about sharks*

        Unfortunately, this is a really bad idea for OP’s specific situation. “Queer people = pedophiles” is an unfortunately common piece of bigotry, especially when it comes to gay men; if the kid’s parents really are homophobic enough that she’s picking up things like “cutting up pride flags”, there’s a very high chance they’ll accuse him of some horrible things if he tries to befriend this child.

        It’s a shame, because this does often work with kids, but the consequences for OP could be really, really bad if her parents are that level of homophobic.

          1. Pants*

            Absolutely. I should have put a “no, i’m kidding” in that response, because NO, don’t do this!! It’s just one of those little blip-fantasies. But bad reality. Like owning a tiger. Great fantasy, terrible reality.

        1. Petty Betty*

          Then you’ve taught her a new “joke” to use on other potential targets.

          Never give a miniature bully new weapons to use against others.

          1. kicking_k*


            Even if it doesn’t lead to imitative behaviour, the kid may find it funny and think of further outrageous things to say to see if she can get a rise out of you. Challenge it but be boring, that would be my advice.

      5. 1-800-BrownCow*

        I don’t know, this sounds like reinforcing the child’s behavior. I have a 7-year old and if I heard my child tell someone they were ugly, my focus would be on explaining why it’s hurtful to say things like that and changing their perception on defining something or someone as ugly. Telling them how something else is ugly and having them to define what they think is pretty is just encouraging them to continue to expect others to meet their definition of attraction. I have not problem with anyone having their own likes or definition of what looks good. But I prefer to teach my children that just because I think a color or a look is more attractive to me, doesn’t mean I cannot see why someone else would find their personal preference as more attractive to them.

        1. Fear of Name Committment*

          First, make your child APOLOGIZE, then use it as a teaching moment. I once had a small child say “That lady is fat” in the grocery store (talking about me). The adult with her did not correct the child in any way (“we don’t say things about people’s bodies” would have been appropriate) nor have her apologize. And yes, these remarks are hurtful even from children.

          OP, shut it down. You have the right not to be subject to a hostile workplace even if it is a seven year old emitting the hostility. This child is a bully in training and needs correcting, and at seven can understand that what she be taught what she is doing is wrong. Definitely speak to the adult bringing the child in, and in the moment, say not funny, would you like someone saying this to you?

          BTW I’m a parent and will never understand how some parents think everything their child does is cute or acceptable. If mine ever insulted someone when I was around, I would have done as I said above. But she didn’t.

          1. I'm Not Phyllis*

            This. All of this.

            Yes the child absolutely needs to be corrected (in an age appropriate way) but you deserve a healthy, discrimination-free working environment. I don’t think for a second that goes out the window because someone decides to bring a child that is not a client into the business. That does not mean you should be subjected to insults and abuse on a regular basis (and yes – comments hurt even when they’re made by children). That may sound harsh to some – and it’s not that I don’t like kids – but I have zero tolerance for bigotry or abuse.

            I would absolutely tell your co-worker that the child is not welcome in your workspace because of all of that. I know that can feel rude, but it is obviously impacting you in a way that you should not have to continue to deal with. If your coworker gets mad or if the kid thinks you’re a jerk – sorry but that’s getting a big shoulder shrug from me. By continuing to tiptoe around and be accommodating and WAY kinder than you need to be, you’re inadvertently saying that this behaviour can continue. To be clear, I am not saying any of it is your fault. The coworker should be the one to stop this but if they will not then it unfortunately falls on you – hopefully with some help from HR (if you have them) or other allies.

      6. Miller_Admin*

        That would be too accommodating. Be friendly to her after she’s been a pain in the rump, and insulting is almost an award for bad behavior.

        You do not think your co-worker has put her up to saying it?

        You could ask where she heard that statement, etc.? Are you in a private office or shared space? I think you would have grounds to shut & lock your door when that kid is around if it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle.

        I’m not a kid person and would have already lost my patience and gone to HR.

      7. Petty Betty*

        With what that child is saying, and Lynn’s leanings, I’d assume the family’s leanings would automatically assume OP’s intentions to be bad if he tried to befriend this child. Many RW religious types have weaponized the idea that all non-cishet men are child predators, and showing any kind of interest in them (even professional) is tantamount to actual abuse. Even glancing at a child to ensure you don’t trip over the sprog gets an accusation of attempts at “grooming” and predatory thoughts.

        At this point, I’d really consider limiting all exposure to this child in general. She’s 7 and knows words can hurt. Saying “you’re saying mean things” can be good in the moment, or even “that’s a mean thing to say, so I’m going to go elsewhere until you can be kind”, but ultimately, finding a new place to work or getting this job to enforce whatever behavioral codes they already have on the guests of staff (or even their own clients) would be best.

      8. Ermintrude - she/her*

        As someone who was bullied by children my age and younger into high-school, that sounds very unappealing. I would admire someone who could actually do that though.

        1. Ermintrude - she/her*

          Nesting fail – this was in response to ‘Wanna build a snowman’ re. befriending this child.

      9. Sylvan*


        Also, if the child’s from a homophobic home, OP’s coworker and the kid’s parents won’t like this. Homophobes think LGBT people are all pedophiles right now.

      10. Starbuck*

        Have you actually used this strategy to effectively deal with this kind of behavior from a child before? How did it work out?

      11. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Asking what colour OP should paint his nails is asking for trouble surely? The kid might answer that “real” men don’t paint their nails or some similar awful thing that’s spurring these nasty remarks. It sounds like it’s stirring up a hornet’s nest, and that could well lead to all sorts of trouble.

      12. GrooveBat*

        I don’t agree with this at all. First, it reinforces that it’s okay to categorize people/animals as ugly/not ugly; second, it validates her insult by asking her for nail polish “advice; third, it puts the emphasis on your reaction (“I” “me” “my”) instead of her behavior.

        In fact, I disagree with the “we” approach in general (“we don’t do this…we don’t say this…”) If the child misbehaves, the child needs to own that behavior: “That was mean for you to say that.”

    5. ABK*

      yup. you stand up for yourself and tell her that what she’s saying is not ok. “That is very disrespectful, and in this place we need to be respectful of each other”. “that is unkind, please leave my desk until you’re ready to be kind”, if you’re feeling generous you can say “why do you think that? How do you think that makes me feel?” and have a conversation, but that’s not really necessary. Remember that you’re the adult and she’s the child!

        1. whingedrinking*

          Yup, the classic, “How would you feel if someone said that to/about you?” has come out of my mouth more than once when working with kids.

    6. PlainJane*

      Yes. While ideally OP would not be responsible for this, the fact that this is a young child changes the dynamic a bit. She’s obviously picking this stuff up from somewhere and probably not understanding the full impact, but it is a child care center, and it’s not out of line AT ALL for a staff member to enforce norms, even if the child is not enrolled. (And yes, that’s a whole nother can of worms.) But to non-judgmentally say, “Here, we don’t use words like ‘ugly’ or tell people what they might wear, and we definitely don’t threaten to break their things”? That seems totally reasonable.

      The only danger is if the child is truly spoiled and goes home to say that the mean man with nail polish made her cry, which could lead to an uncomfortable altercation, even if OP is totally in the right. To help avoid this, Lynn should be in the loop here, maybe even in the lead role. It sounds, from the music incident, as if she understands the idea of boundaries and is not averse to working with OP. So maybe talk to her and have *her* be the one to say, “Now, Veruca, this is not a way we talk to other human beings. It’s not all right to say hurtful things, even if you think you’re joking, because deliberately hurting other people is never okay.” If it comes from her, even if there’s a problem from the parent, it will remain a family thing within their family and not disturb work.

      1. Ermintrude - she/her*

        How specifically this child has mentioned things about the OP and his office space makes me think Lynne could’ve at least said similar things in the girl’s hearing, if not directly putting her up to telling OP them.

        1. PlainJane*

          I suppose it’s possible–I can see a scenario when, after agreeing to give up her religious music at work, she vented to her sibling (child’s parent) that she had to give up her music, but the rainbow flags were allowed to stay up and those ‘desk gems’ bother her or whatever–but I don’t know if we can necessarily infer that from the information we have. We don’t know what the situation is with the child’s parents–why is Lynn bringing her to work, anyway? Have the parents visited before and seen those things? Or does the child recognize the pride flag iconography from school or media, independent entirely of Lynn, and respond to them as the parent does?

          I just feel from the letter like Lynn has shown enough good faith in being willing to relinquish her music for the comfort of her coworker that maybe it’s worth talking to her to have the issue go back to the family before escalating it within the work structure. But maybe there’s stuff going on that didn’t make it into OP’s letter that would be a contra-indication. And if Lynn is bringing the child in because she’s the child’s caretaker during those hours, then she would need to be made aware of the behavior the same way the parents of any of the enrolled children would, anyway.

          1. PlainJane*

            (ETA: Not saying the theoretical venting was okay–it’s not; just thinking of a scenario that would prompt a situation where the child would have overheard Lynn talking about OP’s desk decor.)

    7. Bagpuss*

      I like Viki’s suggestion.
      Also, how would you respond if it was one of the children you are officially responsible for, saying these things? Maybe do wahtever you would if were a a child in your care saying thaings of that kind to you or to another child.

      (Which I suspect would be similar to what Viki’s suggesting – explicitly saying that the commonets are unkind / rude / hurtful, that it is not OK to make comments of that sort or to threaten to damge / destroy other people’s belongings.

      And maybe also propose a formal code of conduct for visitors (which could be as simple as saying that the sae rules apply to visting childnre as to children in your care, in terms of ensuring that they are not bullying other childnre, are expected to behave appropriately, and perhaps thatif a staff memeber brings sa child into the workplacethey are required to take personal responsbility for the child and that includes ensuring that they are not sisruptive toards any ther staff member.

    8. MsClaw*

      I really like this framing. I would stay away from using wording that indicates she actually has hurt your feelings, and use this kind of ‘that’s not acceptable here and you’re old enough to know better’ phrasing/tone.

    9. MusicWithRocksIn*

      A point of order – even a three year old can be told they are saying something mean or hurtful. As soon as a kid is old enough to verbally insult you, they are old enough to be told when something is not ok. You might have to answer a lot more ‘why’ questions, but a three year old can 100% understand why you shouldn’t say mean things to people.

      Granted, I’m still working on getting my three year old to stop telling me “I don’t like your shirt” when he’s upset about something (he also says “I like your shirt” when he’s happy with you) but he knows it’s not nice and he’s not supposed to say it.

    10. Lellow*

      I’m an openly lesbian teacher, and have dealt with this exact situation of secondhand very specific homophobia “I think it’s a problem that gay people can get married and it shouldn’t happen” in the middle of a lesson etc (and also “it makes me uncomfortable that you don’t shave your armpits”, bwah) from a boy at a similar developmental age that clearly came from home.

      What I did when he made one of those comments was stop everything and very seriously tell him that those are extremely unkind things to say, and that grownups who say those sorts of things often get in big trouble for bullying (a concept all kids are aware of) so it’s important that he learns now to stop it. He stopped doing it after a couple of times.

      (I also logged it with my leadership team, both that it had happened and my response, so that I had that backup if I heard from the parents.)

    11. ScarletB*

      I like this framing, too. Regardless of the specific targeted aspect of what the child is saying (which is awful, no doubt there), my takeaway reading it was that it’s pretty aggressive! They’re being really unkind in a very specific way, but also the kid is talking about wanting to destroy your stuff? That’s more than just something that can be waved off (as some might) as “just a tactless kid who doesn’t really know what they’re saying, la”. None of it is appropriate in the workplace (or anywhere), but you also don’t want the other kids picking up on targeted vandalism as an acceptable idea, whether this specific child goes through with it or not.

  4. Tricksie*

    Seven year olds are old enough to know they are being hurtful. I think you could say, “Wow, that’s a really hurtful thing to say” “Wow, you hurt my feelings” “I need you to leave my office if you’re saying cruel things like that, go back to your mom’s area” “It’s not okay to comment on other people’s bodies” “It’s not okay to threaten to hurt my belongings” – general stuff like that. Personally, I would say those things regardless of whether the mom is around. Those are true, natural consequences types of things to say that aren’t overstepping. I think you can address the behavior without confronting the coworker and saying that the kid must have learned it from home, etc. I would just deal with the specific behavior every time it arises.

    1. Feral Humanist*

      I agree with this. It also sounds like boundary-testing to me, and if she gets away with it every time, she’s likely to go further to see where the limit really is.

    2. Texan In Exile*

      Disciplining kids when the parent/guardian is around is harder, but I have overcome my resistance to such things by saying “In this house, we don’t open and close all the cupboards repeatedly/open and close the blinds repeatedly/put our shoes on the sofa.

      I love all the ideas already proposed and suggest something along the lines, “In this office, we are kind to people/we don’t say mean things to people” if the other ideas don’t work.

      1. aebhel*

        TBH as a parent, I wouldn’t even consider this discipline; it’s just drawing a boundary that very badly needs to be drawn.

        1. KateM*

          And it is often actually helpful if a kid hears the same thing from multiple people. Blah blah blah, mom is always saying I shouldn’t do this or that but nobody else seems to care… what?? They actually do?? Maybe my mom has a point…

      2. OyHiOh*

        I really love this language.

        OP, you might also ask the organization’s childcare staff how they model setting boundaries and behavior expectations. They may have some good language you can use as well.

      3. GalFromAway*

        This isn’t discipline – it’s being clear and setting boundaries/rules that need to be followed in your own space. I’ve done it with my daughter’s friends, and have done it with kids on my daughter’s ball team. Discipline is creating consequences for the child’s actions, and that’s not up to anyone but the parents.

    3. EJ*

      yes yes yes! Immediately calling out the behavior as not acceptable to the person directly (kid or adult) is so much better than delayed reactions.

      “That was a mean thing to say, and I am confident you don’t want to be a mean person, so I expect to not hear those things again”

    4. HufferWare*

      I totally agree. Lynn may be a gossip, but she also may not be saying nasty things about OP at home; the niece may just be pushing boundaries and in general be a bit of a brat. If Lynn is otherwise supportive of OP she may react helpfully to a heads up about the niece’s behavior. This is all assuming OPs office is private from Lynn and she has not heard what the niece’s has said.

    5. Office Lobster DJ*

      I especially like the suggestion of telling the child to leave if they are saying mean things (sure, maybe after a warning or two). I would angle it as “We don’t say mean things/tease like that/comment on people’s bodies here. Go find your mom.” As Pink Marbles suggested above, that allows LW to fall back to “I don’t want parents or visitors to think we tolerate bullying” if Lynn gets huffy.

      This isn’t a child in LW’s care, and while I hate to say it, the more discussion or debate with the child, the more chance something gets carried back to Lynn to be used as fodder.

      1. Petty Betty*

        Frankly, if Lynn gets sniffy about anything, it would be beneficial to say TO Lynn “look, I didn’t want parents to think your niece learned such commentary from *you*, because I know you aren’t that kind of person to go around saying such nasty things about people, so it’s best to just focus on ensuring little Veruca doesn’t continue saying such things, or worse, escalate to and act out on some of the threats she’s made. It wouldn’t look well on the company and people might start wondering where she picked up those kinds of ideas…”

        But document document document.

    6. Miller_Admin*

      The rude comments, etc., could justify banning the child from the premises. I’m wondering if management is aware that your co-worker is bringing her in. She’s getting free child care in many aspects.

    7. Some Dude*

      Yeah, seven is old enough to know better. Shut it down. Let her know what she is saying is mean and not acceptable.

    8. AbruptPenguin*

      Yep. Alison’s kind-but-firm approach works with kids as well as adults! I have a 5-year old and I use language like, “Wow, that hurts my feelings. Please don’t speak to me that way.” If it happens again, there’s a natural consequence: “I told you I don’t like that. If you aren’t able to speak to me in a kind way, I’m going to walk away.” In this scenario, the natural consequence could be, “I can’t let you visit my office.” And then enforce it. Kid says something rude after being warned, OP gets up, shows her out, and shuts the door. After OP has made an attempt to resolve it by responding directly, clearly, and firmly to the rude comments a couple of times, I would then escalate to the boss.

    9. Wendy*

      I have to disagree with the blanket statement that seven year olds know they’re being rude at that age. That’s what, 1st, 2nd grade? It would depend on a ton of other factors of how they were socialized. I can definitely see my past self at that age running my mouth for attention without thinking too deeply about what I’m saying.

      1. darcy*

        yes, exactly. I used to work with this age group and sometimes they’d say things without realising it was rude! whether or not they know it’s rude, my response would always be something like [serious and slightly sad voice] “that’s not a very kind thing to say” with a short relevant explanation of why (e.g. “why wouldn’t boys be allowed to wear dresses?” or “everyone is good at different things, you don’t call people stupid just because they can’t do something you can do” etc)

        Once I had some 7 year old kids who’d been laughing at an autistic child for having a meltdown and I did a very serious voice and said “I’m autistic too and sometimes I get upset just like that, do you think that’s funny?”. They all looked deeply uncomfortable and shook their heads and I saw them go apologise to the kid they’d been laughing at without me having to tell them to. I had a similar incident with some children making fun of a boy who had put on a dress from the fancy dress box and they all looked really upset that they’d upset him once they realised – it hadn’t even occurred to them that chanting “he’s a boy in a dress” at him might be upsetting, and one of them spent ages drawing him a picture that she gave him as an apology present.

        One firm correction at that age can make a much bigger difference than you might think, and if you can manage a good “teacher voice” most kids are very likely to listen.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        Yeah, even teenagers don’t always know they are saying something rude when they are, but in this case…I am pretty sure the child knows that “you’re ugly and I’m going to rip up all your flags” is rude. Given the whole story, I think it’s pretty clear the point is to be rude.

      3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

        Yeah — I think it’s more that we can expect a seven year old to be able to understand the explanation “that was a rude thing to say, and we don’t say rude things in my office.”

        But they need the learning opportunity. Naming it and describing the requested behavior is important.

        And not for nothing, when my kid was 4 he was called out with his little buddies at daycare for saying mean things to another student … with kind and respectful boundaries drawn, and he never did it again. So yeah, the 7 year old is old enough to hear it, and to GTFO of your personal space if they’re rude to you.

        And as for fall out … how could that boundary being drawn in that way be of offense to a professional in a child-focused organization? I’d stare so hard at anyone who came at me and said it wasn’t.

    10. Please Mark This Confidential and Leave It Lying Around*

      These are great scripts. A 7-year-old can also process a frosty tone. Not a mean tone or yelling, but just a Miss Manners Disapproves tone can convey a lot to a kid that age.

      But it’s the “just joking” stuff that is a big flag to me here. Someone in her life, at home or on the playground, is getting away with being hateful by following it up with “jk!” You may need a script for that too. “Jokes are funny, and that is not.” In that frosty tone. To work, the frost has to border on bored, or she’s getting a rise out of you, which is probably her goal.

    11. pieces_of_flair*

      This is great, except I would not include “you hurt my feelings.” The ability to hurt an adult is a lot of power for a child and wielding it is very tempting. Just let her know what she said was inappropriate, rude, cruel, etc. without making it more personal than it needs to be.

    12. Courageous cat*

      But it would make a child *uncomfortable*, the horror!

      Jk, I think these are some really good responses.

  5. Colette*

    I think you can react in the moment – for example, “Wow, that’s a really mean thing to say”, or “What’s wrong with liking girly things? Don’t you like girly things?”, or “Everyone is allowed to dress the way they’d like”.

    1. Squeakrad*

      I disagree that seven year olds don’t really know what they’re saying. I think a seven year old is old enough to know the impact of calling someone ugly or weird. I would worry that if the OP engages with the child without engaging with any adults around it the child will “miss remember“ what the OP said and report some thing toxic about them. I think dealing with the adults is an important way to go. And if you’re frightened of the child’s mother because she is a gossip and has the executive directors ear, then how great a workplace is this?

      1. Colette*

        I didn’t suggest she didn’t know what she was saying?

        But escalating to the aunt will cause more problems than it solves, and put the aunt on the defensive. Addressing it in the moment is likely to be more effective.

        1. NICS*

          That might be a misplaced comment from the thread above, which is indeed about whether or not kids know what they’re saying.

    2. 1-800-BrownCow*

      Except let’s not call them “girly things”. I’d rather not reinforce the stereotypes that pink things, nail polish and glittery gems are girly. Better to teach her that what she says is rude and hurtful and that there’s nothing with anyone liking what OP likes.

      1. Kaiko*

        Exactly. When we talk my six year old about gender norms, we’re always really careful to reinforce that every colour is for everyone, that glitter and sparkles are beautiful for everyone, and people are allowed to like what they like without having to think about if those things are “for boys” or “for girls.”

        1. 1-800-BrownCow*

          Same with me. As a cis female growing up in the 80s, I loved Legos, matchbox cars, Lincoln Logs, the color blue, and playing in the creek. And I was made to feel like something was wrong with me because I was supposed to like “girly things” like pink, dolls, dresses, etc. and I did not. Ironically, my 7 year old daughter is into all the things I was supposed to like when I was young, which has not influenced by me at all. I love her for who she is and enjoy those things about her, but I also teach her and my boys that colors, hair length or interests do not define anyone’s gender and do not define any of those things as gender specific. A couple of times when my daughter was younger, she called the pink toy aisle at Target, the “Girl’s Aisle” and I immediately told her that pink was not just for girls and that many boys also liked those toys and that was great. She also used to say that blue was a boy’s color, which I again would tell her the same thing. What also helped changing her perception is that she’s a big Frozen fan and Elsa is her favorite color, which I was happy that Else wears blue. She still loves her pink, but she no longer classifies blue or pink as gendered colors.

      2. Colette*

        I don’t see an issue with using the terminology the child used while pointing out that it’s OK to like those things regardless of what gender you are. “Girly” does not mean inferior.

        1. Pointy's in the North Tower*

          Calling nail polish and pink “girly” just reinforces the cycle of misogyny, homophobia, and gender stereotypes. They aren’t “girly”; they’re for everyone regardless of gender.

      3. YetAnotherNerd42*

        “They’re not ‘girly’ things. They’re my things. I bought them and paid for them with my own money.” (with apologies to Eddie Izzard)

  6. ThatGirl*

    If it were me, I would try to connect with/make friends with the kid and tell her that the things she’s saying aren’t very nice, and that anyone can wear nail polish or put sparkly things on their desk, etc. She’s a kid, so she doesn’t FULLY understand what she’s saying or why it’s so rude, but she can absolutely understand hurting people’s feelings. Who knows, you might even get her to reflect some of that back to her parents.

    1. Michelle*

      I think there’s a good chance that would backfire spectacularly if Lynn chooses to act in bad faith, and there’s no reason to think she won’t.

      Imagine, for example, that Lynn decides OP is overstepping his boundaries and trying to ‘parent’ her niece for her. How might she respond?

