NEWS OPINION

3 Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Anti-Asian Racism

Girl carrying her little sister on back in park joyfully

Images By Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images

“Mom, a kid told me I’m weird because I’m a quarter Korean,” my 7-year-old daughter quietly whispered to me as we were lying in her bed. I’m glad it was dark so she couldn’t see the dual look of frustration and sadness on my face.

As any loving parent would do, I kissed her head and reassured her she wasn’t weird. She was special and unique, and she should be proud of her Asian heritage. As she drifted off to sleep, I couldn’t help but recall my own similar childhood trauma and think about the rise in anti-Asian racism incidents these past few years.

Although it was heartbreaking to hear, I’m glad my daughter told me about the incident. Talking openly about our feelings and fears is something I encourage her to do every day because my mother never did it with me. My mom never showed her feelings or had the "period talk” with me. And she never talked about the racism she faced after moving to America.

Discussions about race and racism are simply part of the taboo collection of topics Asian American households just don’t talk about. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, only 13% of Asian adults said race came up “often” in conversations with friends and family, compared with 27% of Black adults and 15% of Hispanic adults.

For most older generation Asian parents like my mother, they were more focused on tirelessly working hard and giving their children everything they never had in their home country. There has always been a deep division between physical and mental strength and emotional vulnerability.

When I was an adult, my mother finally told me about the anti-Asian racism she faced in my father’s small Oklahoman town in the 60s. How my grandfather didn’t speak to her for a year because she was Asian. How he eventually learned to accept her and started calling her his China Doll.

I later told her about being called racial slurs when we moved to America in the 80s and how one girl constantly tormented me in middle school by pulling back her eyes and calling me Kristi Yamaguchi. How I felt concerned as an Asian American living in a more rural Maryland community during the height of COVID-19, the Atlanta spa shootings, and the most recent shooting at a Korean hair salon. And how, according to the most recent March 20, 2020-June 30, 2021(2) Stop A.A.P.I. Hate National Report, a total of 10,905 hate incidents were reported.

It was a cathartic conversation, but one that I wish we had when I was younger. It’s a conversation I believe that every parent should have with their children, regardless of race or background, to open their eyes up to the injustices in this world. Here are some ways to do just that with your kids.

Start Talking 

Kids are like sponges: they soak up everything they hear. That’s why I think parents should be the first to engage in both good and bad conversations with them. As their main role models, we need to prepare them for the world they are going to grow up in and give them the right tools to succeed.

"Children feel better, safer, and more connected to their parents when parents share their own fears, confusion, and uncertainty," says Catherine Vuky, PhD, assistant professor of clinical psychology at William James College and director of the College’s Asian Mental Health Program. "That helps connect the family and establishes a strong support system, which can lead to nurturing resilience and better mental health.” 

Vuky oversaw the creation of William James College's Guide for Parents of Asian/Asian American Adolescents, which explains why parents need to have conversations about racism with their Asian children and offers tips and resources to support their children. It touches on how to react to things like being told to “go back to where you came from” and how it’s okay if you don’t know all the answers.

I personally love the “Let’s Start Listening & Learning” section of the guide because it’s something all parents can follow, like starting an age-appropriate conversation in the car or over mealtime. Or by watching something together, like this video called “Meet the Lee Family,” which is part of Sesame Street’s Coming Together collection about racial justice.

It may bring up some uncomfortable topics, but by continually asking how your child feels and what they think, you can work through the topics together and both come out feeling closer.

Parents of non-Asian children can follow the same guidelines but should be cognizant of avoiding stereotypes, like saying all Asians know these things because they are smart or they are too quiet and subservient to fight for their rights. They should highlight historically true events like the past Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the March 2022 rally in Times Square demanding justice for victims of Asian hate.

Start Connecting

I never saw myself depicted in mainstream media when I was younger, so the fact that I can turn on Disney+ and watch "Raya and the Last Dragon" or reruns of "Kim’s Convenience" on Netflix is a gift in itself. I love connecting to these shows with my daughter because it encourages her to feel proud of her Asian heritage.

I’ll say stuff like, “Grandma does the same thing!” and “I really want to make kimchi like that,” prompting us to laugh and feel good about ourselves. That makes my daughter feel relatable and empowered, and less likely to feel embarrassed or afraid when confronted with racism. We also read books together that highlight her Asian heritage, like Yangsook Chloi’s "The Name Jar" and Aram Kim’s "No Kimchi for Me!"

Connecting to Asian culture isn’t the only way to teach kids about anti-Asian racism. It’s important to discuss similar topics like Black Lives Matter, a powerful movement that was created to combat violence against the Black community, and one that encourages building bridges that unite all races.

There’s also the long-standing stereotyped imagery of Native Americans in American history and the fact that 62% of Hispanic adults say that having a darker skin color hurts their ability to get ahead in the United States.

As neuroscientist and parenting expert Christine Koh says in an NPR article, “If you're a white parent and feeling like the conversation is uncomfortable for you, tap into your empathy and think about how uncomfortable it is to be a person of color and feeling like you have a target on your back, or reliving racial aggressions or having very real safety concerns.”

By connecting to all cultures, children can have an even broader understanding of tolerance and injustice.

Start Supporting

We can tell our children to not perpetuate anti-Asian racism a million times, but it won’t mean anything unless we practice what we preach. We need to help them feel safe and secure, while also educating them about the world around them.

Asian parents can share their personal stories and give outward encouragement to one another. Non-Asian parents can support Stop AAPI Hate initiatives and celebrate Asian culture in fun ways through food (kimchi is an awesome probiotic) and art ("Crying in H Mart" is a great read).

As a society, we can all be more empathetic and understanding of every culture. Let’s continue to build upon the conversation and progress. As first-generation Chinese American writer Maxine Hong Kingston once said, “In a time of destruction, create something.”

A Word From Verywell

Though it seems our society is a long way from ever fully getting rid of anti-Asian racism (or any type of racism), we as parents can do our best to raise children who are compassionate, culturally aware, and educated. 

When you talk to your kids about the Asian community, be open and honest in conversations. Connect the examples and stories you share to real-world experiences. Show support to Asian-led initiatives and organizations. All in all: Be an ally.

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7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. New York Times. 8 dead in Atlanta spa shootings, with fears of anti-Asian bias.

  2. CNN. A shooting at an Asian-owned hair salon in Dallas is being investigated as a federal hate crime.

  3. Smart Parents. Stop AAPI Hate National Report.

  4. History.com. Chinese Exclusion Act.

  5. NBC New York. Gov. Hochul joins Times Square rally demanding justice for victims of Asian hate.

  6. PBS. Racism in the use of Native American images.

  7. Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project.