Parent Guide Helps Asian Families Address Racism During the Pandemic

As reports of attacks against Asian Americans soar, experts offer help to parents navigating conversations about racism and xenophobia with their kids.

Brutal attacks, hateful language, and total avoidance—the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled intense racism against Asian Americans.

On March 16, a 21-year-old killed eight people in three different spas in the Atlanta area, and six of the victims were Asian women. While police haven't declared a motive yet, the killings follow months of violence against Asian Americans in Georgia. It's been a devastating trend across the country. In February, a 28-year-old suspect was arrested after attacking Asians in the Chinatown area of Oakland, California, according to news reports. One victim was a 91-year-old man.

There have been more than 3,700 hate incidents against Asian Americans between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021 reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition launched in March 2020 to report on anti-Asian American discrimination during the pandemic. That's a sharp increase from the previously reported more than 2,500 incidents between mid-March and early August 2020. These incidents include verbal harassment, avoidance, physical assaults, and potential civil rights violations in the workplace. Some even reported being barred from establishments and using transportation. Women are affected 2.3 times more than men, according to the report, while youth report about 12.6 percent of the incidents and seniors 6.2 percent.

A Pew Research Center survey in July 2020 found similar results with more than 30 percent of Asian adults saying they've dealt with jokes and slurs because of their race or ethnicity since the pandemic started—far more than any other group. While the racism clearly existed before the pandemic, nearly 60 percent say it has since intensified.

In the midst of it all, many parents are left uncertain on how to explain the xenophobia and bullying to their kids who are likely asking difficult questions. William James College, along with the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), has stepped in to help by putting together a guide for parents of kids of Asian descent. The guide—available in English, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese—explains why it's necessary for parents to have these difficult discussions about racism and offers tips on how to start them.

"Research has robustly demonstrated that children's exposure to racial microaggressions and discriminatory practices have long-lived, deeply painful psychological consequences," Natalie A. Cort, Ph.D., co-director of the Center for Multicultural & Global Mental Health at William James College, said in a statement. "The recommendations in this guide are known to be effective in combating the internalization of toxic racial hatred and bolstering cultural pride."

The guide explains that conversations with parents can help and lead to positive outcomes for kids, including "higher self-esteem, increased school engagement, and stronger family cohesion."

How to Talk to Children About Anti-Asian Attacks

The experts suggest starting the conversation in a place where it can happen more naturally like in the car, while eating together, or during shared activities. Ask questions like, "Do you feel safe going back to school? What will help make you feel safe?" and "Do you worry about being looked at differently because you're Asian?" Using current events, TV shows, and movies as a way to bring up the hateful incidents is also an effective way to start discussing issues, the guide adds.

Throughout the conversation, try to avoid being judgmental, validate your child's feelings, and offer feedback like, "That sounds really hard," "Tell me more," and "Thank you for sharing." Encouraging children to speak up can also be empowering. "Promote ways for your child to get involved in issues they care about. This helps promote problem-solving and combat feelings of helplessness," according to the guide.

Also, don't be afraid to talk openly with your children about your own feelings and experiences too. "I think children feel better, safer, and more connected to their parents when parents share their own fears, confusion, and uncertainty," Catherine Vuky, Ph.D., assistant professor of clinical psychology at William James College and director of the College's Asian Mental Health Program, said in a statement. "That helps connect the family and establishes a strong support system, which can lead to nurturing resilience and better mental health."

Resources for parents

There are also resources listed for parents who need more support to address coronavirus-related racism, such as Yellow Peril, MGH Center for Cross-Cultural Student Emotional Wellness, bystander intervention trainings, and Asian American Racial Justice Toolkit.

View the guide here.

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