      Or darker: There’s an excellent chance that Lynn’s the kind of person who insists to herself that LGBT people are more prone to pedophilia. How might she react to OP befriending her kid?

      I hope I’m just being alarmist, but I was raised by an abusive, bigoted evangelical and one of her many power moves was to play worship music in the office. I would NOT suggest OP take on the burden of befriending that kid.

      1. ThatGirl*

        We can’t possibly know the full situation, so I would definitely encourage the LW to weigh his options and do what feels right — if he feels like Lynn might react in that way, then by all means, safety first. It was just a suggestion. :)

        1. Pants*

          Something, something, pizza shop, something drag brunch :::unintelligible ranting:::

          Don’t befriend that kid. It’s basically saying “What you say is fine, can we be friends now?” Definitely sets up for the agenda/grooming schtick.

          I feel like this all leads back to Lynn.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        Well, actually befriending, or parenting the child, no. I think ThatGirl is simply saying that a friendly demeanor goes a long way with kids. It’s a fairly innocuous way to correct children “Oh no scissors are sharp!” etc, if you do it in a light, friendly way that makes it clear you’re helping, and not being cross. You can absolutely correct miss-speaking while being friendly too: “Oh no, we don’t say things like that. You don’t want to say that if you want to be funny; that’s not a joke” The OP doesn’t need to even get up from their chair or ever initiate conversation in order to respond to weird insults assertively and cheerfully. The child will be perfectly used to friendly and gentle correction from school and very likely won’t bat an eye. If Lynn is using the child to set them up for some darker purpose then there are other CYA moves the OP can employ (like speaking up about the dynamic where the child is saying problematic things first), but being friendly isn’t going to cause any problems in and of itself, any more than ignoring the child or being cross would.

    2. Beth*

      “She’s a kid, so she doesn’t FULLY understand what she’s saying or why it’s so rude . . .”

      I would not make that assumption, even with a 7-year-old. Flatly insulting people to their faces, scolding and judging, threatening to destroy their personal belongings — these are not innocent activities. Bullies can start mastering the art of abuse as early as 3 or 4, and be full-fledged by 7 or 8.

        1. Jackalope*

          1st or 2nd grade actually, assuming she’s at the regular age for American children to enter a grade.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Who hurt you??

        Again – I am not saying kids are 100% innocent, I am saying she doesn’t grasp the full implications of what she’s saying or how much it hurts. Why does it hurt to start from a place of kindness? So many people are projecting their adult-size understanding onto a child.

        1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          I am very understanding of kids and am usually the one defending them, but I would advise staying far away from this child and just not letting her in his office. That’s a lot of negativity directed his way from this child, and targeting the pride flag is suspiciously specific (and in saying so, I mean that came from the adults, not from the kid–she may have heard her aunt complain about having to stop playing her music while he gets to have his gems and his flag…).

          There are all kinds of sympathetic reasons this child may be acting like this, but he can’t solve her acting out for her, and he puts himself in danger by trying to do so. A gay man educating an elementary-aged girl would be looked upon very negatively by some, and although those people are bigots, the bigots have been very successful in their anti-gay agenda lately.

        2. Sylvan*

          Who hurt you??

          This is a weird question to ask in a thread about a child being homophobic.

          A lot of us were bullied by kids like that in school.

        3. Ermintrude - she/her*

          Primary/elementary kids can *absolutely thrive* on being awful. Some of my bullies I feel more sorry for than angry with in retrospect but they were still being shitty little people.

        4. OrigCassandra*

          Six-, seven-, and eight-year-olds hurt me very badly and with full intent to hurt.

          They knew. They still know, not least because school-based education on these topics is infinitely better than it was in my day. My teachers had absolutely no idea how to help me.

        5. NICS*

          Who hurt you??

          I know you meant this dismissively but you really deserve a list from everyone involved in this thread.. It would be interesting to see how many bullying incidents you could find a way to minimize, dismiss, or justify.

          1. ThatGirl*

            I actually didn’t mean it dismissively – though it’s a bit more complex than I can really get into without totally derailing this whole comment section.

            Many, many people have been hurt by childhood tormenters. I wasn’t really bullied but I did have my share of bad moments and being left out, mocked, etc. But here’s the thing … I recognize that they were children too. I don’t believe kids are pure innocent angels who can do no wrong, but I do believe they’re shaped by forces they don’t understand. So when I say “who hurt you” I mean “what childhood trauma are you projecting onto this without having fully processed it”?

            1. Ry*

              Why do you assume the other readers haven’t fully processed this? That’s an interesting projection in and of itself.

              What we know is what the letter writer has told us – this person is demeaning him, and is related to someone in a position of political power over him. Child or not, it’s not acceptable and it isn’t his job to try to change them.

              What *is* his concern is to protect himself. Discrimination and violence against members of the LGBT community (pretty much all minority communities) is on a major rise in the US. Minimizing his interactions with this child entirely would be the professionally safest approach. Anything else could be used against him.

            2. Sylvan*

              Disagreeing with you doesn’t mean that someone has unprocessed trauma. Bad experiences that are processed are still remembered — so I’m not going to give advice as if I’m unaware of what some kids are like.

              And my advice for OP is to keep the kid out of his work space, if possible, or walk her back to her aunt.

            3. DisgruntledPelican*

              “So when I say “who hurt you” I mean “what childhood trauma are you projecting onto this without having fully processed it”?”

              Sooo….you were being dismissive. Just own it.

        6. Curmudgeon in California*

          Having been bullied for kindergarten to when I graduated from high school, you need to shut this down ASAP. Kids that age know exactly what they are doing. I don’t buy the innocent bit, especially when it’s very hyperfocused on the gay trappings. She has probably been coached by Lynne in how to put down gay people.

          Even saying “You’re ugly” means they understand it’s an insult, not a joke. The “I was just joking” is the usual bully’s response to getting called on their behavior. Do not let it ride. Say, flatly, “Well, it wasn’t funny.”or “Why do you think calling people ‘ugly’ is funny?” or “Joking about calling people ‘ugly’ is just rude.” or “People who call other people ‘ugly’ as a ‘joke’ are just nasty, not funny.” If the little bully keeps it up, tell her you don’t want bullies around, she needs to go elsewhere. Do not humor her and do not admit it hurt your feelings in any way. That’s her “payoff” – hurting someone’s feelings is why bullies do it – it makes them feel powerful. You want to avoid giving her satisfaction that she upset you, and return the awkwardness to sender. Do not try to be her friend, either – she hasn’t earned that right.

          I wish that someone had taught me how to deal with bullies at a young age, and that adults around me had had my back and corrected the bullies. But no, instead I have emotional scars from being a target of bullies for all of my school years. I hated kids when I was one.

          1. Unum Hoc Scio*

            Agreed. Name the behaviour (insulting someone then saying “Just joking”; threatening to destroy someone’s belongings) as ‘bullying’. Use a quiet, almost bored voice so it looks like an observation not a remonstrance.

            Kids don’t like bullies and don’t want to be seen as such.

            As a teacher, I once had a student come to me, saying that I didn’t like him. Frustrated, I answered that I really do like him (true) but that I didn’t like some of the things he did (some bullying behaviours). Later, we had a quiet discussion about all the things that made him great and how he could help, influence others using his talents.

        7. Curmudgeon in California*

          Who hurt you??

          Every bully in all of my classes from kindergarten through high school graduation. Literally too many names to remember. At least 10 to 15 kids in each grade, multiplied by 12.

          If you had the good luck not to be a bully target, thank your lucky stars.

          It makes you distrust your peers for years and years. I’m over 60, and I still bear the emotional scars of being a bully target without any effective adult backup.

          Shut the bullying down.

        8. New Jack Karyn*

          “Who hurt you??”

          Kids who were never taught empathy or manners. Bullies of all ages. That was a dismissive and rude thing for you to say. This kid may not fully know how or why what she’s saying is hurtful–but she knows darn good and well that is *is* hurtful. She’s doing it on purpose.

          What’s your excuse for saying a hurtful thing on purpose?

      2. Calliope*

        3-year-olds are not abusers. This is ridiculous.

        In this case, it sounds like this kid is likely directly parroting and reacting to things an adult has said – due to their specificity – and THAT is likely the “full-fledged bully” in this situation. Children at that age are not going to see past what the core adults in their life are telling them is right and wrong usually.

  7. OhGee*

    Wheew, this is a heavy one. I would be so so bothered by this, but as you note, you’re talking about a 7-year-old here, and she’s definitely parroting stuff she heard from someone else (I would even consider that she might have had her own gender presentation/interests policed by family if she’s being this nasty). My thoughts as a queer woman is to approach the kid with curiosity OR completely change the subject. “I love sparkly things. What are your favorite things?” “I’m happy being a weirdo because I think everyone should get to show the world who they are on the inside. Who are you on the inside?” That second one might be too personal/raise eyebrows, but generally asking kids about what they like and why they like them, not taking their bait when they are trying to get a rise out of you will either send them away or change their attitude a little. Honestly, she is probably VERY interested in you because of the attitudes she’s clearly absorbing from others and, at least with a kid, you have a huge opportunity to help her learn. I wouldn’t bother with Lynn at all – seeing you treat her niece kindly feels most likely to affect her attitude, too.

    1. KGD*

      I like your response so much better than my own! This is a great approach and I bet it would work well. And it’s very true that this could be coming from questions about her own identity and how she does or doesn’t fit in.

    2. Ann Ominous*

      I like this too, very much. Defuses it and plants seeds in the kid’s mind that the assholery she’s absorbing isn’t the only way to be.

    3. KoiFeeder*

      Yeah, I recognize this from when I was autistic and in a class of seven year olds. Doesn’t hurt any less, then or in recollection, but this kid either hasn’t had a chance to have her own opinions or has been actively punished for having opinions that don’t conform with her family’s. Honestly, I’m just paranoid enough that I’m wondering if some things (threatening to cut up pride flags, and then passing it off as a joke) were coached, but I know that’s a deranged thing to do and if that’s indeed what’s happening there are bigger problems.

      1. OhGee*

        That reaction isn’t that paranoid these days, that’s for sure, but it feels like LW sees this as a really uncomfortable difference between themselves and Lynn – they note that Lynn is open about being a gossip, and that Lynn played worship music at work, but also that Lynn respected LW’s ask to stop playing the music. If LW feels endangered, all bets are off on this advice!

      2. vinegary anon*

        My maga neighbor’s kids ‘fired’ toy assault rifles at me from their porch as I worked in my garden. I know the parents are religious extremists and pro-insurrection, and I worry the kids will put their parents’ words into action with real weapons someday.
        OP needs to hammer down on this, given the threats of vandalism/violence.

      3. Felis alwayshungryis*

        Honestly, I can’t see how that wouldn’t be coached. Granted my child is only 5 but she’d be all ‘oooh, pretty rainbow flag’ and probably want one of her own. The same with the sparkly stuff. She doesn’t specifically know about stuff like pride, just that there are lots of different kinds of families, but then we haven’t taught her to be a bigot.

    4. Athena*

      I think this is definitely the way to go about it. Since you’re not a parent or teacher, taking a more disciplinary approach might backfire. I’ve found that adults are easily disarmed when you respond to rudeness with politeness, and a child that young is like a sponge who can learn a lot from a dialog like this (and deserves much more grace than rude/cruel adult).

    5. Carrots*

      +1 I love the positive pivot with these responses. This kid can probably use more love and curiosity about who she is, not just a reprimand.

    6. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I like this approach: curiosity and changing the subject.
      I think by asking her for her opinions about what she likes and showing interest in her help give her agency in the proper way; about herself, not other people. And it models showing respect for other people which it sounds like her home is not teaching her.

      There is a lot of room with her comments to do that. But I would also caution about being alone with her. What is the setup there? Are you in a cubicle farm, your own office? I have a sad feeling that with those comments, the family would be quick to complain about your convos with her.

      I had a convo with a friend’s child, at about age 6, that was similar.
      child: which church do you go to?
      me: we don’t go to church.
      child: oh, I know, that means you go to synagog.
      me: no, not that either
      child: oh, then you are going to hell!

      She was very proud she figured it all out. I did tell her mom. She was horrified.

      It might be that your coworker does have a sense of being respectful and cordial at work (she toned down the music) and she might be equally unhappy at what her niece is saying.

    7. Michelle*

      I responded to a similar comment above. This sounds like such a lovely approach (it would have been LIFE-CHANGING for an adult to tell me that everyone should get to show who they are on the inside!) but I think Lynn might respond by making more trouble.

      That ‘playing worship music at the office’ thing is absolutely a power move, and now that OP has called it out… I can’t escape the feeling that Lynn is putting this child up to this. Like, maybe not directly, but dropping comments at home about OP, hoping the kid will do exactly what she’s doing. My bigoted evangelical mother once manipulated little-girl-me to tell an interracial couple that they shouldn’t have gotten married because their biracial kids might get bullied.

      I agree that the kid is probably very curious about OP, but I guess I’m assuming Lynn will not respond in good faith to any attempt by OP to encourage her niece to be kind.

    8. Bagpuss*

      I like this suggestion to. I also think that it can be coupled with flagging that her behaviour isn’t OK.

      e.g. if she is saying you shouldn’t like / have ‘girly’ or sparkly things maybe something like “Well, I really like sparkly stuff, and paiting my nails makes me happy. It’s OK if you don’t like them, we don’t all have to like the same things, but it’s not nice to call other people names, just because they like different things to you. What things do you like? ”
      (I appreciate that she’s probably spouting ideas about OP shouldn’t like those things because he’s a man not a girl, but making it about the things not OP personally may take a bit of the heat out while still making clear that her behaviour isn’t OK. )

      But I also think that going ad fetching ynn each and every time and asking her to keep her neice with her, as neice is beahving inappropriately and making rude comments/ threatening to destroy OP’s property so Lynn needs to supervise her, is also a valid option.

    9. Baroness Schraeder*

      Yes! I love this approach. One of my daughter’s friends is the kind of kid that likes to say things that push people’s buttons to see how they react. The best answer is just not to take the bait. She tells me that I or someone else is weird, I just say “of course! Weird people are the best kind, don’t you think?” Or she might announce that I smell and I’ll respond “absolutely! That’s what I have a nose for! I’m really good at smelling!” If she threatened to destroy something of mine I’d reply “well I hope you’ve got a lot of money saved up to replace it when you’re done, because I quite like it and you’d need to get me a new one!”

      I do wonder sometimes if she’s repeating things that people have said about her or that she’s thought about herself and is looking for reassurance that it’s ok to be weird or to smell sometimes. And if that’s the case I’m happy to demonstrate for her that it is no big deal to be different or to not be perfect all the time and still be ok with who you are.

  8. KGD*

    Ugh, that sounds awful. Sorry you’re in this position! Personally, I would respond honestly to the child in the moment (i.e., “Wow, that’s a very unkind thing to say. Please don’t talk to me or anyone else that way.”) Then I’d follow up with the aunt in a low-key way, just like you would if you had to remind the kid not to stick her finger in an electrical socket or something (i.e., “I wanted to let you know your niece said ____ to me earlier, so I asked her to be more kind in the future. Hope that’s okay!”)

    Hopefully, that will put a stop to it. If it doesn’t, I’d try to interact with the child as little as possible, and feel free to ask her to leave your space (i.e., “I’m working right now. You’ll have to go find your aunt.”) You could also escalate to a bigger conversation with Lynn or take it to your boss if it becomes too much to manage on your own.

    Good luck! Hopefully this kid will learn to be less of a jerk sometime soon.

    1. Ermintrude - she/her*

      I wouldn’t add ‘hope that’s okay’, because it’s something someone should already be doing for her and she needs to show OP respect as a fellow human. Being kind is how one does that.

      1. Properlike*

        Exactly. This is a bright red line not to be crossed. You wouldn’t ask permission to tell a child not to threaten another adults possession’s. And if the aunt doesn’t like her niece being reprimanded by others, then she needs to be kept on a much shorter leash.

  9. BitterMelon*

    That child absolutely knows the impact of what they are saying. Given their aunt has blared “Christian worship” music in an environment that should remain religiously neutral and inclusive, means they are exposed to heteronormative gender roles (the nail polish, glitter and feminine things being “wrong”) and the understanding that anything that goes against it is wrong (CUTTING UP A PRIDE FLAG?).

    Remember that children are the product of their environments and parents. This should be reported if this is a reflection of Lynn…I’d hate to imagine if someone threatened to cut their country’s flag…the repercussions would be huge and so should this child’s words.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Eh, she probably knows it’s mean to say, but she doesn’t truly understand the impact. She’s seven — I was raised in a fairly religious environment, and I definitely remember parroting some things I’m extremely embarrassed by now.

      1. ferrina*

        I was also raised in a religious environment with very, very little exposure to any other thoughts or experiences, and I definitely didn’t realize how horrible I was being. I cringe when I think of my little self.

      2. I never forgot my first bully*

        Did you insult adults to their faces when you were only a small child? Scold them? Threaten to destroy their personal possessions?

        It’s one thing to parrot what your parents say, but this kid is starting to act on it. This needs to be taken seriously; 7 is plenty old enough for a bully to be learning the ropes. The longer the behavior is minimized, the more permission the kid will have to hurt people.

        1. ThatGirl*

          I may have – I was a pretty obnoxious child at points! I definitely corrected teachers on the regular!

          Seven is old enough to know you’re saying something mean. It’s not old enough to understand the full implications of it, and she doesn’t have the maturity to. All I am saying is, start from a place of kindness and draw boundaries that way. If it doesn’t work, sure, escalate.

          1. Just Me*

            She doesn’t need to understand the full impact of it, understanding that it’s hurtful should be sufficient for her to not do it. It seems like you might be purposely ignoring that fact.

            She’s 7, she knows that being mean is not ok, unless she’s being taught at home that it’s ok depending on who you’re mean to.

            1. ThatGirl*

              Dude, kids are brats sometimes, they push boundaries and need to be told where they are. I’m not ignoring that she knows it’s hurtful – of course she does, that’s why she’s doing it. But I also don’t think she’s an evil demon spawn set out to be a huge homophobe at age 7. Lots of people are bad at nuance here today.

            2. ferrina*

              That’s asking a lot of 7yo! Plenty of 7yos act without thinking, or mimic adults actions (it’s pretty likely she’s seeing some hateful behavior at home), especially since she’s at the age where she likely idolizes her parents and doesn’t think of them as capable of being morally wrong.

              Kids’ brains also haven’t developed the same empathy capabilities that they’ll get later in life- it’s actually developmentally normal for kids to be sociopaths.

              1. Just Me*

                No, its not asking a lot of a 7-year old to expect them to be decent to others. At 7 you’re capable of empathy and understanding reciprocity, she’s not a toddler.

          2. NICS*

            start from a place of kindness

            Has anyone suggested otherwise, excepting maybe the person who wanted to make the kid “uncomfortable” (and that suggestion got dealt with quickly). Has anyone advised yelling at the child, insulting her, or anything like that? And speaking of kindness, it’s pretty unkind to dismiss the hurtful impact of homophobia and the horrifying aspect of seeing a child so young being taught to hate.

            1. ThatGirl*

              Hi, I’m queer. Not dismissing that. Trying to put it in perspective and taking cues from the LW, who seems like a kind and thoughtful person.

              1. NICS*

                Then, I really do think that using this situation as a teachable moment could put LW in a world of hurt. If I still prayed I would pray for Emily to meet some people who can be antidotes to the horribleness she’s being taught. But I not only think LW isn’t required to do so but that he might be deliberately being set up for accusations of “grooming”, etc, if he tries. It’s awesome to think of the moments when we saw that what we’d been taught was wrong and learned the much better truth about ourselves and other people, but I can’t recommend that this become one of those moments.

        2. Irish Teacher*

          Yup, this behaviour is actually quite concerning. Threatening to rip up an adult’s flags is NOT normal 7 year old behaviour. It’s not even just “obnoxious 7 year old” behaviour. Either somebody is teaching the child to hate or the child has behavioural issues or both.

          1. ferrina*

            This is a really good point. Calling someone ugly is within the range of normal- graphically threatening to break stuff is not normal. It is interesting that she’s saying these things but not doing them, so that makes me think she’s parroting behavior rather than diagnosable behavioral issues. OP doesn’t mention if anyone else is the target of this child, so I’m guessing that he hasn’t seen her target anyone else. It makes me think that the child is seeing a lot of hateful and homophobic behavior at home.

    2. NotRealAnonforThis*

      This exact thing is definitely informing my thoughts, by the way.

      I’m not in this position, but if I were, I would offer only the most basic, boring, corrections (“Haven’t picked a username yet” has good wordings a few posts below that fit what I’m thinking tone-wise) and in front of a third party so that nobody could claim I was “attempting to groom their niece”. Its a leap, I know, but I’m not sure how far of a leap it actually is given my experience with some very unkind to LGTQ+ persons who would and have taken to playing Christian worship music at work. And I’m making that leap as a straight cis-gender person.

      I’d also recommend job searching. It sounds like Lynn is going to be an issue no matter what, based on her personality, beliefs, and relationship with TPTB. Even if it were “fixable”, I’m not sure its a place I’d prefer to stay in.

    3. Delta Delta*

      I was thinking about the nail polish – this might be testing what the child understands as How Things Work, and I can see how that might be tricky for her to sort out in her mind. I get it. The part about threatening to cut up the pride flag, though – she learned that somewhere. And I suspect she learned that from Mom, potentially specifically with respect to OP’s flag.

      So, I think in the moment, others’ advice about saying, “that’s not appropriate” or whatever directly to the child so the child understands that boundary. But it’s a bigger issue that ought to go to the director, and if the director isn’t helpful, then to the board. While staffing issues aren’t necessarily in the purview of the board, they’d want to know if there’s a tolerance for this kind of behavior. The ED serves at their pleasure, so she’s got to understand that potentially her position is on the line if she doesn’t clean up this problem.

      1. Ana Gram*

        That’s a really good point. I was raised in a religious, insular environment and I was shocked when I met a married couple with different last names. I was about 10 and it made zero sense to me. I’d never encountered such a thing and didn’t know it was even allowed. Kids like rules and it’s jarring to learn that people are “violating” what you think you understand to be the rules.

        Now I’m married and my husband and I both kept our names!

        1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

          Yes, kids make conclusions based on their (limited) experiences. When my country got another male president after 12 years with a woman, I’ve heard that some kids were surprised that a man can also be a president!

        2. Jen*

          That’s a very compassionate way of looking at things. It makes a lot of sense that if it’s been drilled into her that only girls wear nail polish, the first time she meets a man who does is going to be shocking and maybe even upsetting.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      Hm, I mean seven is definitely old enough to understand that they’re being negative and that the OP isn’t going to be thrilled and complimented. It’s not old enough to know the extent of how harmful what’s being said though. In the kid’s mind, OP could easily respond: “Oh yeah, I’m not supposed to do this stuff, thanks for reminding me, I’ll stop”. It also creates a pretty irresistible curiosity if kids believe someone is breaking “the rules”, they want to know what that person genuinely has to say about it. None of this is OPs problem though, they need the behaviour to stop regardless.

