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

By Anna Halkidis
February 11, 2021
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Brutal attacks, hateful language, and total avoidance—the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled intense racism against Asian Americans.

On Monday, 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.

It's been a devastating trend across the country. Between mid-March and early August 2020, there were more than 2,500 hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, according to Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition launched in March 2020 to report on anti-Asian American discrimination during the pandemic. 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.

Credit: Getty Images.

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 soon in 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."

What they 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?" And avoid being judgemental, validate their feelings, and offer feedback like, "That sounds really hard."

Also, don't be afraid to talk openly with your children about your own feelings. "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."

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.

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