Helping parents respond to anti-Asian racism and violence

Recent attacks on Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders across the United States — including several episodes of violence against elderly people in the Bay Area and the March 16 mass shooting in Atlanta, Georgia — may leave parents struggling with how to launch or continue conversations about racism with their children.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Mari Kurahashi, MD, who works with kids and families at Stanford Children’s Health, recently offered expert advice on the subject in an interview with CBS.

Adults may hesitate to talk about racism because they do not want to disrupt their children’s sense of the world as a safe and just place, the story noted. But it’s important for parents to broach the subject with their kids in an age-appropriate way. Giving kids and teens opportunities to talk about difficult subjects, to learn their parents’ values, to ask questions, think about how to take action, and be reassured that the adults in their lives are committed to keeping them safe are all valuable elements of family conversations about racism and building racial equality.

Parents can begin with simple statements reflecting their own beliefs, such as explaining that the recent violence targeted at Asian Americans is unjust and does not align with their values, Kurahashi told CBS.

For children who may be targeted by racism, Kurahashi also advised parents to express their love of their child’s features: “Be very clear about how much you love your child’s eyes, your child’s skin color, your child’s hair, your child’s features, and at the same time to let them know that not everyone is going to appreciate those qualities about them,” she said.

Parents can also use conversations about racism to discuss how kids can help promote equality, such as by forging friendships with people from all backgrounds, standing up to bullying, writing to elected officials, reading about the history of racial oppression, and participating with their family in peaceful protests.

And conversations about racism can also give children and teens a model for how to handle difficult emotions without becoming overwhelmed. Parents can describe some of their own feelings about racism, such as anger and sadness, and talk about how they handle them.

“You’re modeling being able to express feelings, modeling emotion regulation, and showing children in that way that it’s OK to have these feelings,” Kurahashi told CBS. “That has been shown to increase resilience for children and families.”

More thoughts on how to discuss racism with children, as well as links to many online resources, are available at the Stanford Children’s Health story “Helping Parents Talk About Racism with Kids.”

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