      1. ferrina*

        It’s very likely that OP is the only openly gay person that Niece is exposed to. She may well have been taught that gay people aren’t actually people, and it’s okay to be mean to them. It’s also an age where kids haven’t fully developed the empathetic part of their brain. It’s a pretty awful combo.

        But as you say, none of this should be OP’s problem. He gets to decide how much he wants to spend energy to try to educate vs remove her from his working environment.

  10. Elder Millennial*

    I would probably respond to her the same way you would respond to a child who is in your program and was saying those things. I spent several years working in a nonprofit childcare setting and had plenty of awkward and difficult conversations with kids – generally variations on:

    – “How do you think it makes people feel when you say those things?”
    – “That’s not a kind way of talking to people, and here we all treat each other with kindness. What is something else you could say instead?”
    – “What feelings or ideas are you having that led to you saying that? Let’s talk about it and see if we can come up with some other ways to express those.”

    Basically, I don’t think you have to take it just because it’s a coworker’s kid and not an ‘official’ childcare charge. She’s a kid, and she is saying hurtful things (as kids do) and you could be doing both of you a favor by gently redirecting and helping her reflect on why she is saying those things.

    1. Another_JD*

      Same. When my 4-year-old says something mean, there’s almost always something else behind it. I don’t directly address the words, because I want to know the underlying cause.
      I look confused and taken aback and say, “Whoa, what an unkind thing to say. What’s going on?” or “What made you say that?”

      1. ferrina*

        Definitely. This also builds a kid’s emotional intelligence. My elementary-aged kids regularly call each other names, but every so often one of them crosses the line. I say something like “Wow, that’s a really hurtful thing to say! Do you mean to hurt [Other Kid’s] feelings?”
        Usually the kid will mumble “No”. Then I’ll say something like “I understand that you’re upset about X. What would be a better way to handle that feeling? What if you [Alternate Action]. Do you think that will work?” Then we can talk through solutions. Usually the hurt kid joins in (because usually they were pushing the other kid’s buttons anyways) and it becomes a really productive conversation.

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Same with my 5 year old (who this morning responded to “time to brush your teeth” with “I’m going to cut up my toothbrush.” We hardly use scissors in our house, so assuming the niece was fed that feels like a stretch to me, though I understand why people are inferring that).


        This is not OP’s child, family member, or child they are responsible for in any way. Saying “wow, that was unkind” is one thing, but the emotional labor of trying to get this particular kid to reflect on why does not feel like something OP should take on (unless they really, really want to and feel safe doing so).

        1. Irish Teacher*

          That seems a lot different to me. “I’m going to cut up my toothbrush, so I don’t have to brush my teeth” is a LOT different from “I’m going to cut up something of yours because you are ugly and I don’t like you.”

          I think the reason people are saying she was fed it isn’t that no kid would ever threaten to cut something up, but that most seven year olds would not associate a rainbow flag with “being girly.” The fact that the kid zeroed in on the rainbow flags indicates that the child knows they are an LGBT symbol and sees that as a bad thing. I don’t think most 7 year olds would have those associations if everybody around them was inclusive. That is learnt. Kids aren’t born disliking rainbow flags; in fact, I would imagine they would be something that would appeal to little girls.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            Oh goodness, I wasn’t intending to equate a toothbrush and OP’s flag. I definitely agree that they are not the same. What I disagree with is the idea that seems present in some of the comments that the only way the niece would threaten “I’m going to cut up your rainbow flag” is if the adults around her fed her “if you see a rainbow flag you should cut it up.”

            Cutting things = something kids do/threaten without it be modeled/fed to them by an adult
            Hating rainbow flags = something kids learn from people around them

            But also, the reason why isn’t particularly important — it needs to stop no matter where the kid learned it.

            (And our 5yo has threatened cutting things much more important to us than toothbrushes – we are working on figuring out what’s going on there, but I maintain that is not something OP should get anywhere near where this child is concerned)

            1. ?*

              the girl also wants to destroy the pink and white gems. those aren’t related to the LGBT community. she doesn’t want to destroy the rainbow flags because it’s LGBT she wants to cut them up because they are present, and she likes to upset the LW and push boundaries.
              if an adult said what she was saying I would agree with the LW, it’s a sign of bigoty.
              but the girl is 7. she just might literally think the LW is weird. and she needs to learn to keep rude opinions to herself.
              I wouldn’t worry about the girl’s family being bigots. they might be equally horrified at the things she was saying. just because she says something doesn’t mean her parents/ church taught her that.
              my 4 year old son threatened to burn down, a church and a dentist office. he learned that all in his own.

              he should talk to his coworker and ask to keep the girl out of his office so he can work.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I mean I work in a more formal child environment (a secondary school), but I just can’t imagine myself or my colleagues letting kids get away with any kind of rudeness or homophobia. Even if the kid isn’t part of the setting, surely she has to behave appropriate for the setting. You would think that everyone in a childcare setting would get that. We know that stuff spreads like wildfire and it’s just negligent to the child to let them be a a jerk without intervention.

  11. Naks*

    Oh, OP, I’m sorry. I know that she’s just a kid, but I know that her words hurt. I’ve been there with friends’ kids (as a visibly queer, pierced and tatted woman) and I take an inquisitive approach “woah, kid, why would you want to cut up my decorations?? That’s not a kind thing to say. Here, let me explain what these flags mean – they represent something important to me” or “ouch, we don’t talk about other peoples bodies like that. Let’s rewind this while conversation. I like your shoes. Can you think of something nice to say back?”

    But that’s with friends, and not coworkers. I’m not sure how that’d play out in an office… ugh. I’m sorry. Maybe shutting your door when she’s around is a better call.

  12. Haven’t picked a user name yet*

    I would give flat unemotional answers to the child: “it is inappropriate to threaten to destroy other peoples property” and “you don’t have to like how other people dress, but you do need to be polite” then every single time say, “you need to go back to your aunt now, I am working” and even walk her back if needed.

    I would also say directly to the aunt: “your niece is being disruptive and rude, please ensure she stays with you when she is in the building”. I would even go so far as to tell your manager how disruptive it is.

    I’m sorry you are dealing with this, but kids generally respond to firm boundaries.

    I will also echo that you should probably look for another job at a place that doesn’t condone this type of environment.

    1. Mehitabel*

      I concur with this. This kid knows what she’s doing, and it is not the LW’s job to parent her or teach her manners.

      1. Spooky Doo*

        You’re right, but unfortunately the people whose job it is to teach her manners are teaching her some really bigoted views. The kid knows what she’s doing but she’s also only seven and still has a lot of room to grow, so if LW can kindly and effectively teach her to be kind to people her family might consider “other” then they’re helping her and all the other folks who might come into contact with her one day.

        1. something about sharks*

          I wish it could be that straightforward, but as pointed out a lot of places on this thread, trying to engage with the kid more than necessary could have serious consequences. I’m not saying that the OP shouldn’t present his boundaries kindly – he absolutely should! – but there is a very real possibility that trying to have conversations with this little girl will result in “groomer” accusations. Even if she listens and learns, her family (if they are actually where she’s learning this stuff) is unlikely to do the same, and they’re the ones OP is concerned about.

          1. Kaiko*

            Honestly, if the OP is worried about being accused of grooming, then he shouldn’t even be alone with this kid in the first place. Walk her back to her guardian *every*single*time.

            1. something about sharks*

              That’s a really good idea, I think, no matter what the actual situation with the parents is – that’s probably what we’d be suggesting if the issue was, say, that the kid keeps coming into his office and loudly watching Youtube. Remove her from his office/space, and tell Lynn “sorry, I can’t watch Susie, I need to do my work.” That might bypass the whole issue of Lynn agreeing with whatever the kid’s saying, too – “I can’t watch your niece” is harder to argue with than “your niece is saying bigoted things”.

      2. GalFromAway*

        Calling on the child and acknowledging her behaviour is rude, or asking questions like some others have suggested is not parenting. But it can be a teachable moment, and if it’s done with professionalism, warmth and firmness it can be really important. It may not change her, but it may get her thinking.

        This is a great approach to me that @Naks shared:
        I take an inquisitive approach “woah, kid, why would you want to cut up my decorations?? That’s not a kind thing to say. Here, let me explain what these flags mean – they represent something important to me” or “ouch, we don’t talk about other peoples bodies like that. Let’s rewind this while conversation. I like your shoes. Can you think of something nice to say back?”

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I would also go to the supervisor, and let her know that niece has made multiple statements that she wants to destroy property in my workspace. Can she please be banned from this portion of the office as a result.

      The other comments, I would suggest in the moment responding to with one of the many variants offered here for “that comment is hurtful/you hurt my feelings/that is mean to say, why did you say it.” Yes she is seven and likely parroting what is being said at home – but seven is also old enough to start learning there are things that should not be said to others.

    3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I absolutely agree with your first paragraph, and was also going to suggest that he tell her to leave his office if she can’t be kind. I wouldn’t tell the aunt she’s rude, I’d just say she was distracting so can she keep her away from his space. I would worry that in the dysfunctional environment, telling the woman her niece is rude might create conflict that the LW will come out on the losing end of.

    4. ErintheAnn*

      Yup. I don’t tolerate garbage behavior from my own kids, and I certainly wouldn’t tolerate it from some else’s kid (who isn’t supposed to be there) while I’m trying to work. This wouldn’t be tolerated from kids who are enrolled.

      Direct communication of “That’s rude. Stay out of my office. You need to stay with your mother when you are visiting.”

      And if you feel your job is threatened, start searching for a new one. Escalate this. Either they’ll care and make changes or you’ll get confirmation that it’s time to move on

  13. Lilac*

    I’d tell the kid she’s not allowed in my office because she’s rude, and until she can be kind, that rule is enforced. It’s not your job to engage with her. If Lynn asks, I’d be honest about why! It’s Lynn’s problem.

    1. I'm Not Phyllis*

      This. Several commenters seem to be asking OP to do an awful lot of work for a child that isn’t even in program where he works.

  14. Pink Marbles*

    I’m so, so sorry you’re dealing with this, OP. The best advice I can offer is actually from an old coworker. He was a gay married man, and his husband had a son from a previous relationship with a woman. Said woman talked trash about the child’s father and refused to recognize that he was married to a man. The son, age seven, would then repeat very upsetting things to my coworker and his husband. While this is unfairly exhausting, my coworker decided to use every instance to demonstrate what a true adult reaction would be: looking visibly confused and asking “Why would you say that?” or “Why would you want to do that?” or saying “I’m confused by that” and then moving on quickly (to avoid too much emotional strain). It was tiring, but the child DID make progress. As mentioned in the letter, children don’t understand what they’re saying – but they do understand your reaction. So I think looking confused and unamused will indicate to the child that they’re acting inappropriately. It can be easy to go down a long discussion path, but just being briefly confused and moving on might help.

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I’m not sure why so many people think a 7 year old doesn’t understand that saying “you’re ugly/a weirdo” is a mean thing to say. It would be great if someone would educate her on that, but it doesn’t have to be the OP, he does not owe this kid his labor. It may even be dangerous if, as seems likely, the child’s family is the type that thinks gay people are trying to turn their children gay and any discussion of that sort of thing is “grooming.”

      1. Pink Marbles*

        I was referencing the more layered comments about painting nails and liking girly things. While the just-plain-rude insults are a problem, that can be much more easily stopped, as few aunts/parents would be okay with such blatant rudeness.
        The child understands that the gendered insults are hurtful, but a 7-year-old isn’t going to fully understand the complex societal implications. As I also mentioned, I agree that the OP doesn’t owe a long explanation to the child – I mentioned it’s unfairly exhausting – and that’s why my coworker moved on quickly after expressing confusion. This also avoids any “grooming” complaints by avoiding a long discussion.

  15. BethRA*

    If one of the children who is enrolled started regularly insulting people and using bigoted language, how would it be handled? Would it be ignored, or would it be addressed with the child’s parent or guardian?

    It’s not reasonable to allow a visitor to the office, no matter how young, to repeatedly insult someone, let alone using offensive language. If you don’t feel comfortable addressing the homophobia (you should be able to address it, but I understand how that might feel harder for you to do), can you at least talk to your officemate about the fact that child is constantly insulting you? That’s rude behavior a responsible adult would want to address.

  16. Red5*

    First and foremost, you deserve a workplace free from discrimination and hateful comments. That includes from a coworker’s seven year old niece whom she brings to work. So I think you’d be well within your rights to bring up the issue to your supervisor or HR. If she’s bringing the child in often and the child seeks you out to do this every time, your boss/HR has a responsibility to make it stop.

    Also, though, have you tried calling out the child in an age appropriate way in the moment? Child: “You’re ugly.” You: “That’s an unkind thing to say.” Child: “I want to wreck your gems.” You: “We don’t destroy other people’s things here.” Often times, gently calling out other people’s children is enough to shock them (usually because they’re used to not being called out) into good behavior.

    1. Nea*

      I will argue that the script should be “You don’t destroy people’s things.” Adding “here” suggests that it might be okay anywhere.

      Personally, I’m mean enough to probably say “It’s wrong to destroy people’s property. If you do it, your aunt will just have to buy me new ones.” Remind the kid that actions have consequences and those consequences can cost money.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        The reason I think approaching it as “You can’t X here” is helpful is that LW can use it to fend off some unpleasantness from Lynn. Can’t say LW is overstepping boundaries if he is just telling the child the behavior norms for the space, and can’t wave it away as the kid was just teasing if LW is concerned that their customers might overhear and think that bullying is tolerated.

      2. metadata+minion*

        Depending on how much the aunt is likely to back up the LW’s actions, saying “we don’t destroy stuff here” can be a less fraught route, since then you’re just enforcing local rules rather than “telling MY NIECE what to do!!1!”

      3. Just Me*

        I think that’s actually a key reason to include “here”. LW isn’t trying to parent the child, he’s just clarifying boundaries for his space/property. If the parents want to teach the kid to trash stuff elsewhere…that’s not great, but it’s not LW’s issue to correct.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I think this is a great comment. Lots of other comments are treating this like it’s a choice between a zero tolerance approach, or speaking to the child gently. Really, OP has the option to do both; to make it clear to their leadership what’s happening and that they expect it to stop, while also realising you can sometimes just tell a child to stop doing something.

    3. MF*

      I absolutely think the LW should bring this up with their HR or supervisor, and I’m kind of shocked I had to scroll this far down in the comments to find that recommendation. It doesn’t matter if the homophobic comments are coming from a 7-year-old who doesn’t know any better, the LW is still entitled to a working environment without being subjected to these kinds of comments.

  17. Ruthless Bunny*

    I agree with those saying to address it with the kid. I don’t have patience with this nonsense. Show no emotion, “That’s an ignorant and hateful thing to say. I need you to leave now.”

    And that’s it.

    1. ThatGirl*

      OK, that would be a reasonable thing to say to an adult, but she is still a child — and he works in a daycare. Why not try to teach her something first?

      1. BethRA*

        She’s old enough to understand/be told that she’s being mean – in fact, I suspect she knows, and is doing it because she thinks it’s ok to do based on what she’s heard at home and/or she’s testing boundaries.

        And while OP works in a day care, it doesn’t sound like he’s directly involved in providing care – let alone to a child that isn’t enrolled. Great thing to do if he feels like it, but he isn’t obligated to do so when he’s trying to get his work done.

      2. Susan*

        The child isn’t enrolled there, so the child should not even really be there. I used to work in early childhood education environments (Head Start, Pre-K, Day care settings), and having children that are not officially enrolled and covered by the insurance is an issue. Also, why is this child being allowed to wander around?

        Lynn seems the type to try to accuse OP of something if he tries to teach her things. I agree he could say something about being rude or hurtful or we don’t speak to people like that around here and then instruct her to return to her aunt.

      3. Sodalite*

        Personally, I would feel none too charitable toward a child who said those kinds of things to me. And in the current political environment, I would absolutely not want to engage with kids like this in any way.

      4. Goddess Sekhmet*

        But why should he have to? He’s at work! Being at work shouldn’t have to involve teaching other people’s children unless he’s a teacher – which he’s not.

    2. Elle*

      I agree with this. I think a lot of the longer, somewhat torturous attempts at “teaching moments” other commenter are suggesting are well-intentioned but ultimately missing the point. The kid is going for a reaction. Give her nothing.

      1. Team Miss Manners*

        Agreed. “What a hurtful thing to say!” is adjacent to “you hurt my feelings” which is the kind of reaction the child is fishing for.

        “That’s a very rude thing to say, and rude people are not welcome in my office,” is much more likely to have a salutary effect on the child’s behavior.

    3. Delphine*

      The LW doesn’t need to teach the child any lessons, but also doesn’t need to be unnecessarily harsh.

  18. vinegary anon*

    I would send the kid packing every time she did/said/threatened something rude or illegal. “Out you go! We don’t do hate here.” repeat repeat repeat.

  19. Didi*

    Seven year olds are old enough to know when they are not acting appropriately. So I would simply say “That’s not a nice thing to say” or “That would be a mean thing to do.” Kids that age often act out for attention, so I would say she’s probably looking to get a rise out of you, so I would say these things as flatly as possible.

    1. londonedit*

      I agree that she’s probably doing it for attention, and/or because she’s heard adults saying these things at home and she wants to be ‘grown-up’ and test the boundaries of how ‘adult’ she can be. I think she probably realises these are unkind things to say, but she’s seeing how much she can get away with. So I agree with everyone else who’s said to just shut it down with a flat ‘That wasn’t a very nice thing to say. We don’t call people ugly here’ or ‘Well, I like painting my nails. Anyone can paint their nails if they want to’. With any luck once she realises she won’t get a reaction out of you, she’ll stop.

  20. Macaroni Penguin*

    In the moment I’d say to the kid that nail polish is for everybody. Anyone can wear nail polish if they like the thing and they want to.

    …..but why is this child around the office but not part of registered programming…..?!?

      1. Always a Corncob*

        That seems pretty far-fetched. I would assume Lynn is being tapped for free childcare by the parents of the 7-year old.

        1. Susan*

          I’m sure she is being used as free childcare, which the school/daycare should know is a bad idea, but it seems rather intentional that the child seems to be targeting OP for her comments and behavior. I think we would need to know if the child speaks to other employees that way and wants to destroy their things. There are some adults who would not be above using a child to “get at” someone. I saw some unpleasant things while working in ECE centers.

  21. Sleepy*

    I agree with others that you should first address it with the 7 year old. She may be a family member’s kid, but there have to be general rules that everyone who is there abides by, enrolled or not (and if there are not, get on that). Tell her unequivocally that those comments are (1) not funny, (2) hurtful, and (3) have no place in the building. Then tell her that if she says something again, you will tell her aunt and others in authority. Sidenote I would not keep anything at work that you would not mind losing/getting broken. Even if the niece never does anything, another kid might.

    1. Anon, good Nurse*

      I really don’t agree that it should be addressed to the kid first. OP isn’t the kid’s guardian and outside of in the moment saying “That’s unkind” which it sounds like OP is already doing, the next step is talking to the parents/guardian about a persistent negative behavior

        1. Sleepy*

          Maybe I am wrong, but I assumed that OP, like others who work there, is responsible for enforcing the rules and standards of the nonprofit and facility. The comments are directed to OP, so OP should address them in the moment. This can all be very matter-of-fact, not anyone’s opinion or discretion.

  22. OrigCassandra*

    I completely understand why you don’t want to talk to Lynn — I wouldn’t either.

    Question, though: is it worth going to the ED and explaining the situation without identifying the child involved? “Hi, Wakeen, I just had kind of a disturbing thing happen and I wanted your input…” and then explain the vandalism (because that is what it was) and the nasty remarks. See what Wakeen has to say.

    If Wakeen’s advice is at all decent, put it into practice, and if Lynn gets cranky about it, you’re covered with the ED, at least. If Wakeen is another Lynn… well, I think you’ll know it’s time to polish up the ol’ resume.

    1. Hel*

      I think this is key. I re-read the letter after reading a bunch of the comments and it seems that the main issue is that LW can’t feel like he can go to Lynn about this because of the relationship with the ED, which is what he’d do if it were any other kid. And dealing with the kid directly may not be a viable option because anything he says to the kid will likely also get back to Lynn with unknown repercussions.

      If this is the first non-daycare kid to come in and be openly rude/hostile, then the framing to the ED could be more about “Hey, what’s your advice on how to handle this… if it were a Daycare kid I would do X, Y, and Z but since this isn’t one of our charges I’m not sure if I should try to talk to the child as I would one of our kids, or if I should talk directly to the adult responsible for them first. Since I wasn’t certain on the best course of action I thought I’d ask for your input first in case anything like this had ever happened before.” And if the ED asks, he can even say it’s Lynn and her niece because his framing isn’t about “I’m afraid to talk to Lynn” but best practices for doing so in both this situation, and potential future situations.

  23. Worldwalker*

    The fact that this situation exists, that it is allowed to continue unchecked, and that normal routes such as bringing it up with a superior are impossible because Lynn is friends with the ED (and it is not a little neice problem — it is absolutely a Lynn problem) combine to make this environment sound rather toxic. What else happens that would be unacceptable in a normal workplace because “Lynn is besties with the boss”?

  24. Ainsley*

    I would tell the kid that they’re being unkind and rude in a very calm, matter-of-fact voice. Try to not react as much as possible. Some of her comments (depending on if they’re more minor) I would just ignore and pretend she’s not there.

  25. Roobarb*

    Some of these suggestions above are really good language to use. however, I’d steer clear of saying “you hurt my feelings” because that’s likely the reaction she wants (that she hurt your feelings). Some of the more neutral language might serve better.
    That said, I don’t interact with seven year olds often so feel free to correct me :)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I tend to agree.
      I think I’d be tempted to turn it into a mini-teaching moment.

      “Sally, this is a public space. And there are rules for this space. One of the rules is that we must be respectful to others. Which means we cannot be saying things like this to anyone, including me. We have to show respect for other people. This means that we don’t make negative comments on how people look, act or the things that interest them.”

      Here you want to craft something that can be repeated anywhere and TPTB would have a hard time disagreeing with it. (Assume this WILL BE repeated.) Part of what is key here is to take it off of yourself and widen the focus on to “how to treat everyone”. This may help you, because sometimes it is easier to defend other people than it is to defend our own selves. If you focus on how other people should be treated, you may find the words just flowing. But you are included in that group of “everyone”, so you are also getting your own message out, too.

