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My 5-year-old called a German boy "Hitler:" Teaching context and humor to kids

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(Read caption) Humor wielded by a child can be hit or miss. Children may not understand the context behind why a joke in certain settings is funny and in others strictly taboo, or why a pie in the face is thrilling for some, middle, but not for all, left and right. Pie eating content, May.

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A few weeks ago my son Cai was playing soccer with another boy, who I'll call Peter. More than a year younger than Cai and considerably shorter, Peter turned out to have a ferocious competitive streak not yet tempered by the "winning doesn't matter" ethos. He was bossy and shouted frequently, and finally Cai shrugged his shoulders and said, "You just can't deal with these Hitler people."

If you haven't already figured it out, Peter is German, we're Jewish, and the boys are pre-school classmates at the Jerusalem American International School. My husband came home and described what happened to me when Cai was out of earshot.


"He didn't say that," I insisted. "He didn't."

"He did," my husband assured me, adding that Peter's father had been standing nearby and heard every word.

Webster's dictionary defines mortification as "a sense of humiliation and shame caused by something that wounds one's pride or self-respect," and that's a fairly accurate description of what I felt at that moment. Like most things that have nothing to do with me, I quickly made the incident about myself. 


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