How to Talk to Your Kids About the Atlanta Shootings & #StopAsianHate

Whether or not the man who has admitted to killing eight people — including six Asian women — in the Atlanta spa shootings says he was motivated by xenophobia, there is no doubt that hate crimes against Asians are rising in the United States and causing valid fears for parents and children of Asian descent. How can we as parents talk to our kids about this crime in particular and the need to #StopAsianHate in general?

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First, we need to understand the news ourselves.

A new Stop AAPI Hate report on the statistics behind anti-Asian hate crimes since March 2020 discloses that there have been nearly 3,800 documented cases of anti-Asian hate incidents nationwide over the last year — and a majority of the victims were women. And, according to a new study from the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, anti-Asian hate crimes in the nation’s largest cities are up 149 percent in 2020, compared to an overall drop in hate crimes of 7 percent during the same period. The study’s authors note that these numbers actually may be even higher, as hate crimes are often under-reported due to fear of reprisal by victims.

As the editorial board of the Baltimore Sun wrote in its recent article condemning attacks on Asian Americans, “It’s not difficult to see what’s going on here. Then-President Donald Trump took particular glee in referring to COVID-19 as the ‘China virus’ or ‘Kung Flu,’ and he did so again and again at rallies to the point where anything China or Chinese would draw a chorus of angry boos and catcalls from his supporters.”

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who is married to Korean American Yumi Hogan and has three daughters and grandchildren, recently was asked about Asian hate crimes on CNN. “We feel it personally with my daughter, who sort of is sometimes afraid to come visit us, with people who had best friends that were being harassed at the grocery store, or being called names, and people yelling about the China virus, even though they’re from Korea and born in America,” Governor Hogan told Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

“I think as parents, we are all concerned about the immediate safety of our children and of our community,” said Vanessa Leung, co-executive director of New York’s Coalition for Asian American Children + Families (CACF), a non-profit organization that advocates for equity for pan-Asian children and families. “For many, safety was the reason to opt for remote learning.”

According to an article in the Washington Post, “As school buildings start to reopen, Asian and Asian American families are choosing to keep their children learning from home at disproportionately high rates,” based on concerns about their children facing racist harassment at school as much as the spread of COVID-19.

“In New York City, Asian American children make up the smallest share of children back in classrooms — just under 12 percent — even though they represent 18 percent of all students,” the Washington Post article notes. “In Tennessee, less than half of Asian families enrolled in Metro Nashville Public Schools opted for in-person learning, compared with nearly two-thirds of White children. In Chicago, two-thirds of White students chose in-person learning, while just a third of Asian, Black and Latino students decided to head back.”

For parents of Asian children, trying to explain the increase in hatred toward their community requires complex conversations.

“As parents, we speak to our children on what can be done to address and prevent the interpersonal acts of racism — from bystander/upstander trainings to fight against bullying to clear procedures for how to report incidents and expectations of a compassionate process to support the person being bullied and the bully,” continued CACF’s Leung in her email to SheKnows. “But as a parent committed to addressing racism, particularly in systems and institutions, I know we need to learn and do more or we will see this hate again. We need to help our children know themselves as Asian Americans, see the connections and empathize with other communities, and understand our collective history and how we move in this world together.”

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Whether parenting an Asian or other race child, educational psychologist and parenting expert Reena B. Patel suggests parents first ask their child what they have heard about recent events and only disclose information to them in a developmentally appropriate way.

“Often as parents we over-divulge and provide more information than needed,” Patel tells SheKnows. “Ask your child first what they heard or saw, what their perception is, and if they have questions. This information can be used to guide your discussion and help them understand what happened.”

While we don’t want to overwhelm our kids, we may also want to discuss how #StopAsianHate relates to the Black Lives Matters movement, systemic racism, and white supremacy, which may be on their radar more than we think because of how regularly these topics are in the news lately. Patel notes parents may need to explain to their kids what a hate crime actually is: “It is when someone breaks a law by hurting another person because of prejudice or judgment against them. Oftentimes, a hate crime is not caused by an action or something a person did, but just because of who they are. You can talk about race, religion, being different.”

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Much like talking to kids about the Capitol building insurrection, parents can focus on this as a teachable moment, Patel says. “Talk about the importance of being kind and compassionate and celebrating differences. You can use resources to reinforce this,” like children’s books about diversity and inclusion.

It can be especially challenging for parents to find the right words to explain something to their kids that they have a hard time grasping themselves. Parents are juggling this with more immediate needs: to go to work, put food on the table, and make sure there is a roof over their heads.

“These are very complex conversations around race, and our Asian American community here in New York City is highly immigrant, many who are focused on survival, who do not have the time to explore the history and the present-day impact of racist systems,” CACF’s Leung said in her email to SheKnows. “Most Asian Americans, like most Americans, do not have the language to talk about race — or how Asian Americans fit in the dialogue of the discourse around race that often only speak in Black and white terms.

As Georgia State Rep. Bee Nguyen said on CNN, “I think that our country has always been reluctant to admit that system racism is a real problem that can be deadly.”

Finally, if you are an Asian parent or parenting an Asian child, offer them reassurance.

“If your child feels fear because they are the same race as this event or crime, talk about what is being done to keep everyone safe,” Patel says, “how there are consequences for crimes, and how many people are kind and want a world that includes peace and inclusivity of all.”

Lift your children’s spirits with these gorgeous books by Black authors and illustrators.

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