      Next. Assume you will be approached by someone regarding your little talk here. Take quiet time at home to figure out a few things you might say. Here’s where I would start thinking about this:

      “Yes, Big Boss, I did speak to little Sally. I have had a few instances of this type of talk and I realized that she could be saying things to our consumers or she could be over heard and a number of other problems. I know this type of talk goes against our mission here and it is nothing we stand for. I also grew concerned that our organization could be held liable in certain circumstances. I decided to speak to the child myself to see if that solved the matter. I had planned on looping in [my boss, HR, other important person] if this did not work.”

      These are my words, but you get the idea and you can use words that sound more like you.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      It’s a toss up on whether any given seven year old is trying to hurt your feelings when being rude. Sometimes they’re not at all, sometimes that’s the point (but they don’t expect to be explicitly called out) and sometimes the point is to be able to stand their ground and say they don’t care about hurting you. If it gets to the “yep I mean to” stage, that’s when their adults need to be involved.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Those insults aren’t just rude. They are an attempt at anti-LGBT bullying. Seven year olds absolutely know that they are trying to hurt your feelings. It’s often the only power they have in their lives.

    3. Irish Teacher*

      I also think that saying that could somewhat erode the adult’s authority. It SHOULDN’T; being an adult shouldn’t mean you can’t have feelings, but the child is already almost treating the adult like a peer and I think she might see “you hurt my feelings” as the adult arguing back/defending oneself as a peer would.

    4. NICS*

      As someone who has unofficially taught seven year olds, dealt with many relatives at seven years old, and remembers being seven years old, I totally agree. Don’t give the kid the satisfaction of knowing she scored a hit, because that will feel like a reward.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Bingo. They know what they are doing, and are seeking that ‘success’ of hurting someone. It’s why bullies are bullies – it gives them a reward.

  26. L-squared*

    Wow, this is tough.

    I used to be a teacher. One thing I will say is children can be BRUTAL, and its not always about stuff they hear at home. Especially these days. They have the internet and friends, so you have no clue how they get it. Also, lets remember this woman is her aunt, not her parents. Maybe her parents ARE horrible, but that doesn’t necessarily say anything about Lynn or her views.

    As far as what to do, I guess that depends on how the organization runs. Can you just tell your boss that this child is too disrespectful and shouldn’t be allowed? What is the normal protocol for an unruly child? If there isn’t, there needs to be a process for that.

    I would talk to Lynn though, and just give her a heads up that this is what her niece is saying. Even if she gossips about it, I don’t think any rational person can say your complaints are unfounded.

    1. She of Many Hats*

      Possible script “Hey Lynn, Little Susie has been going around saying things like ‘you’re ugly’ and ‘I want to break your things’. Knowing you and your high standards, I have no idea where she’s getting these ideas but, even if she’s joking, I thought you’d want to know so you can handle it properly”

      1. SJ (they/them)*

        oh this is GREAT. Directly from the Captain Awkward school of “let them live up to your stated good opinion of them.” A+

      2. NICS*

        I wish I could put flashing lights around this suggestion. Among other excellent qualities, this kind of phrasing is harder to attack In The Name Of Our Lord.

    2. Insert Clever Name Here*

      I’m glad you pointed out that Lynn may not be the one feeding this to the kid. I have a niece that is *very* right-wing when her parents are middle-of-the-road, and honestly am glad we don’t live close enough that I could be out somewhere one-on-one with her; she’s definitely the type who would say something nasty and I shudder to think that people would assume that means I agree with her or taught her to say it.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      This is definitely true. I’ve had kids say pretty appalling things, and when I raise it with their parents their mortification is something you couldn’t fake. If you think about it, saying something like “all lives matter” sounds pretty fine if you’re just repeating stuff you’ve heard.

  27. Bubbletea*

    A lot of the other comments have addressed the actual issue of what the child is saying, but it feels like part of your question is what to do about the fact that this seems like a clue into how Lynn might feel about you.

    My only advice on that, as a gay woman, is to remember that it doesn’t matter what she thinks. It matters what she does and says. It is a horrible feeling to suspect that someone thinks you’re sinful or dirty or wrong. There’s no good that comes from trying to challenge those views directly if they’ve not been directly stated, though. In fact there’s a risk you would be seen as creating problems yourself.

    I’m sorry you have to deal with this shit at work.

  28. DataSci*

    She’s seven. Unless she’s developmentally delayed, she absolutely understands that “you’re ugly” is cruel. And given the context I suspect she also knows that things like “boys don’t paint their nails” is intentionally gender policing, rather than just the naivete of a kid who hadn’t encountered that before (in which case “Well I’m a boy/man and I paint my nails” would be a good response. Still could be, but it’s less likely to have an effect when she’s repeating something she was deliberately taught rather than just generalizing from what she’s seen.).

    It’s the threats to destroy your things that are the most disturbing here. That’s not normal. Impulsively cutting them up to, say, make a project with them would be borderline kid-normal, but threats? She’s getting that calculated cruelty from somewhere.

    If you want to be nice, talking about how you love rainbows and sparkles, does she? (Many seven-year-old-girls do, after all) could help, but her age does not excuse this behavior, and you shouldn’t have to put up with it. Tell her aunt that the kid is not welcome in your space. Claim distraction if you don’t want to push the “you’ve already taught this kid to hate” angle.

    1. KoiFeeder*

      Yeah, the threats of item destruction gave me the heebie jeebies too. I’m half wondering if this was coached, and half wondering if this is something she witnessed before- when the teacher stabbed a stuffed animal I brought in with scissors because I was too old to be bringing in toys, everyone in the class had to start stabbing peoples’ things with scissors, and they were older than seven at that point!

  29. LizB*

    Does your program have any kind of stated expectations for children’s behavior? Something like “use kind words” or “no put-downs”? You should be holding this child to those same standards, so whatever talking-to or consequence an enrolled child would get for telling someone they’re ugly, do that.

    Additionally, does your org have any kind of diversity or inclusivity statement among its values? “We welcome and respect all kinds of families” kind of thing? You may be able to use that to address some of the other comments: “At [program], we respect everyone, so we don’t tell people what colors they should or shouldn’t like just because they’re a boy or a girl. Some boys like sparkly nail polish, and I need you to be respectful about that.”

    1. shruggie*

      I think defaulting to the org’s policies for kids, even if you don’t typically work with them, is very smart and the safest thing to do here. No one can fault you for treating her the way your org treats everyone else, even if she isn’t officially enrolled or part of your programming. There are likely policies for escalation of issues with kids too – maybe that’s a good place to start? You can also lay out the awkwardness of “I know Sally is not enrolled in our programs but she is in our space and is violating our policies in XYZ way. I typically do not interact with the children in our programs, so I need you (director, child care provider, even Lynn if you feel comfortable) to escalate this.” Keep it as by-the-book as possible so that people can’t make it personal.

      This is haunting and really horrible, LW. The various overlapping power dynamics make it so, so difficult to navigate. I’m sorry you’re stuck experiencing it and addressing it.

  30. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    OP, you’ve come out before. It had to be hard. But you stood up for yourself and you are flourishing.
    You spoke up about the music. Was it awkward? Hell yeah, AAM gets letters asking how to do just what you did. answer: Speak directly to the person.
    You unfortunately have to do it again.
    I disagree with the people who are suggesting you educate/befriend the child.
    You tell Lynne that you’d like to have the girl visit while she’s in the office, but the girl is saying X, Y, Z and you can’t have that at work.
    Straight forward, direct, transparent.
    Sorry you are dealing with this.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      OP maybe feeling battle-weary which is understandable. If that fatigue is setting in OP, use time during off hours to map out what you will say and WHEN you will say it.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Excellent point. It is great to be prepared with what YOU will say, but you have to be ready for what the other person will say as well.

  31. She of Many Hats*

    The child’s behavior is a smaller issue to the overall picture where it’s acceptable to lie & spread falsehoods within the agency & its management (if I understood your explanation) and for that, there is probably no solution unless management is changed.

    Per your personal issue I’d tackle it each and every instance with the child: “That is unkind, even if it’s a joke”, “That’s a hurtful thing to say”, “Why do you want to say mean things to someone as a joke?” “How would you feel if I said that to you?”, “That was rude, I thought you were better/nicer/cooler than that.” “A joke is not funny if it is meant to make someone else feel bad”, “Cool kids don’t say mean things to others even as a joke”

    I like adding some version of “I thought better of you” after the reaction comment because it holds the offender to their ego’s high esteem.

    But I suspect the coworker will call you out for verbally disciplining her niece and you need to be ready for that and possible retaliation. If retaliation does happen, you’ll have to decide if it’s still worthwhile to remaining with an employer that allows abusive, potentially discriminatory, language in the worksite.

  32. Esmeralda*

    Correct the child every time.

    Suzy, that’s a really mean thing to say. I’m sure you want to be nice. Please apologize.

    Or if you feel you must soften it up: Suzy, honey, we don’t say mean things to other people. That hurts my feelings. Please apologize.

    But frankly, I don’t think softening is always the right way to go with kids, especially not kids that age. Be really clear and direct — use a calm, serious voice with a concerned look, so they get that it’s important. I would not smile while saying this, either. Suzy needs to understand and smiling will give a mixed message.

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I’m not sure Suzy wants to be nice, though. I have a lot of tolerance for kids but this is a LOT of very directed meanness. Whether she wants to be mean as a power move or because someone is mean to her and she’s outsourcing it, I think it’s probably purposeful.

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      Never admit to a bully that they hurt your feelings. It is giving them a reward – hurting your feelings – for what they are doing.

      Return the awkward to sender without emotion. “Suzy, that was not nice. Stop it.”, “Suzy, that was not funny. Stop it.”, “Suzy, that’s not an acceptable way to talk to other people. Stop it.”, “Suzy, it is not okay to threaten other people or their things. Stop it.”

  33. Crazycatlady*

    Is it totally off the table to just say to the child, in the moment, ‘that was a mean thing to say, and it really hurts my feelings’ or some equivalent? Seven is old enough to understand the power of words to hurt, and to be held accountable (kindly!) for what she says to people.

    1. Delphine*

      It shouldn’t be off the table, in my opinion. Your suggestion is good language for a child of that age.

  34. phira*

    I would consider asking Lynn to keep her niece out of your office, framing it as a distraction to you. And I would absolutely job search. I know you like the work you’re doing, but this whole place sounds like a nightmare and a half.

  35. Baron*

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this. This is so hard.

    I’m also a non-traditional-looking person who works with kids and occasionally faces comments from them ranging from the curious to the cruel. In my case, it’s easy for me to shrug off as, “Oh, well, they’re kids.” Where your situation is harder is that your coworker is probably teaching this kid to say hurtful and bigoted things. Your problem isn’t with the kid – it’s with the coworker.

  36. Dil*

    I disagree with being curt with the child and agree with commenters saying to ask her questions about why she’s being hurtful.

  37. Knope Knope Knope*

    I think this above the readers’ paygrade. OP is being harassed and put in a hostile work environment.

    1. lurkyloo*

      THANK YOU! I’m scrolling through the comments and all of the work is being put on OP – talk to the child/befriend the child/deal with it in the moment, etc.
      OP has a right to a harassment free workplace. I understand that things are different in different areas, but in the end, OP should be able to go to work, do their work and go home without anyone saying things like this to them.
      What’s my advice? Take it to management. There is an unauthorized child at work. OP is being harassed. Period.
      When the child comes up, yes, fine, say something if you want to. Or document it and send the documentation of their presence and harassing comments. Or talk to Lynn.
      But in the end, it’s on management to deal with.
      Oh. And find a new job if you can/want to.

      1. Jackalope*

        I mean, the reason people are providing ideas for the OP to take action is because the OP is the one who wrote in. We would provide very different advice if it were Lynn or a member of management who had written the letter, but since they didn’t write in we can’t give any suggestions for what they should do.

        And to respond to the comment for Knope Knope Knope above, Alison has responded to many letters where people are being harassed, and readers have chimed in on those as well. No one here except Alison is making any claims on giving professional advice, so I’m not sure why you think that giving possible ideas is above their pay grade. And a hostile work environment is more often used to refer to hostility coming from other employees, particularly management. When you work with members of the public (including kids), there’s always a chance that they’ll be jerks. Given that, the OP has to figure out what will work in his specific situation. Since his job is specifically working with kids, it’s not a crazy idea to suggest that he talk to the niece. (He could of course talk to management right away, but given his stated reluctance to do so, talking to the girl directly is the next most obvious course of action.)

    2. Box of Kittens*

      This. There are some really great scripts that have been offered, but I feel like they make sense more for situations with maybe a friend or family member’s child. OP shouldn’t be having to parent, guide or teach this child anything. It’s not their kid.

    3. gmg22*

      I agree with this, but the other things we know about OP’s workplace is that 1) it can be toxic; 2) Lynn has an in with management (implication is to a greater degree than OP) and loves to gossip; 3) the kid has visited this workplace only “a few times”; and 4) OP feels supported by the rest of his colleagues, loves the work and doesn’t want to leave the job. He is essentially asking, given those things, whether there is a way to navigate around this occasional problem.

      Escalating to HR in the environment described here, unfortunately, could run the risk of resulting in OP being pushed out of his job. Sometimes the second-best solution, in the moment, is the right one. Given all that, I’m in the camp that suggests to just quietly, firmly and repeatedly tell the child that unkind comments are not acceptable; if she persists, just repeat that and then politely tell her you have some work you need to concentrate on and that she should go find her aunt. Gray-rock her. Stick to the script; this kid is pushing buttons looking for a response, probably because she has heard this stuff so much at home. Don’t try to engage with the bigotry of the substance of the remarks; it’s not OP’s job to teach this child, who he is not officially responsible for, how to be more tolerant and it’s sadly likely to put him on a collision course with Lynn.

      Caveat: I get that all this is revealing that OP’s workplace may not be as supportive as it should be or as he’d like to think, but this question is clearly asking for a short-term solution. And I agree that if these tactics don’t work and the problem becomes more frequent, there might not be another choice but to escalate.

    4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I agree and am compelled to repeat that it is not OP’s job to educate a rude child who is visiting the office.

  38. CheesePlease*

    I would refer to the code of conduct for children and point out that when on-site the niece should have to follow the rules, and you are enforcing the rules. “That was a mean thing to say, we don’t say mean things here” or “if you want to destroy someone else’s belongings, you can’t be here (your office)” and lock your door etc. or whatever you would do with any other child. If Lynn complains, say that all children on-site are expected to meet the behavior standards etc.

    I would also recommend talking to the ED or senior manager type person, and discuss having a policy for when non-enrolled children are on-site. Presumably because the job related to childcare, various staff members bring in their children or family members occasionally (school holiday? snow day?). But there still should be rules. For example, a staff member brining in their sick child with a fever would violate the protocol for enrolled children, so the same protocol should apply for the sake of health and safety. Having a clear guideline for this situation helps protect the children you are serving, and can hopefully place some objective boundaries so that Lynn’s niece stops being rude.

  39. Catgirl*

    “It feels like Lynn and her family have these feelings and the child is just repeating it.” You’re right.

  40. cardigarden*

    I think variations on “that’s not a kind thing to say”/”we don’t do that here” like others have suggested would be useful, especially in the moment. And while I don’t know this child, I do know that at that age, if an adult (other than my parents) had to speak to me about my behavior, it was something I NEVER did again. If whatever I did was enough that someone else’s parent had to step in? Woof. But those instances were always things that my own parents would back up the intervening parent about. Given the religious overtones present here, your mileage may vary.

    A more effective strategy when reporting this to the employer would probably be the liability/reputational (whether you allow children on premises to bully people) route.

  41. Lacey*

    I would talk to your coworker. The fact that she was clueless about how her music made you feel does not mean she would support her niece being intentionally unkind.

    Also, it’s her niece. I don’t agree with my niece’s parents on much of anything – even though we are part of the same religion and even go to the same church!

    And there’s the chance it’s not even her parent’s she getting these ideas from.
    She’s 7. She goes to school, she probably has at least one class or sport she’s involved with.
    I know, her parents are still her biggest influence.
    But. I’ve also seen my bestie gasp in horror when her kid said something offensive (without really understanding it, but still). She rushed to correct her child & explain why it was wrong to talk that way – but if she hadn’t been there… the kid wouldn’t have seen the problem and people would have assumed she got it from her parents.

    1. metadata+minion*

      I mean, it’s possible she’s only getting this from elsewhere, but this sounds like a *lot* of homophobic comments over the course of more than one visit. It’s not just a one-off rude statement or expressing her surprise at a man wearing nailpolish in a cringingly blunt way. I would be extraordinarily surprised if the parents don’t know about it, and only very slightly less surprised if the attitude didn’t come straight from them.

      1. Lacey*

        Yeah, I’m not saying it’s a huge chance.
        But kids do have their own hang ups and they can be both real stubborn and completely unaware of the larger context.

        Personally, I vividly remember my mom telling 5-yr-old me something was a racist term for a group of people and not to say it. I didn’t believe her and only stopped saying it around her. She didn’t teach or encourage the term – I got it from the old Parent Trap movie!

        1. Disabled trans lesbian*

          The nail polish stuff could conceivably come from such a place, yes. Society in general is still heavily queerphobic and young kids are especially susceptible to those cisheteronormative messages.
          But threatening to destroy a queer flag or directly insulting OP? That is much more likely to be taught to her by her family.
          Unfortunately, OP really does have to consider the possibility this is targeted harassment by Qanon/MAGA believers, which means OP should consider how to protect himself from unjust accusations and escalation.

  42. Portia*

    Do yourself a favor a ditch the assumption that “children say what they hear at home.” This could be true, but you don’t have any standing to address what this child hears at home. Or about how your co-workers feel about you.

    All you can do is react to what you hear. I think a seven year old can get the same treatment for offensive “jokes” that adults get. Telling somebody that you don’t see what’s so funny about X and asking them to explain why they think it is funny usually takes the wind out of their sails.

    And you can also say, at any time, “I need to work now, so you need to go back to your Granny.”

    1. This Old House*

      And lots of kids say things they’ve never heard at home. They shock and sometimes horrify their parents all the time.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        She Learned it somewhere. She learned to say horrible things to People from someone. She learned to pretend it was a joke when called out, from someone.
        To me it seems she would not have learned so well if she wasn’t around it all the time. If it wasn’t at home, it was someplace else where she goes frequently and spends time. And if it wasn’t at home, her parents are not doing anything to counter it.

  43. nnn*

    I don’t have an answer but I have some questions that might narrow it down:

    Do you have strategies for how you would handle this situation if it were one of the kids you’re responsible for taking care of?

    If yes, is there a reason why these strategies wouldn’t work for this child?

    1. gmg22*

      I’m guessing the main reason is that OP is concerned about Lynn’s reaction (because of her cozy relationship with management), to a degree that he doesn’t have to be concerned about a parent’s reaction.

    2. CowWhisperer*

      A lot of behavior management strategies are relationally based. The first step in behavior management is building a respectful relationship based on reliability and trust.

      The reason these don’t work with the niece is that the LW does not have the time or authority to build a relationship with a random kid who’s aunt brings her to work. The LW also had very limited ability to create consequences for the behavior of the child because they are not an official caregiver.

      The best strategy I could use is to say something like “We do not call people ugly here” and return the kid to her aunt with a calm statement that Niece is using unkind words and you need to get work done.

      This would be sending a simple message that’s important for all kids: when someone is unkind to you, you can end the interaction.

      My concern about all the well-meaning teaching strategies shared above is that they all ingrain the idea that minority groups are required to “educate” people who are being actively rude and hurtful. You don’t. You have the right to stop the interaction and leave.

      That’s a power lesson – and probably a very important one for a little girl in a very rigid, patriarchal culture.

      1. Jackalope*

        Well, part of the reason that people are giving ideas for making this a teachable moment is that the OP is literally employed in child care meaning that to at least some extent his job is literally educating children. Part of that will include at some points teaching them to be kind to people around them. The OP doesn’t have to go that route with the niece, but it’s much more understandable to tell him to do this than it would be to tell him to have the same conversation with, say, Lynn. And with a 7 year old you can’t just say that she could go educate herself on the topic. She’s still learning how to learn. She’s probably just barely learning how to read. That’s not a reasonable expectation for her.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I’m not certain he is an educator. He says he works in an office, so to me it sounds like he’s background staff and not working directly with children.

        2. NICS*

          the OP is literally employed in child care meaning that to at least some extent his job is literally educating children

          This is like saying that when I was a school admin that granted me the responsibilities of a teacher. It really, really didn’t.

          The topic paragraph of the essay I wish I had time to write:

          This situation looks like the opportunity for a teachable moment to save this child from the bigotry she’s being taught, but it is not. If LW tries to explain to this kid that queer people are people too, she’ll go back to the people teaching her homophobia and talk to them about it, because kids talk. They’ll then accuse LW of being a “groomer” (a concept exploding across the conservative side of US culture) and he’ll be in a world of hurt. Even if that doesn’t happen, undertaking to teach someone requires energy, including emotional labor. Teaching this kid is not LW’s job. LW has a job to do which is being disrupted by all this, and disrupting it more will not help LW’s situation.

      2. I'm Not Phyllis*

        Yes – “My concern about all the well-meaning teaching strategies shared above is that they all ingrain the idea that minority groups are required to “educate” people who are being actively rude and hurtful. You don’t. You have the right to stop the interaction and leave.”


  44. Nonke John*

    I’d adopt that aren’t-you-kyewt, soft-eyed expression that stings every precocious child who’s trying to come off sophisticated, and say, “We don’t criticize people’s looks/clothes/desk accessories here, whatever we may be thinking about them. It’s not polite.” Same approach if you want to say something to Lynn or escalate to your manager: “Nellie’s pretty outspoken about what she doesn’t like, huh? I don’t mind her comments–I’m a grown-up. But I thought I’d let you know so you can explain to her why she shouldn’t say these kinds of things around the children in the program. They can be sensitive, especially to their peers.”

    Of course, you’re justified in actually feeling hurt. But as a gay man who grew up on the Christian right, I think that if you take that tack in addressing the issue, you’ll play into the whole canard that queer men suffer from arrested development and are too sensitive and fragile. I can almost guarantee that Lynn and Niece will then have a smug little talk on the car ride home about how sinful and pitiably emotionally unbalanced you are with your dissolute, unnatural, Godless life; probably decide to pray for you; and do nothing different. Separating your complaint about the niece’s bratty rudeness from your own feelings may not produce a change in behavior, either, but it makes it harder to dismiss you as a drama queen.

    1. Nonke John*

      Just so it’s clear: I’m taking the LW at his word that the niece is probably saying the kinds of things she’s learned from her specific family, and not assuming every devout Christian is a queer-hating jerk. I know from personal experience with friends from my old church that individuals are individuals.

    2. CowWhisperer*

      Your phrasing is awesome.

