Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, violence against the Asian-American and Pacific-Islander (AAPI) community has been on the rise. In recent weeks, hate crimes and violence against members of the AAPI community have garnered national attention. Parents, teachers and those who work with children once again find themselves in the position of having to have tough conversations with young children – about racism, violence and hatred.
For those in the AAPI community, we extend our solidarity and support and commitment to work together toward a future that does not stand for violence, hatred or racism of any kind. As we walk together toward this ultimate goal, we know that many parents, teachers and caregivers are eager for support in how to have a conversation with children that can help them understand the world and become advocates for a brighter future for new generations.
It’s never easy to broach these challenging subjects with children, but we offer the following tips in hopes that it may help provide guidance around what to say and do.
Violence against the AAPI community is not new – it is baked into the fabric of our nation. Take some time to read about various forms of racism and violence that have been inflicted upon different Asian and Pacific Island cultures throughout U.S. history. In doing so, you’ll have a deeper understanding of the complexity of the national dialogues and be better equipped to answer questions children may ask – and to support the AAPI community moving forward.
Initiate the conversation.
Kids hear more than we think they do! It’s likely children are overhearing or even engaging in conversations about race, particularly around the AAPI community. Don’t wait for them to come to you – start the conversation yourself. Think of it as slowly opening the door to the discussion and see what they know and what they want to know.
As with most complex topics with young children, it is best to start simple, and expand based on the child’s understanding, maturity and questioning. Allow the child to take the lead, pause and ask if they have questions, and if they seem engaged and eager to learn more, keep going.
Build upon previous knowledge.
If the child has been exposed to previous discussions around race and racism, this conversation can be a natural extension. Children can understand things more easily when they don’t seem like isolated events, but rather link to a bigger issue, especially if that issue is something they already know something about. So if a child knows about conversations regarding racial equity for Black Americans, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, he/she can understand that this is a similar fight for a different population.
Make yourself available for questions.
A child may have questions in the moment or may receive the information quietly and come back later with questions or comments. The important thing is to make sure the child knows they can come to you at any point and that they won’t be shamed or made to feel embarrassed about any question they may have.
Don’t make this a one-time conversation.
While it is very important to address issues of racism when they reach the national nightly news cycle, it is even more important that these conversations don’t die out when the news moves on to something else in a couple of days. Long after the story fades, the racism remains. This is why it is so important to educate yourself on racism – in the AAPI community and others – so that you can continue to bring it up when appropriate.
Anti-Asian imagery is prevalent in children’s books, movies and TV shows as well as in the language used by politicians, celebrities and everyday people on social media. When you see something – say something. It’s as simple as, “Wow, did you see the way they portrayed that character? I think that was racist. Here’s why.”
Here is an example of a conversation you might have with a child. You can age this up or down based on the child’s knowledge of these issues, maturity, and age.
Recently there have been an increase in acts of violence against members of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities. [If the child/children are not members of the AAPI community or may not know exactly what that encompasses, be sure to expand and clarify. For example: Asian Americans are our community members from all parts of Asia, including China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, etc. If you have a personal connection with members of the AAPI community, it may be appropriate to refence them – for example: Aunt Courtney is Chinese American – her family originates from China.]
Just like we’ve talked about before, racism is the idea that some people are more valuable than other people, simply because of the color of their skin or the culture they come from. These recent acts of violence art part of a system of racism. There are people who believe that Asian-American lives are less important than other people’s lives, simply because of the color of their skin, the way they look, their languages, foods, or countries of origin. In this family/classroom/environment, we believe that racism is always wrong. It is our job as advocates and allies to speak up when we hear about racism against anyone. That’s why I am telling you about this so that if you hear or see anything that feels wrong or would cause harm to someone who is different from you, you will speak up or you will talk to me about it. I know this is a lot of information. How are you feeling? Do you have any questions? If you think of a question later, you can always come talk to me.
Finally, remember that children are hearing these conversations out in the world, at school, on the news, on their social media feeds, or even overhearing adults talking to other adults. It is our responsibility as parents, teachers and caregivers to be direct and honest about these challenging topics so that kids can learn the complexity of the issues and become allies and advocates moving forward.