      I’d also return her to her aunt. She’s either being rude because she likes the power or she’s rude because it gets her attention. Either way, stopping the interaction reinforces a basic life lesson: no one is obligated to be around rude, hurtful people.

      My guess is that she’s already picked up that in rigid social hierarchies people with power can take cheap shots at less powerful people without consequence. Returning her to sender when she acts up is a just enforcing a natural consequence of bad behavior.

      Seeing someone stand up for their own rights is a powerful, important lesson – and a more teachable one.

  45. thelettermegan*

    She may be subjected to a lot of teasing at home or school and has interpreted this as a way to connect to people.

    This obviously isn’t your problem to solve, but it could explain where she’s picking up the behavior. Telling her that dumb jokes are a bad way to make friends could be a revelation for her.

  46. Nea*

    If seven is old enough to realize “Can’t you take a joke?” is a way of getting away with saying horrible things, then seven is old enough to deal with the response “I don’t understand. Explain how that’s funny.”

    Not “We don’t do that here” (because there’s nowhere that would be appropriate.) Not “go away” because that lets her feel that she’s “won” if she wants to hurt you.

    Make her explain how that joke is funny. Every time. “Is that a joke? I don’t understand. Where’s the part where I laugh?” “No, still don’t get it. Explain how that’s funny.”

    It’s not going to be fun to the kid if she ends up with a rhetorical discussion every time. She doesn’t get the thrill of hurting you, you’re not being rude to her.

    And as I say in another comment, if she “jokes” about damaging your property, it’s possible to point out actions have consequences FOR HER. “If you cut that flag up, your aunt will just have to buy me a new one. Do you think she wants to buy a new one as much as you want to cut it up?”

    1. mlem*

      Yes, this is really powerful. She’s learned to wave away reactions to hateful behavior as “I was just joking!” Puncture that.

    2. Gerry Keay*

      It what world is “someone else will pay for your mistakes” a consequence for her? She almost certainly won’t care, and there’s no way you can actually enforce her aunt paying for a new one, so I really don’t think that will be effective. I also not sure the whole “explain why it’s funny” thing will work — that tactic relies very heavily on social shame and embarrassment, which this kiddo does not seem to have.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        I would tend to agree. It probably won’t work from an embarrassment perspective or make her reconsider her behavior. Depending on the kid, though, it may bore the heck out of her enough to make her move on…..or it could backfire and she decides to add insulting LW’s intelligence to her list of “teasing.”

  47. CowWhisperer*

    I’m a cis heterosexual woman who has a five year old son.

    LW, your compassion toward this kid is exemplary – but you are under no obligation to teach a child how to behave politely let alone reform a kid who is trying to hurt you.

    The kid knows not to call people ugly or threaten to break someone else’s items. She’s making a choice and choices have consequences.

    I would be my usual and polite self to the kid until she is rude. At that point, I would say that since she is calling me names or threatening my workspace she needs to go back to her aunt’s area. If needed, walk to the aunt and explain that you can’t get work done while niece is insulting you and threatening to break things. Then loop in your boss.

    Lynn starts gossiping? Let her. This is not a story that reflects well on her – and I normally love meeting coworkers’ minor relatives.

    Your boss doesn’t stop this – or gossips? Find a new job. Seriously, you deserve a much saner workplace and there are plenty of places where you’d be appreciated.

  48. Anon, good Nurse*

    First of all I’m a lifelong nonprofit professional and from the first few sentences want to tell you to run. They lie to cover for one another??? I guarantee you are working too much and making too little to deal with that kind of head game.

    But secondly I think that you can address this with Lynn without getting to the undertones, as apparent as they are. I’m sure that if the child is hearing those things at home, Lynn participates and doesn’t address them and won’t have much incentive to in this situation. However, the child is being straight up rude! And disrespectful to an adult who is her aunt’s colleague! I would go to Lynn when she’s by herself and ask if you can chat with her for a minute. “Hey Lynn, I wanted to talk to you quickly about some behavior that your niece has shown when she visits you here. She has said a lot of pretty unkind things to me like [example] [example] and [example]. When I tell her these are unkind, she says she is joking. Obviously I’m an adult and I know that kids push boundaries and experiment a lot with social skills right now, but I also know how much your family values kindness and respect for authority figures. I’d hate to think that she says things like this to other kids she plays with who also may feel hurt a lot more deeply and not understand whatever joke she may be trying to get to.”

    1. Anon, good Nurse*

      Oh and ESPECIALLY about bodies and appearances. I don’t think anyone called ugly will see it as a joke, especially another kid that she may interact with.

    2. Anon, good Nurse*

      And if Lynn pushes back, kids will be kids, etc. then “Lynn I understand how kids work, we work directly with a lot of kids. But your niece isn’t enrolled in our program, is being unkind to me directly in my workspace, and you are bringing her here. If you don’t address this with her then that’s creating a bad work environment for me and I know you value your colleagues.”

  49. STG*

    I’m surprised at the number of comments about how this should be handled by the OP directly with the kid.

    Completely disagree. The kid shouldn’t even be there in the first place. I think it’s a different situation than if this was a kid actually being watched in the program. I’d treat this like I’d treat any rude kid who a coworker brought in and they aren’t paying attention to.

    Escort the kid back to their guardian, comment on the rudeness with the guardian and let them hash it out with the kid. This kid is not part of the program and shouldn’t be treated as if they were.

    1. Anon, good Nurse*

      Agreed, outside of telling the kid in the moment, “That is unkind” this is a pattern that is creating a work issue and needs to be addressed by the colleague who is creating it

    2. CowWhisperer*

      Completely agree.

      It’s not the LW’s job to provide childcare for this child – and the aunt needs to be supervising her niece when she brings her to work. This is true even if the niece was a kind, easy-going, non-disruptive 7 year old instead of a kid who is poking at someone who seems different than the kid has been told is normal.

      I’d also loop in whichever competent adult in your management chain who would care that you are being taken off task by Lynn’s homophobic seven year-old niece. If there’s no one there who is concerned about a free-ranging child who is likely creating staffing ratio issues and insurance liability issues along with potentially saying something harmful to an actual client – you need to get out.

    3. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

      Thank you! OP doesn’t need the added work of teaching some random kid how to human correctly. (That’s assuming that little Damiana isn’t being encouraged by her aunt to harass OP.) Take it straight to the kid’s guardian and leave it there. So what if Lynn is gossipy and tight with the higher ups? “OMG, can you believe that OP complained about Damiana’s completely unacceptable BS?!” And if OP is worried that Lynn will release wasps into a workplace that’s already full of bees, it’s past time to start looking for a new gig.

    4. Generic Name*

      I like this advice the best. I think you can say to the child, “Don’t talk to me like that”, and then march them to Aunt.

    5. NICS*

      I agree with this. Teaching moments are tempting and often helpful, but not in this case. my only quibble is that I’d advise LW use “disruptive” or “distracting” rather than “rude” because the first two are harder to argue about.

  50. Elle*

    This is just such a potential minefield; I’m so sorry, OP. I agree with the other comments suggesting it’s time to start job searching. I’d be worried about addressing the kid’s comments with her directly- I think a lot of commenters are forgetting that queer people (esp queer men) interacting closely with children are seen as suspicious or potentially dangerous. I’d give the kid no reaction beyond telling her to return to Lynn’s office/area/whatever. I’m assuming that the other children who are often in the office (you mentioned that it’s not uncommon for other kids to be present) are behaving fine. Could you approach the executive director and say something like, I’m fine with having children in the office, but [unpleasant niece] is disruptive and poorly behaved. Can we set some guidelines for children brought into the office (that aren’t a part of the actual program)?

    This may just be me, but I absolutely hate even mentioning the possibility of homophobia around people like Lynn. Too often it just gets you branded a difficult gay, and with a child involved, who knows how she could twist this against you.

  51. KP*

    I just wanted to note that you get to have boundaries with children as well as adults. You don’t have to tolerate bad behavior from anyone, just respond in an age-appropriate way.

    Many of the comments are encouraging engaging with your coworker’s niece, and if you have the mental/emotional bandwidth and desire to do that, they’ve suggested some great responses. But this is your workplace and your coworker’s niece is not your responsibility. Feel free to escort her back to your coworker and let them know she isn’t welcome in your space until she can behave politely- and in a way that isn’t creating an uncomfortable/hostile work environment.

  52. Irish Teacher.*

    Honestly, I also think this is setting the childcare facility up for complaints from parents, especially if there are younger kids there. If I had say a 5 year old son, I wouldn’t want him coming home upset, because “the big girl at childcare said painting my nails/playing with dolls/whatever is girly and I’m silly for doing it.” I’d be even more concerned if I heard the child was related to somebody working there, as it might indicate the adult shared those harmful views.

    Not sure how actionable any of this is, but maybe you could push back on “I feel strongly that when 7 year old niece is here, she needs to follow the rules about kind words. I think we are leaving ourselves open to complaints if parents hear she is making these comments and children aren’t seeing her disciplined for them.”

    Of course, if she has no interaction with children in the programme, this might not work.

  53. BellyButton*

    When the child says something mean/rude I would say “Those aren’t nice things to say to people. Don’t say those things to me.”

    Then I follow up with her Aunt and let her know that she is saying those things, and you would like her to have a talk with her and tell her she can’t say those things.

  54. DivergentStitches*

    This isn’t even about the OP’s pride items or whether he’s gay or not. It’s about the child not having common courtesy and saying mean things to ANYONE. If she’d gone up to an older worker and said “You’re old!” that would be rude. If she went up to a fat man and said “You’re fat!” that would be rude.

    Seven years old is old enough to understand that you shouldn’t just say whatever. Even if the child had underlying mental conditions (in which case, if she truly couldn’t control what she said, I would think Lynn would have let everyone know about that ahead of time and the OP would not be complaining).

    Lynn needs to discipline this child so that she isn’t saying mean things to people minding their own business and trying to do their jobs, and if she can’t do that, she needs to keep the child away.

  55. Llellayena*

    This seems like a two-fold problem: getting the child to stop saying mean things to you and preserving a healthy work environment with Lynn. First, while the child is probably reflecting views from her home life, Lynn is not her parent, just her aunt. You said Lynn was receptive and understood when you asked her to stop playing Christian music. Are there other instances where she has said or done things that are homophobic? Do those things affect your working environment? If so, you have a workplace harassment issue and should talk to HR, despite Lynn having the ear of the ED (that lovely phrase “worried about retaliation” might help here). Even if nothing happens, someone would be aware of the problem.

    For the child, I agree with the other advice to be direct but not angry: “That’s a mean thing to say and it hurt my feelings. Please stop saying things like that to me.” Or something like “I like wearing sparkly things, don’t you? I think people should wear what they like to wear.” Introduce her to other ways of thinking without telling her that her (learned) way of thinking is wrong and you should avoid annoying the kid’s parents (or Lynn).

  56. Higher Ed*

    I’m sorry this is happening to you. Two things stood out to me: the child has been taught that it’s ok to say mean things to people who are different, and it’s ok to say mean things, if you say you’re only joking. Both those things are wrong and damaging to the child (plus the issues you’re dealing with).

    I realize it’s not your job to parent this child, and if you don’t want to deal with this, see if you can find a way to minimize your contact with her. If you want to address it with the child, focus on how it makes her feel when someone says mean things to her. It might help her develop some empathy, which seems to be lacking.

  57. Temperance*

    So, I wouldn’t try to “educate” this kid, because, frankly, her family sucks and you don’t need to invite the drama of a bunch of tools calling you a “groomer” into your life.

    She’s trying to get a reaction out of you. I would send her away when she shows up, and if she makes comments about you being “ugly” or liking things “for girls”, respond by being bored. “You know that it’s rude to call people ugly” or “what’s wrong with girls?”, for example.

  58. Shanderson*

    Agree with so much advice here about calling it out to the kid! Only thing I have to share is that lots of language suggestions included reference to “That’s a mean thing to say”, “That hurts my feelings” etc. Something my education admin mother (now long retired) said once to me really resonated, I’m curious about others opinions. She said to frame feedback like this as “rude” or similar rather than “mean”, “my feelings” as mean implies a power dynamic that isn’t possible with a child to an adult, like a child is not capable of being “mean” to an adult or teacher, they are being rude, it’s not a peer or equal relationship where emotional investment comes into play, its an expectation of behaviour that isn’t being met and feedback framed like that makes it about the child’s behaviour and not another person’s feelings (because ultimately why its good to be aware of feelings, rudeness is still rudeness whether or not a person’s feelings are hurt by it). Interested in hearing feedback on that, pedagogy has changed a lot since her tenure!

    1. Irish Teacher*

      I agree 100%. I teach teenagers, so this may not be such a concern with a 7 year old, but I do find that saying stuff like “that hurts my feelings” can undermine a teacher’s authority as it makes it seem like it’s an argument between peers and not a child misbehaving and the adult teaching them better strategies for dealing with people in the future.

      “That hurt my feelings” might possibly make her realise what she did was wrong, but it might also make her feel as if she is his equal when I think she needs to be reminded that he is the authority in his office and she needs to follow the rules.

  59. Anonnynon*

    I’m a teacher, and as a result people always think I want to hang out with their children so I’ve been in a couple situations like this. some advice I was given for when something like this comes up is to present it as if the parent is already aware of the issue, is just as concerned as you are, and then ask them how they handle it. Like “I wanted to touch base with you about little Jane. She has been making comments about wanting to cut up my flags and break my belongings. What kind of language do you use with her when she makes these comments? Or would you prefer me to just tell you when it happens?” Something like that. I’ve tried it twice and once the parents were aware and actually did give me a helpful way to address it, and the other time the parents tried to like explain it away as being okay (the kid was pretty violent and they said she was just expressing her feelings) and I explained that even if that was the case, I was not okay with someone throwing things at me etc. and so I needed to know how they want me to address it when I’m watching their kid, otherwise I couldn’t do it anymore. They then did address it with her. In my experience (and that of the person who suggested it to me) this works because you aren’t accusing the parent of anything, you are acting like they already know how to handle these things and are on top of the situation.

    1. ferrina*

      Very diplomatic! If Lynn is generally decent, this might be a really good way to go. She can’t really complain to the ED that you asked for her guidance :D

  60. Rage*

    What’s the timeline here? Did Lynn start to bring her niece in *after* you asked her to stop blaring Christian music? If so, this could be Lynn’s attempt at subtle, continued harassment.

    1. Zachary*

      It seems like that’s exactly the case. OP recently asked about not playing the religious music, and now the coworker is bringing in her niece as a homophobic attack dog knowing she can attack OP directly if he tries to assert his right to be treated like a human being.

  61. Sassenach*

    I am in the camp of those saying you should address it with Lynn and/or the ED directly and not the child. If you do address it with the child this IS the time to be curt and direct. The child will remember that much longer than they will a “you hurt my feelings, that’s not nice” response. It is not on you to teach this particular child and her behavior needs to stop yesterday. This is not ok.
    I agree with STG “Escort the kid back to their guardian, comment on the rudeness with the guardian and let them hash it out with the kid. This kid is not part of the program and shouldn’t be treated as if they were.”

  62. Jamboree*

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. With a ~7yo you’re perfectly within the rights to respond directly to her with any of the pp’s suggestions, some flavor “that’s a very unkind thing to say.” But I also wonder if also you can appeal to her ego, explaining that a mature 7yo like her is a role model for the babies in daycare so she needs to be respectful/say kind things like XYZ. And then when she says another mean thing you can give her an example of a nice thing to have said instead. “Oh it’s really mean to insult my nail polish. This color would look great on you!” I would treat the child like this whether the aunt is within earshot or not. If she’s supportive of you she’ll be appalled her neice is talking to you like that and if she’s okay with the homophobia that’s good to know and it’s good for your supportive colleagues to know, too. I’d mention it to the supervisor that you’re correcting her in the moment when it happens. too. Good luck! I hope it gets better soon.

    1. ferrina*

      Ooh, I like this! Nothing like giving a kid some responsibility to get them to step up! Though with some kids this will backfire, so def use your judgement on this one (especially if you think her parents/Lynn will retaliate if the kid complains about something)

  63. Chris too*

    I’d say pleasantly to the the kid, well, we were all made by God, and God makes all kinds of people.

    I’d be leaning more along the lines of the commenters who are trying to be friendly with her, and show her there’s a better, happier way to be.

    1. Gerry Keay*

      OP is uncomfortable with worship music being played, but you want him to invoke a god he potentially doesn’t believe in to make peace with a kid who’s actively harassing him?? No. Just. No.

  64. germank106*

    I would consult with an employment lawyer to see if, by letting your coworker bring the child, the company creates a hostile work environment. Once you have that information take your concerns to HR, specifically saying the words “Hostile Work Environment”. Not all States consider sexual orientation a protected class, but yours might.
    I would completely ignore the child. Any comment you make could be repeated back to her family as “OP was mean to me” and could be considered child abuse. And please start looking for another job where you are valued for your contributions not your looks or sexual orientation.

  65. WheresMyPen*

    It’s one thing saying that a seven year old doesn’t understand what she’s saying when it’s homophobic, as that’s a nuance she might not yet understand, but at seven she should know that it’s wrong to say someone is ugly, and to threaten to tear up or break someone else’s belongings. If you don’t feel like you can tell her off, I think you could respond very neutrally to things like the nail polish with ‘I like how it looks so that’s why I wear it. Boys can wear nail polish too.’ or ‘anyone is allowed to wear what they like or grow their hair how they like’ and let her ruminate on that. But the issue of her wanting to ruin your stuff is concerning, so if you can ask her parent or a manager to find somewhere else for her that would be totally reasonable.

    1. sofar*

      Yes! It seems like the LW is concerned about calling the kid a bigot to Lynn, but that’s not necessary to do. If a kid was saying insulting/rude things and threatening to destroy property to ANYONE, that’s something to address. As the kid’s adult, Lynn needs to be told. Just say, “Hey, your niece is saying she wants to tear up my office and calling me ugly…not sure if she’s saying these things to anyone else, but wanted you to be aware.” Copy to HR, if it exists.

      Lynn may do exactly nothing. For in the moment, others have really good suggestions. I’ve found saying, “That’s mean and I’m not going to talk to you anymore until you apologize” works sometimes. Also, if the kid threatens to destroy something in your office, get Lynn and/or HR in the moment. “OK if you’re going to make a mess in my office, I’ll just have to talk to your aunt about that.” I think it’s also OK to say “Scram” to a total brat.

  66. LGBTQ from the trenches*

    I love that you all are trying to be supportive, and guide the child to better choices. But the child has threatened violence against his property and made hateful comments.

    I don’t think this is a gentle guidance situation. Time to get everyone in an office and make it clear that this is a real violation, and this child needs to get right or get gone. Anything else is saying a LITTLE teasing is OK. She can’t remember that funny time as a child when the adults paid her attention when she was bigoted. She has to remember the time she was bigoted and then shit got real. We wouldn’t be tapdancing around it if she’d said this about a Jewish man and threatened to tear up his Jewish knickknacks.

    1. Anonymous 5*

      YES. OP does not need to take on additional effort to wordsmith/sugarcoat/tapdance/jump through hoops to fix this…child needs to STOP. And OP should not be expected to go it alone.

    2. MurpMaureep*

      Yes, the OP should feel entirely empowered to be blunt with the kid and/or disengage from her and immediately escalate to other adults. The kid and her aunt are creating an toxic work environment that should not be tolerated.

  67. H.Regalis*

    I have a couple friend who work in early childhood, and damn, stuff can get ugly. I hate that you can’t just be like, “This kid is saying bigoted stuff to me and that stops now” to Lynn without worrying about retaliation. You should just be able to say that.

    I don’t think it’s out of line for you to be like, “Don’t talk to me like that” to the kid, or tell her she’s being rude. She’s a little kid and you’re an adult. She should be respectful. Obviously, she shouldn’t be saying that stuff to ANYONE, but if Lynn is very conservative, you may have an easier time framing it as “kid needs to respect her elders.” But I hate that you even have to strategize about how to do this without hurting a homophobe’s feelings. Ugh.

    1. NICS*

      This is not the tack I’ve taken in the rest of the discussion, but this child is mostly a victim. It’s pretty obvious that someone is teaching her the homophobia, the bullying methods (including the “just joking” rationale) and so on. I really hope she has an opportunity to learn better and to avoid growing up into a hate-spewing bigot.

      But it is not LW’s responsibility to be the one who helps her. Especially since LW really isn’t in a position to do so, but even without the damage Lynn could do if she turns out to be vengeful, it isn’t |LW’s job and LW has to do their job.

  68. SJ (they/them)*

    LW, I’m so sorry you are dealing with this. I am having a very similar problem with another child at my child’s daycare, who likes to tell me I look weird and mime shooting me with an imaginary assault rifle.

    It’s terrifying because, as another commenter mentioned above, it could be unsafe for me to speak to this child ever, at all, lest their parent freak out. On the other hand, I refuse to live in shame and fear as a general rule, so… I don’t know. In practice I just pretend it isn’t happening. I wish I didn’t have to.

    I have no advice. I wish I could help. You are NOT alone in this. I believe you and I believe IN you and your judgment about the best course of action here. There’s no perfect solution, so whatever you need to do or whatever seems right to you, is okay by me. I hope that helps, and I wish I had something better.

    Sending you so much love.

  69. HIPAA-Potamus*

    Give her a notebook, tell her to write her feelings and then give them to you to “cut up” the same way she wants to cut up your Pride flags. Then, ask how she feels when friends hurt her feelings.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      I don’t like this approach. OP isn’t this kid’s friend. This kind of lesson works better when there’s a more personal and/or lasting relationship, such as with a relative, teacher, or caregiver. This is more time and energy than OP needs to be giving to connect with this kid.

  70. Cringing 24/7*

    I admittedly, don’t know how to talk to children, so I’d probably just say, “That was a mean thing to say” over and over again to everything niece says, then when she responds, “I’m just joking” say, “It’s only funny if both people laugh – otherwise, you’re not being funny, you’re just being mean” then turn away and go back to work.

  71. MurpMaureep*

    First an anecdote from my own childhood to reinforce what others have said about the effectiveness of speaking to the child directly:
    When I was young, probably 6-7 years old, I asked what I now know was an offensive and cruel question of a childcare provider. Note that this was in the 1970s when my question probably wouldn’t have read as being as bad (it had to do with overall appearance and weight and it was awful). The woman very firmly responded that what I was asking was not only inappropriate but also hurtful and I should not ask that sort of personal information of anyone. She didn’t belabor the point but she shut me down hard. I was taken aback and ashamed, but it stuck with me and served as a basis future evaluation. It also taught me that it’s acceptable to stick up for yourself when insulted! So you could try that with the child if you are comfortable doing so.

    But now here’s my take as a 50 year old manager: I would want to know if someone was exposing my staff to hurtful language from any source. I think you could easily escalate this. Even if the woman is tight with higher ups in the organization, it’s a horrible look for them to have a child insulting their staff, especially when there is a DEI angle! They should want it to stop for many reasons, but even cynically, they should want it to stop for selfish reasons.

    You could try taking it to the aunt first, give examples of the comments, and say that they are wildly inappropriate and if the child can’t be contained she must be kept away from you. I think the threat of destruction of personal items is especially telling – even as a “joke” it’s disturbing and weird. Honestly the aunt should be alerted that the child is articulating such desires in general.

    But it would also be totally appropriate to take it to your manager, lay out what’s going on, and insist that it end immediately.

    I’m really sorry you are being subjected to this, I hope for everyone’s sake it stops and the kid gets a lesson in how to be a decent person!

  72. ferrina*

    First, you do what you need to to protect your safety and peace of mind. If that means disengaging from the niece, you should do that. I think you are well within your rights to leave it to Lynn to deal with. You can go to her, report the behavior and that the 7yo isn’t allowed in your office without Lynn present unless she can refrain from rude behavior. If you want to soften the language (due to the politics), you can treat it as though of course Lynn wasn’t aware of this and of course Lynn wants to resolve this, and you know that kids go through phases and as soon as she is coached out of this phase she’s welcome back and you wish Lynn luck.

    If you want to say something to the kid- I see a lot of people saying that the kid should be told that it’s rude and hurtful, but since it’s what she sees at home, I don’t think that will land. After all, if her Daddy does it, it can’t be rude! (she’s a bit too young to recognize her parents as humans- for her they are likely still superheroes). I’d be tempted to do a cheerful counter message and find common ground:
    “I love my sparkly nails! They’re so beautiful and make me feel so wonderful! What’s your favorite thing that makes you feel wonderful?”
    “What makes something ‘girly’? Huh, that’s interesting. Did you know that once upon a time, only boys wore pink and girls wore blue? That’s really interesting! Just goes to show that fashion always changes- and I’m just ahead of the curve!” (I taught my elementary-aged kids about the ephemeral nature of fashion the other day. Blew their minds.)
    “You’d cut up my flags? Why? Do you regularly destroy other people’s things? Are your things getting destroyed? Should we talk to another grown up about this?” (with genuine concern- it’s likely she’s thinking of your flags as separate from you, not associating them as belonging to someone else. That’s not necessarily being bigoted, it’s also a really common developmental hallmark of the age. They haven’t fully recognized others as being full humans who are different but as valuable as themselves. I think around middle school is usually when this develops?)
    “Hmm, that’s not a very good joke. Jokes are supposed to be make an audience laugh. I’m your audience, but I’m not laughing. We need to work on your punchlines. I think you need to read more Garfield comics- now those are funny!”

    This can be a lot of emotional labor, but if you have the bandwidth for it, I’ve found it really effective in getting kids to start to think critically. Kids are still really malleable, and sometimes this will create cognitive dissonance that they’ll carry with them later into life. Good luck!

  73. Dawn*

    I am not a parent or anything adjacent to that, but my experience with people who ARE – and this is a non-American experience so I don’t know how it translates – is that they generally would correct the child gently in the moment.

    Like, “I want to cut up all of your flags!” “Oh, that’s not very nice, Susan.” Etc.

    I’m definitely by no means an expert but it’s the way I’ve always seen other parents handle that.

  74. AceyAceyAcey*

    Third party sexual harassment (or LGBT+ harassment) is a thing — meaning the harassment isn’t coming from someone inside the employer’s organization, (nor from yourself), but from someone who uses the organization or who you interact with as part of your job. Your employer has a legal obligation to shield you from third party harassment. If they have HR, consider reporting to them. If not, consider talking to your boss. You can also talk to a lawyer for advice on how to handle this.

  75. PotsPansTeapots*

    I really, really feel for you, OP. This is a tough situation.

    My best advice would be to never be alone with this child, document any contact you have with her, and treat her like any other child who says something mean to you. Be firm with her.

    At the same time, feel free to play a little dumb with your boss and co-workers. Of course you were correcting this kid and of course they would want to know this little jerk of a child is misbehaving. How would you act if this kid was being mean for a reason unrelated to your queerness?

  76. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    “Please leave my area” in a neutral tone with a neutral expression. Repeat as needed until this rude little beast effs off.

    If she cries to someone higher up and they come asking you about it, confirm that you did ask her to leave you alone as she was distracting you while you were trying to work. Again, just repeat that as necessary. Assuming that minding unsupervised children is not in your job description, this is the truth and is all that you need to say. Don’t give in to temptation to add anything about your feelings. Keep it about work. It would be very difficult for anyone to hold that against you.

  77. The Person from the Resume*

    I think if we can ignore that this is a daycare then you respond as if your coworker brought a child to work and she’s bothering you. Hopefully you have an office with a door; don’t let the child into your office. If she wanders in, kcik her out of your office and escort her back to her aunt and tell the aunt she’s bothering you/interupting you.

    And, man, she’s 7 and well on her way to being a bigoted, homophobe, and probably racist. She’s being stupid. Try to let her comments go* because they’re coming from a stupid kid.

    * If you can. As you may guess, I would never work in day care because I can’t relate to kids. But I’m unlikely to give the opinion of some random kid any weight in my life.

  78. A lawyer*

    Hi OP, I know one of your worries is that the child is learning it at home and that this somehow shows that your coworker is teaching her to say these things. If this brings any comfort at all on this front, my 7 year old niece (who undoubtedly loves me and usually is sweet) will occasionally tell me that she hates me, that she is going to kill me and chop me up, that I am ugly, and that I am not allowed to look at her with my face because she hates my face. It has nothing to do with whether I have been kind or stern with her, it’s just her mood at that moment. I am certain she’s learned this from TV or other kids, and not from her parents. Kids are just little psycho jerks sometimes and they say stuff like that because they usually get a reaction. I don’t mean to downplay your feelings because it definitely is not nice to hear, just trying to say that it doesn’t necessarily mean your coworker is teaching her to say these things.

    1. Zachary*

      Ok, so even if she learned her violent homophobia from TV and not at all from her family, that changes things how?

    2. metadata+minion*

      If it were generalized violence I would agree, kids are sometimes just balls of rage and express their intense little emotions in really hyperbolic ways. But this is specifically targeting the LW for his gender presentation and his pride flags. Unless the kid is also telling all the other staff that they’re ugly and threatening to destroy their possessions, I don’t understand the impulse to find any possible excuse other than “this kid has internalized lots of intensely homophobic patterns, most likely from her parents and/or aunt”.

    3. Gerry Keay*

      It’s very bizarre to me that so many people (who I’m guessing have not experienced homophobic harassment) are trying to talk OP out of his instinct that “loud worship music” plus “aggressively homophobic child” within the same family almost certainly equals “openly homophobic family.” Like, we know when people don’t see us for our humanity, and the idea that there’s no connection between people who evangelize their christianity (which is what playing loud worship music is) and homophobia is insulting. Very frustrating that so many people are dismissing this aspect of it when it’s the most dangeous thing about the whole situation. Like it’s not just about “maybe my coworker hates me too,” it’s about “is my coworker a threat who’s going to try to get me arrested for grooming her niece”

      1. Properlike*

        Not trying to talk the OP out of it, just putting out there that it’s 1) irrelevant to the problem of the behavior, and 2) not necessarily the correct assumption.

        1. Gerry Keay*

          I just really do not see how giving this person the benefit of the doubt serves OP. Giving this person benefit of the doubt only puts OP in a more vulnerable position. Please understand that this is not about someone’s feelings being hurt — this is about the threat of escalated homophobic harassment during a time in our country where queer people are being intentionally driven out of education spaces. Go look up stories of all the gay men who’ve had to quit being teachers because of this type of harassment this year, in a moment where we’re experiencing a devastating teacher shortage, and tell me again it’s not related.

  79. Evononon*

    1) If you haven’t already, please start documenting these incidents. Just because she is not officially enrolled or an employee, she is creating a hostile work environment for you via the access her aunt (an employee) gives her to you. She would not be able to explicitly harass you if her aunt did not work there. I do not say bully because I feel it diminishes what’s occurring here.
    2) I’d refer to your employee handbook regarding its harassment policy and procedure. That way if this continues to escalate, you can meet with your coworker (or supervisor) and ask how to proceed. If your workplace does not have a handbook or any policy, they are opening themselves up to EEOC complaints and litigation. I’d follow the chain of command before immediately going to a supervisor just to help mitigate any miffed behavior (I only recommend this in a functional workplace; if not go straight for the jugular/higher up should hopefully be horrified).
    3) Children can form bias against groups outside their own early on in their development (as young as 18 months in some cases). This bias is based on their limited worldview and experiences, and can grow into prejudice when that bias goes unchallenged by trusted adults. I agree with other commenters when it comes to just shutting down her insults by saying “that was mean to say”. I disagree that you can “educate” her without appearing to “indoctrinate” her. I wish the world wasn’t like this, but just looking out for possible retaliation.
    4) You are right to feel upset. I know it may feel silly to be so affected by a literal child when you are a grown man, but cutting up a flag that is representative of another culture is a huge transgression. This would be equally as shocking if the only detail of your story that changed was that you were from another country and she cut up your country of origin’s flag.

  80. Zachary*

    My experience as a gnc gay person is that if it’s to the point where its normalized that someone is talking about destroying your belongings and how horrible you are because you’re gay (and if the kid is saying this kind of stuff so aggressively and frequently, then the adults in her life agree with her and taught her this) it is not safe there and will only get worse. I’m sorry you’re going through this. Strength and solidarity <3

  81. A Pound of Obscure*

    I would say the very words you used in your question. “Your niece is saying offensive and mean things to me that genuinely hurt my feelings. For example, (be specific with your examples). I realize she is a child and probably doesn’t understand what she’s saying, but for my own well-being I need your help to change the situation. I really appreciated how understanding you were when I felt uncomfortable with Christian music, and I hope you and I can come to agreement on what to do about this, because these comments are truly upsetting.” (Then listen to her ideas, and repeat your concerns if she blows them off. Maybe offer to have a gentle conversation with both the niece and aunt together to explain why the comments are hurtful. If I were a kid and my aunt called me out on bullying someone in her office, it would stick with me, I bet — and it sure sounds like that’s a lesson the kid needs to learn.) Document what you said to the coworker, what she said, and what if anything changed afterward — and be ready to take it to the ED. Their closeness not only shouldn’t be a blocker, it sounds like it’s well past time for this coworker’s get-out-of-jail-free card to be revoked.

  82. mreasy*

    I would go straight to your boss. Whether or not the kid knows what she’s saying, you are being subjected to it, which is unacceptable. If Lynn gets in trouble, that is ok! Because she is letting this happen to you.

  83. SuzyIsMean*

    I’m a Behavioral Aide and this is how I would handle it. Quietly, calmly, firmly and matter-of-factly say:

    “Suzy, you’ve been very mean and rude to me and I don’t know why but I want you to stop. If you can’t be kind when you are speaking to me, please leave me alone.”

    If she is unkind toward you in anyway, say (again, quietly, calmly and firmly) “You’re being unkind again, please leave / I’m leaving.” (Kids with behavior issues respond better to quiet, calm and firm because they tend to take it more seriously than when an adult is visibly upset or angry as that is often the reaction they are trying to provoke. You need to appear ‘unprovokable’.)

    And then bring it up to your supervisor but not in a “Suzy’s being mean to me” way. Tell your supervisor that Suzy is rude and angry in her interactions and threatens to destroy things and that you’re concerned she may behave this way toward a parent /child /client, etc. De-personalize it. Do not make inferences that it’s a personal attack on your gender preference. She is rude, disruptive and threatens to destroy staff members personal belongings, you’ve spoken to her about it but she continues, so keep it focused on that. That way, if anyone tries to point out that she only does it to you, they’ve opened the door to acknowledging that your workplace may be considered hostile to 2SLGBTQ+ and then you would have standing to take it higher than your supervisor.

    1. squirreltooth*

      I think this is the best, most constructive advice yet. I like that it doesn’t soften the truth that Suzy is being a jerk so much that she might miss it, and that you offer a way the OP can complain to a supervisor without potentially making him seem too sensitive. Also, it’s true—if Suzy is this aggressive with an adult, kids are even more at risk.

    2. NICS*

      Oh well said! I was about to say something similar but this comment is better than my version would have been.

      I just feel obliged to add that the “teachable moments” many commenters have described sound lovely — wouldn’t it be satisfying to guide this kid away from hatred and bigotry? But I don’t think you should try for one here. LW, not only are you not required to do so, but I think in your case it would be dangerous to try. At best you would be contradicting whomever in her life is teaching her bigotry, and when they hear of it they might well push back with the current libel of “grooming”. At worst Lynn might be that person/one of those people and the results could be awful.

      All good luck, LW.

      1. Firefighter+(Metaphorical)*

        I said upthread that in my imagination/ fanfic of this letter, the kid is a baby queer and is testing boundaries to see if OP is a safe queer adult – but for me, a “safe queer adult” would be someone who shut down the learned homophobia (message: “it’s not okay to be mean to queer people”) without telling the kid she is a bad person. So for me, it seems possible to come from a place of compassion but NOT try to bond with/befriend / “teach” the child through friendly engagement & teasing out her feelings. It’s like Alison often says about tough management conversations – the person needs the feedback, and it’s not helping them to withhold it.

        All of which is really just to say I agree with you, NICS, here as throughout this comment section!

  84. Dawn*

    LW, I’m a middle school teacher (in a K-8 school) and am also one of my school’s teacher-leaders on equity issues. We both know that this is about you being openly gay. But I suggest that your approach avoid that and focus on how she is treating you more broadly without addressing the homophobia.

    What she is doing isn’t an acceptable way to treat people, full stop. It doesn’t matter what she is hearing at home or what her family’s beliefs are. And, at her age, I guarantee that message is being relayed constantly at her school, where the elementary grades often focus on kindness and “filling people’s buckets” and being respectful of others.

    So use that language when she starts. “Cersei, that’s really unkind and hurts my feelings when you say that.” If you elicit the help of her relative, phrase it similarly: “Cersei keeps saying some pretty unkind things to me. Is there a way that you prefer for me to address those comments when they happen?” It’s similar to what Alison advices here, that of course she will want her niece to be kind to her colleagues. That way you don’t get sucked into a debate over your right to exist as a human or whether the comments are motivated by homophobia. It’s simply a matter of “we are kind to other,” “we don’t destroy other people’s things,” “we don’t make unkind comments on others’ appearance,” etc.

  85. urguncle*

    7 year olds know when they’re being mean and are usually doing it to attract some form of attention. Frankly, I don’t think it’s worth discussing with the niece that she’s being rude. She knows she’s being rude, that’s why she’s doing it! Maybe she gets it from home, maybe from a friend’s home, but ultimately that’s not your problem to solve. Address it as an interruption in your work with your boss and/or Lynn and then be incredibly boring for her to be around. It wasn’t clear to me if you’re directly in contact with program participants or doing admin work, but either busying your kids with activities she can’t participate in or throwing on headphones for admin work.
    The gossip mill can work against Lynn as well. Having her niece distracting her friends or being enough of a pain that it has to be addressed by someone in that circle might signal the end of Lynn’s niece coming around unsupervised.

  86. Caitlin*

    Set a boundary with the child: “You can’t say X in my office. If you say X again, I will ask you to leave. If you’d like to stay, we can do Y.”

    If it repeats:

    “I’ve asked you not to say X. You need to leave my office. I’ll bring you back to your Aunt.”
    Then, “Aunt, I’ve asked her not to say X, and she continued. She can’t say X in my office, she’s welcome back next time if she wants to do Y.”

    Straight forward, clear communication without emotion (easier said than done, I know, esp given the horribleness of her comments) is my recommendation (and I work with kids all day long, this exactly how I’d deal with it.)

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      Why can’t he ask her to leavethe moment the child enters his office? Why try to entertain her at all?

      1. Caitlin*

        He absolutely can. I read it as — he didn’t mind the child there if the child were well behaved. But, “I’m working, I need you to go to X, find something else to do, etc” is perfectly acceptable, in my opinion. My point was that he needs to be direct with what he expects from the child.

  87. Jessica Fletcher*

    I echo everyone saying you should react in the moment such as, “wow, that really hurts my feelings!” and have a sad/hurt facial expression. If she doesn’t immediately say sorry, go to her aunt right away, and tell her what happened, “Neice was just in my office and said X, which really hurt my feelings. You’ve always been nice to me (or similar), so I knew you’d want to know about this. Kids sometimes say things without fully understanding!”

    Even if your coworker is a homophobe, she will probably be deeply embarrassed and want to stop this. She doesn’t say this stuff herself because she knows she’d be held accountable. She probably doesn’t want her neice saying it either, where it’ll reflect on her.

    If it doesn’t stop after that, I’d talk to your manager and frame it both as “this is hurtful” and “kids in the daycare might copy her and tease other kids, and the parents will get angry and call the media.”

    Personally, as a queer person myself, I would NOT try to convince the kid to stop bullying, or tell her it’s ok to like “girly” things, or any of that. That’s an invitation for your coworker to spread a rumor that you tried to indoctrinate her poor sweet neice. I’d stay out of that as self-preservation. You want to stop her from harassing you at work. It’s not your job to teach her not to be a raging homophobe.

    1. Sylvan*

      Personally, as a queer person myself, I would NOT try to convince the kid to stop bullying, or tell her it’s ok to like “girly” things, or any of that. That’s an invitation for your coworker to spread a rumor that you tried to indoctrinate her poor sweet neice.


    2. NICS*

      Personally, as a queer person myself, I would NOT try to convince the kid to stop bullying, or tell her it’s ok to like “girly” things, or any of that. That’s an invitation for your coworker to spread a rumor that you tried to indoctrinate her poor sweet neice


    3. FridayFriyay*

      Definitely co-sign the second paragraph.

      I wouldn’t use the “hurt feelings” language with either the niece or Lynn though. I’d frame it as behaving rudely/inappropriately. At 7 she may not understand the full implications of what she is saying but she’s saying it on purpose to hurt LW’s feelings and get a rise out of him, and whoever taught her that taught her to do that to hurt other people. Making it about feelings both provides them too much satisfaction and also may trap you in a web of horrid stereotypes about over sensitive queers who are offended by everything these days.

  88. GreenDoor*

    I realize the comments are hurtful, but I would urge OP to set aside their adult feelings and treat this as a learning opportunity (not just learning kindness, but learning to respect one’s elders). Considering what type of work environment OP is in, there’s certainly standing to do that! A very stern, “My office is not a play area. You need to go to X room while you wait for Mom” is totally appropriate. So is any kind of admonishment you’d give to any enrolled child who was being rude or mean. If coworker gives you a hard time, I would respond with a puzzled, “Well, we’re a child-centered organization! You object to me taking advantage of a good learning opportunity??”

    1. Gerry Keay*

      Why? Queer people are constantly told that we should suck up bigotry so that we can be a learning opportunity for other people. Just because OP works in childcare doesn’t make it his responsibility to coddle a child who is likely being raised in an environment where this behavior is accepted, if not outright encouraged. Plus, we’re constantly being accused of “indoctrinating children into the gay agenda,” so I don’t think coworker would respond well to “I’m teaching her about this stuff.”

      1. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

        So much this. Targets of bigotry have no obligation to drop what they’re doing and find the bandwidth to educate the bigot, even if said bigot is a second grader. It’s exhausting and unfair.

  89. summer of discontent*

    Child therapist here (and first time commenter!). I can weigh in on responding to the child, but others have some great ideas on handling the broader workplace issue.

    “It’s okay to not like how another person dresses. It’s not okay to be unkind because of it.”

    “It’s okay to not like how people look. It’s not okay to call them mean things because of it.”

    Etc., etc. Set limits and structure that interaction. Validate that you don’t have like everything, but that you don’t get to be a jerk because of it.

    Keep your voice kind but also neutral. Keep your face lightly kind (if this is a dysregulated kid, neutral face can be perceived as a screaming angry face, so keep the smile in your voice and in your eyes- even if you have to take it). Don’t give this child a negative reaction- it’ll only blow back on you. Kindly, firmly set limits.

    I’m sure this child will attempt to push your boundaries, so practice taking deep breaths before responding, have a few responses ready, and be prepared to actively ignore the child.

    Don’t feel like it’s your place to educate this child- that’s not part of your job duties and it makes you more vulnerable to the family’s bigotry. Set the limit, but don’t engage and feed the chaos. There’s a decent chance this child is feeling somewhat chaotic on the inside for whatever reasons (the family sounds unpleasant) and may be trying to replicate that chaos externally by trying to bully you. It can also a power thing- “My family says xyz people are BAD and here’s an xyz person and I want them to know I think they’re BAD because I feel crummy on the inside but don’t have the words/cognitions to recognize it and I just need to have control over something.”

    And document, document, document. I totally recognize that parents are in a tough spot with childcare, but you deserve to work without being harassed by an unsupervised child.

  90. DJ Abbott*

    As a person who grew up with bad examples, it’s definite the child is hearing this at home and probably her parent’s community, like at church. From my experience I think it’s being reinforced outside the home for it to be so entrenched.
    There are two signs this woman is fundamentalist: the Christian worship music and the things her niece is saying.
    I find it very disturbing that this woman holds a management position and is close with the director. What are this organization’s values? Are they saying one thing while doing another? If they’re a liberal inclusive organization, they shouldn’t have a fundamentalist in management. If they are officially fundamentalist, they wouldn’t have hired you.
    I would want to call them out in a way they can’t hide from it. If you’re not comfortable with that and decide to leave, maybe call them out, on your way out.
    Good luck!

    1. DJ Abbott*

      I reread and saw she’s not a manager, but close with the director. This is still disturbing. It sounds like she gets away with almost anything.

  91. CommanderBanana*

    Ugh. Pre-pandemic, we had a Bring Your Child to Work Day, and the executive director’s child happily marched from office to office informing us that “we worked for his dad and his dad could fire us if he wanted to!”

    The apple does not fall far from the tree.

  92. Sylvan*

    OP, can you keep her out of your space? Or walk her back to your coworker every time she comes over to you?

  93. animaniactoo*

    For a kid that age, my tendency would be to calmly say “I don’t agree.” and “I don’t think that’s funny, and when it’s not funny, it’s not a good joke.” for a kid that age. Over and over again.

    I think almost the worst thing you can do is get rattled and let her see that you’re rattled. Because at that point, if she’s a bully in training, it will only up the ante.

    And at some point, something she’ll say or do or wear will go against her “gender role” – and it could be a great prod to her critical thinking skills to ask why she is doing/saying/wearing that even though a lot of people think it’s for boys. And let her know that YOU think it’s okay if she does/says/wears that, and that she should get to choose for herself.

    It might be a great kindness to a child who doesn’t have another outlet for “different” in her family – which might be why she’s so fascinated with you. Not that it obligates you to be the person who does that for her. Just that if you’re up for it… it could make a difference in both how she talks to you and others, and what she chooses for herself.

  94. Idontworkhere*

    I agree with pretty much everybody else here. I work with elementary schoolers, often with elementary schoolers with behavioral issues. When a kid is acting out, a stern expression from an adult can do a lot of work. Add to that a disappointed tone when you say something like, “Why would you say something like that?” or “That is a really unkind thing to say”, and it’s a rare kid who won’t have a rethink. Claiming that something mean was “just a joke” is not uncommon, but as others have said, pointing out that jokes are only jokes if everyone is laughing is pretty hard to argue with. Some kids will double down when their bad behavior is named like this, but if she can’t get a rise out of you, she’ll give up. In the meantime, when she says inappropriate things after being warned, you can say, “No, absolutely not. That’s not okay.” If you’re consistent, the behavior will end.

    Also, I would like to remind your Christian coworker that the Bible is pretty clear about gossip being forbidden. So.

  95. 2 Cents*

    OP, first, I’m so sorry this is happening to you. I’m a parent of a 4YO and would be mortified if my kid acted like that. If this happened to me, I would erase any smile and say flatly, “That’s not a nice thing to say/do. Why would you say that/want to do that?” If it was about my body, I’d say, “It’s not nice/polite to talk about others’ bodies. Everyone is different.” It usually curbs my LO’s behavior and I’ve had similar results with kids in public (like at the library). If nothing else, I become a boring target and they move on.

  96. Lellow*

    I’m an openly lesbian teacher, and have dealt with this exact situation of secondhand very specific homophobia “I think it’s a problem that gay people can get married and it shouldn’t happen” in the middle of a lesson etc (and also “it makes me uncomfortable that you don’t shave your armpits”, bwah) from a boy at a similar developmental age that clearly came from home.

    What I did when he made one of those comments was stop everything and very seriously tell him that those are extremely unkind things to say, and that grownups who say those sorts of things often get in big trouble for bullying (a concept all kids are aware of) so it’s important that he learns now to stop it. He stopped doing it after a couple of times.

    (I also logged it with my leadership team, both that it had happened and my response, so that I had that backup if I heard from the parents.)

  97. Delphine*

    “How would you address a situation where a coworker’s child, who doesn’t actually attend our child-care program, is saying offensive and mean things to you that genuinely hurt your feelings, even though as a child she probably doesn’t understand what she’s saying?”

    For in-the-moment responeses to Suzy, I think commenters SuzyIsMean, Dawn, and summer of discontent have effective and age-appropriate scripts to use, so I’m seconding all of them here. I do think that because she’s a child, she is deserving of significantly more understanding/handholding than an adult in the same situation.

    Since this is not a long-term solution (if Suzy doesn’t stop being unkind, you don’t want to just have to get your feelings hurt over and over), you need to bring this up with Lynn or Lynn’s boss or someone in the office who has the authority to put a stop to this. It’s perfectly reasonable to say to someone, “Suzy is making cruel and inappropriate comments and I’d like you to ask her to stop because she has not done so when I’ve asked.”

    When speaking to Suzy about Suzy’s behavior, soften your language. When you’re talking to an adult about Suzy’s behavior, don’t soften things.

  98. Heffalump*

    Is Damiana going to become a go-to name for a poorly behaved child in the way Fergus, Sansa, Wakeen, Tangerina Warbleworth, Cecil Mongoose, and Cersei are for adults? :)

  99. Calamity Janine*

    please note, the typography and diction of this comment is going to be a little weird because I’m relying on Google Voice to Text after shoulder surgery lol…..

    however, knowing both that I am far from an expert and that this tactic is a little passive aggressive, I would be on the lookout for a time when your coworker and your boss are in the same room and casually discussing something so they can be interrupted, then bring this up. be Breezy and as matter as fact as you can, going forward with an attitude of ‘this will be a problem that everyone wants to solve and I am just seeking clarification on the best way to do it’. to that end, your question is going to be fairly simple – “boss how would you like me to discipline guest children who are not actually under our formal care? should I be using the same processes, or should I be simply bringing her directly to her aunt for any correction? I just want to make sure that I know what to do for next time, since I know no clear exceptions to the rules are going to be really important for upholding our programs ethics and standards that both children and parents can see and understand.” except appropriately softened, and with relevant terminology- you can tell I don’t work in this sector. but generally just go forward with the attitude that everyone already agrees this is a problem and everyone is looking for an answer and therefore you’ve come to seek clarification about what that answer is. I’m afraid that sometimes training people and training dogs ends up quite similar – if you go forward with the attitude that everyone already agrees, and therefore it’s obvious that the sensible thing is going to be done, most people are content to follow the leader.

    this is something of a threefold approach- first you’re giving your coworker a chance to step in and say ‘oh my goodness I can’t believe you had to deal with that I’ll go deal with my niece immediately’. this may be useful because even though you know this person to be a bit of a gossip, this is why you have this conversation in front of your boss as well you are essentially forcing her to treat this seriously in order to not lose face. if it’s one-on-one and behind closed doors, I think it becomes far easier for this to get twisted. best case scenario, your coworker isn’t actually the level of bigot that is apparently whoever is teaching her niece, and she will step up to be genuinely supportive as you said the office typically is. worst case scenario, you have done a bit of social Judo and that now, if she objects, your coworker is going to be the one looking obviously out of line. sometimes the threat of losing social capital- like being the one person who wants to be homophobic in an office full of other people who want to support you and not be homophobic- can help people stay in line, or at least be firmly told that sort of thing isn’t going to be encouraged here so they don’t constantly try it again.

    so you protect yourself by looping in your boss, but you also extend a bit of Grace and also looping in the the aunt who is your coworker. it means that she gets the chance to deal with this proactively, and you’re reaching out to her to make sure what she would best like to do for the child care of her niece as well. you are in essence being accommodating, or making a good show of being accommodating, which means it’s going to be much harder for this narrative to become ‘those evil gays are corrupting my poor baby’. you are giving her the respect of being an active part of the child care, and the grace of letting her have a so-called difficult conversation with her niece however she would like to have it in private. this is a bit of generosity that I recognize will largely be performative. and as such it’s going to be largely for the audience not for the recipient. but this is again a bit of the social Judo- you are going above and beyond to appear as reasonable as possible, in ways where you will come out smelling like roses if the other party objects. there is absolutely a mercenary aspect here of handing someone just enough rope to hang themselves.

    the suggested framing is also a large part of this three-pronged plan. you are coming forward with an attitude of confidence, although it would be entirely reasonable to come out right asking for help however I’m not sure that you really want to give any systemic bigotry and easy Gap in the armor which I am keenly aware is complete BS to have to manage around but so on so forth I’m sure you know this far better than I do letter writer. framing it as clarification on the rules already in place very much presents you with somebody who knows what to do, and is not being incompetent here, but is instead of being extremely conscientious and thinking not just of yourself, but of the health of the entire organization. you are coming to the discussion using selflessness to ultimately get what is for you a rather self-centered resolution, but framing it in that selfless way. as a bonus, this may actually be rather important for the organization to figure out, and you can point out that it’s a lot easier to figure these things out before they become a big hairy problem instead of Simply assuming and setting yourself up for failure. you’re wanting to attend to the health of the entire organization by figuring this out and you will come across as somebody interested in doing their job and doing it well when you come at it at this angle.

    the third aspect to this which I think may be most important is the timing. there are a lot of great suggestions for what to do in the moment, however I think you need to bring this up in an intentional moment of calm to your boss and Auntie co-worker. in the moment it will be a lot easier for your co-worker to have that knee-jerk reaction of pure indignation and wanting to defend their niece. distancing yourself from that moment when tensions and feelings are high is a good way to get honest conversation instead. and it gives your coworker time to process to get over that knee jerk instinct. it also gets everyone focused not on the conflict of the moment, but instead making sure everyone is on the same page if it happens again. you can also bring up to your boss in your approach here of How It’s a reoccurring issue, but when you want to make sure you deal with appropriately. and even if it never happens again, you’re still coming from that big picture viewpoint where it will be good to have such things in policy for when the next sort of incident like this happens. after all, even if niece is never nasty to you again, that doesn’t mean a guest child won’t ever cause any sort of problem ever again. so you are being Forward Thinking in getting this in place.

    perhaps most importantly however is the framing that is allows you to use. this is not you versus the child, or you versus your coworker, or even the organization versus your coworkers niece. this is a good way to get everyone working on the same side, facing down the mutual enemy of keeping your organization running as it should. even if this is a rather thin veneer, it is again a very useful one for those social Judo reasons.

    I actually may suggest even putting this in an email. you can explain you’re just looping in the boss to get official marching orders as it were, while also approaching your co-worker about the more discrete and granular problem. that can helpfully distance you from things like people feeling cornered and immediately defensive when discussing this in person, or even you feeling like it will suddenly become two versus one with them subtly ganging up on you in a physical space. it also shows a pretty clear text record, and if you have a gossiper who is known to twist the truth, this is a very useful thing to have. you have evidence that can be used to prove what you actually said should this need arise. and dealing with this with the adults first is I think the way to go. I wish we lived in a world where I didn’t have to say this, but I’m afraid many of the comments suggesting that you befriend this girl really are not thinking about some of the harmful stereotypes that gay men particularly working in child care and related fields are subject to. I don’t want you to set yourself up in a position that will backfire, especially one that might backfire that hard. though I’m sure, letter writer, you know this far better than I do. I’m afraid anyone who is already teaching this little girl such viciousness maybe incredibly comfortable with simply making up evidence and coaching her to lie in order to get you- the supposed threat – out of your career. this is another reason to have this conversation around and with your boss looped in. if the other side is going to flip out and show that all of my anxious gut feelings about their quality of character are correct, that means your boss has front row seats, and it’s hard to spin the situation entirely differently when there are eyewitnesses. at very least, the next time this kid is a Milling around the office, make sure she is never in your office with the door closed. again, I don’t need to be the one telling you about this, but I would proceed with all possible caution. I hope and pray that I’m wrong on this gut instinct. one could even say that statistically, I’m probably wrong, and that most would not sync to that low. however the consequences of calling that one wrong and ending up a victim of homophobic violence would be devastating enough that I think some paranoia here is warranted. this may sound especially harsh, but the commenters dismissing this point, I would urge y’all to do some reading and pay attention to what tactics are being used against teachers, educators, and Child Care staff, especially when the tactics are there to terrorize queer folks.

    the other reason to bring this up before your boss, and I may even say that you shouldn’t be afraid to casually ask advice from other co-workers about this matter, is that you’ve written how supportive your office is. if even just some of them are genuine, having them step up to support you would be invaluable here. they can help take some of the burden by being the ones who also Step Up to take this kid aside and politely lecture her on what she’s doing and how it’s unacceptable. even if they’re just reinforcing what you’ve already said, I’m betting the people teaching this kid to act like this to you are also teaching her to ignore what you say, and therefore having somebody different to really drum it in may actually get through. it also means that you can have more eyes and ears who see and hear this happening, which will make it much harder for your co-worker to frame this entirely as you versus her poor innocent Angelic niece. other people who can overhear and see this nastiness and back you up mean that you can actually present this as a solid problem instead of just a personal issue that you have. you shouldn’t need to bring an entire courtroom full of witnesses to this conversation, however I just don’t trust that systemic bigotry will take a day off on this one if your coworker does indeed try something. the more hands on deck you can have here the better. it also means that she can’t simply say that you’re lying, or that her niece told her that you were being nasty and this is actually the complete wrong way around.

    this is, I admit, fairly grim. however I’m afraid the state of homophobia and bigotry in the world is fairly grim, something that I’m sure letter writer you know very well, even if some commenters have not fully considered that.

    however I think framing this is a general work question directed towards both your co-worker and your boss may go a long way to making sure that you have The High Ground, and as much socially tactical advantage as you can. this is the sort of situation that really should not require me or anyone else sounding like a Sith Lord and a southern belle Petticoat about it. however, I would rather you have those tactical advantages and not need them than the other way around. another great thing about this approach is that you can accumulate those advantages subtly, so de-escalation is very easy, if not something you’re already doing by default as you make the problem less about personal issues and more about General policy that’s healthy for the entire organization. this is ultimately not a problem that you should have to expend this much thought in dealing with. I hope someday we will live in a society where all of this effort will be entirely unnecessary.

    I’m afraid that my ultimate advice is probably the one you don’t want to hear- that for all you say that’s good about your workplace, there are some very notable deficiencies, and I don’t see a way of those changing with your boss still besties with a potentially bigoted gossip. and that sucks because the ultimate advice is one that’s not terribly useful on its face, bordering on cliche, like how every single advice column is ragged on for leaping to ” you should break up”. however I’m afraid that your workplace may be more full of bees than you think. because I’m hearing a lot of buzzing. after all, you’re staying because you love your coworkers who are genuinely supportive to you, but you’re also hesitant and unsure with how to deal with a scenario where you are very much under attack because of your identity. if you were truly surrounded by people who earnestly support you, I think this topic would not be so full of anxiousness on your part. I think you probably would never have written here, because you would have known instantly who to go for to get help and not been afraid whatsoever about reprisal from gossips who happened to be the boss’s favorite. I realize this advice stinks because it’s very much ” just get a new job they grow on job trees”. however I would strongly recommend that you polish your resume and maybe see what is out there. if nothing else, you can plan for the worst case scenario and then be pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t come to pass.

    1. Calamity Janine*

      I admit that some of this comment, if not a large part of this comment, it’s probably a complete mess. please blame Google’s voice to text instead of me… okay fine, it’s actually largely my fault, but I feel like I have a fairly good excuse for being a rambling and nigh incoherent mess at the moment. you know with the surgery and all. that’s my story and I’m sticking to it

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Sheesh, you went through shoulder surgery and they didn’t even give you the good painkillers? My condolences.

        If I’m parsing this right: You’re advising going to the boss when boss is already conversing with coworker, so both of them are in the same room when OP asks for clarification on how to handle children who are not enrolled acting in a way that would not be permitted for an enrolled child. This is your advice because it mitigates the risk of inciting us vs them mentality in the coworker and prevents the story from getting twisted, as well as ensuring that OP keeps the high ground. Furthermore, you’re advising sending an email to the boss just to confirm the marching orders OP is provided to have record of the meeting. And finally you express concerns about OP’s workplace and suggest that finding a new job may be in order because this sounds like symptoms of a dysfunctional workplace.

        That all correct?

        1. Calamity Janine*

          oh don’t worry, I also have those, I’m sure that’s a large part of the problem! I’m very much looking forward to having use of both of my hands instead of one locked away in a sling..

          thank you for the enormous kindness here that you have done- slogging through all of my rambling to find my actual point! it is a proper mess LOL

          ( I swear, I am marginally less disorganized when I can compose properly…)

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Trust me, what you dictated from voice to text is approximately how the first drafts of any of my comments look before I edit them. Given that you couldn’t go back and fix yours, I’m happy to help out here. Surgery’s enough to have to deal with without trying to clarify and edit your point while still hurting!

    2. DJ Abbott*

      This is what I was trying to get at too. I have to wonder what’s going on that someone like Auntie is close to the director. Do the director and organization really have the values they say they do?

  100. WantonSeedStitch*

    “That isn’t a nice thing to say,” in a calm voice. And you could even add, “I like my nails/some people are hairy, some aren’t–every body is different/I like the things I use to decorate my space here.” And if she says it’s just a joke, “With a joke, you try to make someone laugh. I felt like you were trying to make me feel bad by saying those things. Do you know any jokes that are REALLY funny? I know one about bunnies…”

  101. Jennifer*

    I don’t think it’s the OP’s job to parent a child at work that is not enrolled in the program. I know all the comments telling him to correct the child in the moment are well-meaning, but, based on my experience with kids, it’s going to take a lot of time and patience for a kid to unlearn bad behavior, and that’s a burden he should not be taking on. Have a conversation with the supervisor about the child’s behavior and ask them to address it with Lynn while simultaneously job searching.

  102. Cat*

    Honestly, you should be job searching. You’re correct in thinking the kid is repeating the same stuff she hears at home, and staying there is going to increase the amount and duration of abuse. Get out get out get out

  103. squeakrad*

    I really disagree with a lot of the advice here. They advise communicating with a child of this kind of behavior is wrong. Why is the child even in your space? It doesn’t seem like part of your job is actually doing the childcare for someone who’s not enrolled in the program at all. Although it may cause some difficulty I would deal with this with the adults and not the child. And as I mentioned earlier maybe it’s not the perfect job if you can’t do that with the adult in the situation

    1. Pikachu*

      Yes, this is everything.

      If the kid is on the premises as a recipient of childcare services that your organization provides, and you are responsible for taking part in that, you should absolutely be correcting her behavior like you would with any other type of misbehavior from any kid being mean to someone else on your watch.

      If the kid is on the premises because she’s another employee’s kid and for literally no other reason, you shouldn’t have to engage with her at all because she has no business being there. Lynn should be informed that she is disrupting your workday with rude behavior and needs to be otherwise occupied during work hours.

  104. Vito*

    I am not a parent but I used to work at a major theme park so I have dealt with the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to people (including children). What I found useful was never let them see that it affects you. the more they see you getting mad, the more they will keep it up. I found that when the kids were screwing around and the parents weren’t doing anything I would stand there and give them my (patented) teacher look and stay silent until the kid stopped. I know that would be damn near impossible for the OP.

  105. Properlike*

    Parent and teacher here: I assume she DOES know what she’s saying, and there’s an element of “I’m going to experiment with being a jerk” because that’s what kids do, especially with “forbidden” things. Unfortunately, adults worry too much about hurting kids’ feelings and not about teaching them that some things are unacceptable is pro-social and a long-term kindness to all. Self-regulation is not naturally learned.

    But you are the adult in this situation. You are responsible for all the other kids there. And you do not have to ask permission or put up with this for one moment or worry whether the kid likes you or thinks it’s okay. The time is long past for a bit of a tongue-lashing where you let her know “jokes” aren’t funny when they’re meant to make people feel bad, what she’s saying is bigoted and hurtful language, you know she knows better, and she is never to repeat that ever again.

    And here’s how you phrase it, “Your aunt has always been so kind to me. I can’t believe her niece would be saying such hurtful, mean things like that! We don’t talk like that here.” And then you take her back to her aunt and say, “Niece here has been saying x, y, z and I let her know you would not find that acceptable. She’s also threatening to destroy my possessions. I assume you’ll want to talk to her, but she’s not welcome in my office until she remembers her manners or I can believe she won’t destroy my belongings. I know you don’t want her demonstrating this behavior around our younger kids.”

    Then you walk away. Bet you money aunt comes back and makes her apologize to you. Bet the kid avoids you for a bit too because she’s been embarrassed (and that’s okay). Bet she does learn a lesson though. And maybe her aunt does too.

  106. this question made me comment*

    There is one question to be asked of this child, “Is that something your Aunty Lynn said to tell me?” Eveything else needs to be said to adults.

    If there is one trustworthy person in charge that you can talk to about this than go to them with the situation and ask them how this should be handled.

    “I asked Lynn to turn the music down/wear headphones/change the station and now it seems like she’s sending her niece to my desk tell me a selection of “jokes” about breaking/throwing away my stuff, calling me ugly and saying she wants to cut up my pride flags and throw them away and then saying “that’s a joke.”
    Her niece isn’t enrolled in our program. It seems messed up to force children in the program to be around someone saying this stuff and it’s distracting me from my actual work. I don’t know what to do with a child who is being used as an insult delivery system.”

    I have never worked with someone who would use a literal child to do their dirty work like that, just Wow. Do this kid’s parents know what Aunty Lynn is doing with their kid? Because this is messed up.

    I don’t know if I would be able to talk to “Aunty Lynn” in anything approaching a calm tone of voice. But starting with “Using a literal child to tell me secondhand insults is low. I really thought better of you.” might be a possibility.
    So sorry you are dealing with this. This place is not healthy.

    1. SMH*

      This is a pretty lengthy leap. A manager is going to say something like, “You asked Lynn not to play Christian music, she stopped and said she understood, and now you’re accusing her of bringing a child to the office just to insult you?”

      You’re going to sound ridiculous. If you’re going to accuse someone of feeding you insults through a seven-year-old, you’ll need more proof than, “I asked her to stop playing music.”

      Not sure how the girl went from Lynn’s niece to “a coworker’s child” at different points in the letter, but that’s another matter. . .

      1. NICS*

        Actually, “weaponizing” children by telling them to “go spread the Truth” along with a bigoted and biased account of “the Truth” is a common evangelical tactic. And one of the reasons is exactly the situation you describe in your first paragraph — it’s impossible to prove and sounds ridiculous to people without experience of evangelicals.

        1. SMH*

          It is also very common for Christians to act like, you know, normal and nice people, and not like evil caricatures. Crazy, right?

          1. Calamity Janine*

            and how many of those “nice people” do you think encourage their children to pick up and parrot bigotry? we weren’t given brains for mere decoration. we were told to use ’em. by definition, the kind of people that simmer their kids in such hatred and encourage that to be repeated to targets are not the nice and normal sort. the church – whichever of the many you may choose – is made by man, fallible and inherently faulted by sin. don’t seek to whitewash the real harm that some people do just because they are supposedly Christian.

            will this be too strong to come to the boss with? probably. however, it still happens, it is still a well-known tactic, it is still a real and present danger – and a *likely* one, given the evidence! – to the LW.

            (even if the LW is also christian. perhaps especially so. this pattern happens all the time in denominations different than Billy Graham’s. ask your local catholic or orthodox priest, and how they deal with congregations targeted by patronizing and hurtful “witnessing” efforts…)

            more apologia exists in Christendom than “evangelical american Christianity which is less about that boring Jesus guy and more about how it’s good to have earthly power so you can hurt other people for being different than you”. i would encourage you to read some instead of being offended when people say bigotry isn’t good, because you think bigotry is Christianity.

            maybe before showing up here to sing a sad song about how nobody likes christians – something i have honestly not seen – attend to the log in your own eye *first*.

  107. Serenity Now; Firefly Class*

    I have teenagers and when they mouth off in person or in text, I say, “Ouch. Did you mean to be that cruel?”

    If they answer yes, then they are forced to recognize that they are being malicious.
    If they answer no, it’s a reminder that they sounded rude, but I’m not the one scolding them.

  108. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

    Here is what acclaimed, evidence-based social-emotional learning program Conscious Disciplinne recommends for an adult addressing a kid being mean.

    This example is about a parent addressing another kid being mean to the parent’s own kid, but the same principles work regardless of who the target is. If the target of meanness IS the adult, the adult just gets to do both the target’s assertiveness part: “I don’t like it when you __ ” and the adult coaching/setting limits part: the adult coach part: “You may not __. You may do [one acceptable behavior, e.g. speak kindly] or [other acceptable behavior, e.g. stay quietly with your auntie].”

    The underlying principles of are very similar to what Alison recommends for adults resolving minor conflicts with other adults, or managers addressing problems with employees lower in the org char, just adjusted to be developmentally appropriate for young people: Don’t make assumptions about the other person’s reasons or feelings; address the demonstrated behavior only. Be calm, assertive, and direct; clearly identify what change you expect (giving 2 equally acceptable options helps reduce resistance).


  109. Office Queer*

    I think if you get stuck with the kid, you explain to her that you haven’t been handling her comments properly in the past, but now you have to lay it out exactly why she cant say those things to you, and if she keeps doing it she can’t be in your space anymore. If she keeps saying that stuff after that, you take her directly to Lynn, tell Lynn you aren’t going to let a child disrespect you, and that the kid isn’t going to be your responsibility anymore. If she gossips about you and it gets back to you, say the kid was being a brat and you didn’t want her to be your responsibility anymore.

    I also want to add that it’s kind of strange that you were made so uncomfortable by Lynn’s music that you made her turn it off, yet you decorate your space with pride flags–both seem like personal expressions of culture, so why is one okay while the other isn’t? It’s also strange that you’re jumping to the conclusion that because Lynn’s niece is bigoted, that means her whole family must be, so that means Lynn must be. Those are really not connected, you said yourself you’ve never had an issue with Lynn outside of your personal issues with her religious beliefs, which she has not forced on you outside of playing music.

    1. Middle of HR*

      It isn’t really appropriate to force coworkers to listen to religious music. Lynn can play it on headphones. Latin dance music is part of my culture but it would be inappropriate to force my coworkers to listen to it while they try to work, and that’s far less likely to be linked to strong personal beliefs.
      Pride flags aren’t equivalent. The equivalent would be if Lynn has religious paraphernalia on her desk (cross, bible quotes, etc) and that would be fine because it’s her desk and no one else needs to use it.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. Desk decorations aren’t the same thing as music, one’s much harder to ignore than the other. But more important than that, like Gerry Keay said below, being queer isn’t a belief system, it’s a state of existence.

    2. Gerry Keay*

      I just. Did you just compare being queer to having a religious belief? Are you kidding me? Being queer is not a BELIEF SYSTEM, it is a state of existence. Unbelievable.

        1. Office Queer*

          So you know–queer people have a wide variety of belief systems. Some queer people are Christian, some queer people are uncomfortable with Christians. It doesn’t mean that being Christian is less important than being queer, and yes I can be queer and also have a certain level of disdain for queer people who minimize the importance of religion to believers. I can also be queer and have disdain for the hypocrisy involved in being very open and out at work while simultaneously asking that your coworker turn off Christian music because it makes you “uncomfortable.” To me, it’s obvious that the LW groups all Christians together as being bigoted–“oh you’re a Christian and your 7-year-old niece is bigoted? you MUST be encouraging that behavior behind closed doors, because obviously you and your whole Christian family just hate people like me, even though I have never had a problem with you personally.”

      1. Rocky*

        yes, totally agree Gerry. I don’t think I’ve seen this commenter Office Queer before, but if they are queer I’m surprised that they see it as equivalent to a religious or cultural preference.

        1. Office Queer*

          I usually go by fork, but I thought my queerness was relevant for this post so I simply changed my name. Honestly it’s saddening to see that you think queer people have the same ideas about what their identities can or can’t be compared to. I think for the purposes of this article sexuality and religion are comparable–both are identities that are clearly important to the people they apply to and both come with their own cultural differences. I just don’t see a big deal in letting the woman play her damn music at a reasonable volume. Let people express themselves.

          1. Courageous cat*

            They’re not comparable, no. Religion isn’t acceptable in the majority of workplaces. We don’t live in a vacuum as much as your comments would suggest we do. We live in a society, religion is a belief, and it is 100% treated differently than being gay and that’s perfectly fair.

      2. Office Queer*

        Religion is often more than just a belief system to those who practice. I would consider religions and sexualities to both be identities, and neither a state of existence.

          1. SMH*

            In every instance I’ve seen on here, the mention of Christianity is met with both subtle and overtly bigoted comments about what Christians are “really” like and why it’s okay to point that out. (Things like “They always think they’re being so clever” — like Christian people are a homogeneous blob who act, talk, and think the same way.)

            Literally, every time. And it’s not enlightened. It’s bigotry by people who think the bigotry is okay because everyone else is doing it. I believe in God, and it’s pretty clear that if I want to be welcome here, that belief is something I should leave at the door.

            1. Calamity Janine*

              when people are just parroting harmful bigotry and trying to use the excuse that it’s all “Christianity” and therefore allowed? it deserves everything it gets here, and more.

              that heretical and toxic rot has been harming the body of Christendom for far too long. do not equate the gangrene to the entirety of the patient, and do not seek to protect it.

              we can complain later about tiresome arguments straight from a 15-year-old’s first post on r/atheism. but that isn’t this. and the bigotry being defended here? it has, at best, tenuous connections to Christianity, if not rising to the level of heresy. from a Christian perspective, i deeply object to how you and other commenters are trying to make this bigotry as representative of all Christianity. it simply isn’t.

              if you pretend that bigotry is Christianity, and thus bigotry should be defended and justified in Christ’s name, and therefore everyone not being fine with that means they hate Christianity?

              yeah, leave that at the door.


              not just here. leave that sin and that slander behind, my sibling in Christ. you were not called to stick with it and cling to it. quite the opposite, actually.

              at the very least, if you are interested in the faith, stop setting fires with the quality of your witness. i’m tired of having to clean up your mess.

  110. Marna Nightingale*

    I’d be inclined to fall back on a general approach of “This is how we behave in this place. We don’t bully people, even as a joke” and then institute a rule of “if you say one inappropriate thing to me we’re done interacting for the day and you have to go hang out with someone else.”

    Another kind of workplace I would feel differently but as you say, it’s a childcare setting, which means:

    Kids being around is fairly expected and it’s not completely unreasonable for you to be dealing with a co-worker’s kid

    but also means

    I assume there are rules at the childcare. I assume they don’t allow bullying or threatening people’s stuff of persistent mean behaviour. I assume you’re empowered to teach the rules and insist on the rules being followed.

    She’s a kid, she’s at the daycare, I think you’d be reasonable to assume the rules apply.

  111. Trixie Belle*

    Whut on earth? To me some of today’s comments are really under-reacting to how weird and disturbing this kid’s behavior is. I would not engage with this child at all. There’s got to be someone you can talk to and say, this child’s behavior and talk is inappropriate, she’s saying weird and hostile things to an adult, I don’t want to be responsible for disciplining her, it’s her guardian’s responsibility to do that. If no one gives you any support at all in dealing with kid, you must get out of that workplace. That’s inexplicable and intolerable that a child would feel completely free to express pointedly hostile comments and threats to an adult she has absolutely no relationship with. There is something wrong there, whether it’s the kid’s home life or whatever; I’m not saying she’s the Bad Seed but the situation is not good. Avoid if possible and get out if necessary. You are not responsible for fixing someone’s messed up kid.

    1. KoiFeeder*

      Is it? I mean the flag cutting feels like it might’ve been coached beyond the kid having seen it done by an adult before, but everything else seems pretty much in-line for a kid that knows the adults in their life will give them carte blanche to abuse a certain type of person. I was going to say she’s actually being somewhat restrained by keeping it purely verbal, but I suppose most kids aren’t willing to get into physical altercations with adults (or act on destroying their personal items).

    2. Libra10*

      Yes it’s sad a 7 year-old has been brainwashed and has become a mouthpiece for her parents and family.

    3. Luna*

      I dislike ignoring stuff like that. Go ahead and challenge it. Not in the same way you’d challenge an adult saying it, this is a child and you have to talk differently to them, but still point out that what she’s saying is not okay. Not saying anything means you don’t show them that it’s wrong to say, nor give them a chance to think about what they do or even change.

      And if the OP does feel like leaving due to this uncomfortable vibe because of them being non-heteronormative, they should mention this to the higher ups. It’s basically a big warning that there is a very real hostile work environment thing going on here, as well as discrimination due to an employee’s sexual orientation, which is a big no-no in terms of legal views. Make them scared of what this could mean to the organization.

  112. Libra10*

    Say to this charming 7 year-old and her aunt Lynne. That everyone can wear nail polish and wear sparkly things. That includes, girls, boys, men, women, ugly, pretty, thin, fat, old, young, hairy or not hairy can wear all the colours, have nail polish and wear sparkly things. We also don’t touch other people’s stuff on their desk, not do we cut or damage it. To be said in a clear loudish voice that everyone in the office can hear including Lynne. Bonus points for displaying a large flag behind your desk or hang from the front of the desk. After all they’re pretty colours of the rainbow aren’t they!

  113. Sandgroper*

    I’d just reply with a hard stare at first. The “Teacher stare”.

    If that doesn’t work, up it to a “Please don’t be rude to me, that’s unkind and unnecessary”

    And if that doesn’t work say “This is my work space, please leave. I have work I need to do.” And then if they don’t leave walk them back to their aunt and say “I have work to do and your niece is interrupting me, please keep her with you”.

    And if it happens twice talk to your supervisor, explain the niece is saying unpleasant things and while you have pointed out that you expect good manners, you really can’t be continuously interrupted by this child either, and the aunt needs to register her in and put her in with the paid children, or supervise the child herself. This is the time to point out that it doesn’t matter if it’s a child or an adult, but bigoted comments left unchallenged can contribute to a ‘hostile work environment’ and while you know the child is only seven you’ve tried three or four layers of behaviour management, and repeatedly returned said child to her aunt, and now want to not have rude comments made at your desk anymore.

    Make sure you document everything the girl says, and every action you’ve taken.

    And this is a very normal ‘escalation’ of behaviour control. A look. (Normally moving closer to a noisy student physically is next) a direct request. A removal.

  114. Cam*

    I would address it in the moment with something like, “I’m worried about you, [child’s name], usually people say unkind things like that when they’re really hurting inside.” To the other adults much the same thing: “I’m worried about [child’s name] because she says such horrible things about my [fingernails, stuff] and I wonder where she’s getting this negativity?”
    People don’t like to receive open pity, and you can lay on the pity pretty thick under the guise of concern.

  115. Luna*

    “Kid, I’m gonna tell you a very important life lesson: I don’t care about your opinion. You don’t like that I paint my nails? I don’t care. I like it, I like doing it, and I’m gonna keep doing it. Same with you thinking I’m too hairy, ugly, or anything like that.

    And as for you wanting to cut my flags… that is not okay to do. First of all, they are not yours. You don’t have the right to do that. If you do that, you will get consequences. And, finally, your aunt may be okay with you talking like that. I am not. If you want to talk to me, you will be a decent person, okay?”

    Blunt, to the point, not insulting, and even teaching the kid something. I see no reason why you shouldn’t be able to talk to kids this way, it teaches them things in basic, simple matters. Boundaries, informing them when their words go too far, and maybe even giving them something to think about.

  116. JazzyP*

    Going to be in the minority here. Her comments are 100% inappropriate. However, if you are allowed to paint your nails and decorate your desk with pride flags and sparkly gems, she should be allowed to play Christian music. You can’t allow free expression only when it’s for something you agree with. If she told you the pride flags and nails made her uncomfortable would you take it down? No, and everyone here would call her bigoted. So why are you allowed to ask her to stop playing Christian music?

    1. metadata+minion*

      Lynn can put up all the Christian stuff she likes on her own desk. She doesn’t get to fill the entire office with music.

    2. buddleia*

      *Deep breath*

      LGBTQ+ people have a long history of being oppressed and brutalized, a large portion of it under the guise of religion and if you’re in the US (which I assume OP is), specifically Christianity. That we’re now allowed to show pride flags, sparkly gems, painted nails, etc. means that things are changing. Having to hide these things in the past meant that we couldn’t show who we were for fear of discrimination, harassment, abuse. It’s no secret that some dominations of Christianity are extremely homophobic, queerphobic, transphobic, etc. Some aren’t as well.

      OP’s items/painted nails are not hurting anyone. So yes, if Lynn said OP’s items made her uncomfortable, it would be bigoted and homophobic. The way some people have used Christianity against LGBTQ+ people *has* hurt a LOT of people, to the point of death. I am not trying to badmouth Christianity or say it’s bad or anything. I’m saying there’s a history there (and present) that shouldn’t be ignored. So I can understand that hearing Christian worship music can be triggering and have someone feel unsafe; if someone has say, religious trauma, especially if you’re LGBTQ+.

      1. Courageous cat*

        Thank you bc this must have been tiring to type out. Christianity and being LGBT are not the same, for all these reasons and more.

    3. FridayFriyay*

      What someone chooses to put on their own body or in their own dedicated workspace is not in any way equivalent to actual sounds like everyone in the vicinity has to hear. The former is not disruptive and anyone who is uncomfortable can simply ignore it. The latter is legitimately disruptive and much more difficult to ignore. The former is expressing a specific belief system that has no place in the workplace, the latter is a state of being, it doesn’t have anything to do with beliefs, being queer is part of who we are. This is such a bad take.

    4. pieces_of_flair*

      If you really believe that decorating one’s own desk is equivalent to forcing one’s coworkers to listen all day to music that is actively hostile to their identity (any music, really), then I don’t know what to tell you except please read more of this site to help you learn professional norms and basic respect for your colleagues.

    5. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

      Because music affects the whole office. If she wants to listen to it through headphones/airpods etc. she’s free to do that. But don’t push it on others.

    6. Calamity Janine*

      for a totally unhelpful answer: have you heard the state of modern Christian rock radio stations? it’s very grim. Christian music is in no way guaranteed to be good music, and with the state of modern Christian music radio stations, that’s just about guaranteed to be the other way. sure, the older I get the more I become a liturgical grump, muttering about how this wasn’t done back at my day, but seriously y’all… most of it is real bad. I’m pretty sure playing that, and thus inflicting it upon the entirety of your coworkers, violates some clause in the Geneva Convention…

    7. Firefighter+(Metaphorical)*

      By this logic, if my straight female coworkers are allowed to wear wedding rings and nail polish at work, I am allowed to play Satanic death metal throughout the office.

  117. buddleia*

    Ugh, I’m sorry this is happening. As others have suggested, I would respond to the child directly. This is a teachable moment for her (with you being the teacher), even if she’s not in the childcare program. Here are some ideas:

    “You’re ugly.” “That’s a mean thing to say and hurts my feelings. I like the way I look.”

    “You shouldn’t be painting your nails.” I would ask why and she’ll probably say something like, “Boys shouldn’t paint their nails.” Ask why again. Statements like these eventually fall apart when people have to state the “reason.”

    “You shouldn’t like “girly” things.” Similar as above. Why shouldn’t you like “girly” things? What are “girly” things? Why are they “girly” things? Ask with genuine curiosity. Let it fall apart. Get her thinking and asking the same questions to herself.

    “You’re too hairy.” “Don’t comment on people’s appearances, it’s rude.”

    “You’re a weirdo.” “Thank you. I like being weird/different/unique/myself.” This is what I would say, but YMMV. If this truly hurts your feelings, or you think it’s rude/mean/insulting, say so.

    “I want to cut up your pride flags and wreck your desk gems when you’re not looking.” “That’s not ok, Griselda. If you don’t like them, that’s fine. Different people can like different things. It’s not ok to destroy things just because you don’t like them. How would you feel if I cut up or wreck your things just because I didn’t like them/thought they were ugly/wrong/whatever?”

    I don’t know how ok you feel about this, but I’d also let Lynn know that you talked to her niece and said these things, i.e. “Niece said x, I responded with y, just wanted to let you know.” Yes Lynn will be defensive, dismissive, brush it off, etc. Don’t justify, argue, defend, explain (JADE). Say ok. If you do talk to her, assume that she’ll gossip about you. If so, try to get ahead of it. Tell co-workers that you have a good working relationship with something like, “niece said x, I responded with y, I also mentioned it to Lynn, she responded with z; can you believe it?” etc. Definitely talk to your friends and allies about this.

    Basically try to project an air of that you’re not ashamed to be you, you’re not doing anything wrong, niece’s behaviour deserves correction, you’re doing her and Lynn and favour (even if they don’t believe that). I think you’ll be more believable/credible that way and have this behaviour come to an end. Niece may not know what she’s doing is *wrong* per se, so some correction will go a long way with her.

    Source: cis queer BIPOC woman; mom to 10-year old

  118. I'm in HR, that's why I'm so fun.*

    It all depends on how directly you want to deal with this. You CAN talk to the kid, you CAN talk to Lynn, but you don’t HAVE to. You can talk to your boss. You shouldn’t have to deal with this at work, and if you reported this behavior to your boss it would be their responsibility to deal with it. Your workplace harassment policy applies to everyone you interact with at work. If you’re concerned about word getting out, be up front with your boss about that. Something like “I really don’t want to have to discuss this further with anyone else, and I’ve noticed Lynn has a habit of repeating information that can be sensitive. Can you please make sure that Lynn knows not to repeat this information to others?” If she did, I think it would be/could be considered retaliation. Just because this is coming from a kid doesn’t mean it’s not harassment or creating a hostile work environment for you, and you shouldn’t have to bear it any longer. I’m sorry this has been happening to you. Hugs.

  119. Squirrel*

    It is unusual behavior for a child to say those kinds of things, especially to an adult they don’t know. I would point out to your coworker that their child is saying these strange things. Threatening to damage an adults property is something I would want to know about as a parent. Leave your feelings out of it if possible.

    1. Beebis*

      LW said “sparkly gems decorating my desk in pinks and whites” what exactly do you need clarification on?

  120. Sarah*

    First of all, I just want to say (as a queer person) that I get the feeling of being bullied by a little kid. It is weird, because even though you know they’re parroting things they’ve heard, it still hurts!! My preferred tactic is to vomit an educational monologue at them, or to interrogate them until they fall into their own fallacies.

    Some possible responses:
    -Ugly: “Oh wow, ugly is a really strong word! Do you know that there’s really no such thing as looking ugly or beautiful? Yeah, it just depends on the person! So really what ugly means is, “I don’t like the way you look!” But that’s kind of not my problem, right? It’s really just a way of saying, “I want to be mean to you!” which is too bad, because I don’t think you really want to be a mean person.”

    -Nails/”Girly” things: “You don’t think I should paint my nails? Why? Because painting nails is for girls? Why? Why can’t boys look pretty? Who said? Who said we have to follow those rules?”

    -Hairy: “You think I’m too hairy? So what? Why do you care?”

    The exception would be for any threats about destroying property: “Listen, you are a guest here. I am an employee. It is not okay to talk about ripping up my flag or destroying my stuff.”

    Ultimately, I would also tell Lynn that the child is talking to you while you’re working and threatening to destroy your stuff, and that this is not acceptable. Don’t put anything in writing and don’t say anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to the entire office.

  121. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

    If she’s old enough to use the “I’m just joking” excuse, she’s old enough for you to talk directly to her about how that’s not an excuse for being mean about your appearance and how you decorate your desk. You can also tell Lynn that her niece is bothering you while you’re working and has also made comments about breaking your stuff. (Why is Lynn’s niece allowed to wander around the office anyway?)

  122. JanedeLyon*

    I’m not sure I have any advice that the letter writer will like. I will make a recommendation below, but first, will offer some observations:

    I’m wondering how the letter writer doesn’t see the hypocrisy between his/her, admitted abundance of pride paraphernalia in the workspace…but he/she is offended or “feels uncomfortable” that his coworker had religious music playing, that he/she then asked her to not play??? To which she she actually acquiesced??? Wow.

    What the child learns in her home is actually none of the letter writer’s business, just as Lynn’s opinion of what the letter writer would teach or do in his/her own home is none of hers.
    Being offended by words is one thing, but people have the right to their own opinions and even…gasp…expressing them. Just as the letter writer does.

    Now, if this child decided to cut up the letter writers’ flags and destroy any of his/er property, or lay hands on his/her person…that’s another story. Short of that, I think the letter writer needs to learn to be tolerant of others’ beliefs/opinions.

    1. Calamity Janine*

      yes, this will indeed be an unpopular comment, with good reason.

      you can save time by summarizing your point as “I’m a gigantic homophobe! who also thinks being considerate with not inflicting your music on the whole office is for squares, just in case there was any doubt as to me being a terrible person”.

      1. Calamity Janine*

        fwiw, while also being a Christian, i would have asked the same thing.

        mostly because Christian easy listening and rock stations are absolute dearths of good taste, where people who are dedicated to a cult of marketable mediocrity sing about how much they wanna lick Jesus’s abs in a love ballad with the name hastily edited after mainstream pop told them the song was just too mediocre. i converted once to get away from that, and if that keeps up, i may think that my sister had the right idea of going denominationally all the way to Constantinople. (can’t have mediocre drum solos mixed far too loud drowning out all earnest worship when all instruments in church are frowned on!)

        being tortured with bad music, created to make a quick buck as “we have burgers just like McDonald’s at home!” efforts instead of sincere worship because profits are truly the only thing worshipped there to an offensive and heretical degree, is not copacetic with my Christianity by far. i don’t care if you listen to it in your headphones, but if it’s a radio where the whole office complains? yeah, i will complain. as will, if we’re being honest, the majority of Christendom. this soft rock Christian radio of mealy-mouthed cruel societies of the faith? it is a uniquely American evangelical protestant syndrome, and within that, beloved mainly by heretical offshoots that praise the almighty profit margin (and don’t care much about that Jesus guy unless you’re singing about how super duper pretty he is and how you could get lost in his eyes forever and you sure hope he likes pina coladas and dancing in the rain).

        maybe be more tolerant towards Christianity yourself, eh?

        attend to the log in your own eye before criticizing splinters. we are not immune from common professional courtesies because we are Christian. if anything, the direct opposite. being blithely ignorant to how other people than you have ears that can hear your radio? that is some one being blinded by selfishness to an incredible degree, and acting as if they are the only person who really exists and matters. Christianity is not compatible with main character syndrome. we are called to be Christ-like, not incredibly selfish.

        tldr boo in several different directions of apologia, if you really want to display your foolishness here

  123. Mama Sarah*

    Ugh…sometimes it’s helpful to give a set of choices to help a child evaluate their actions, just keep it super simple. Was that safe or unsafe? Was that a kind or unkind thing to say? Was that necessary? But leave your feelings out of it.

    If you have staff meetings, consider adding an agenda item like “supervision of unenrolled kids”. There are a handful of liability issues here that should be discussed or at least brought to the table.

    Best of luck! Send us an undate!

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