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Asian American Attacks: A Guide For Parents Struggling To Explain Hate Crimes To Their Children

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- The ongoing, nationwide attacks on the AAPI community are forcing Asian American parents into tense, complex discussions on race and racism within their immediate family.

"A lot of families shy away from that conversation because it's difficult to talk about, especially if you don't know the answers yourself," said Jennifer Pham, Director of the Family and Children Division, for Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services.

Race is seldomly discussed, if at all, amongst many Asian families, according to Dr. Mari Kurahashi, Co-Director of the Stanford Parenting Center, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at Stanford Medicine.

"There's a lot of resilience in our culture, and persevering, and not making big waves, which is a strength of our culture," Kurahashi said. "But at the same, being able speak up and be assertive is so important. Because otherwise, we let a lot of things slide and that can build up and have a lot of negative impacts for ourselves and for our children."

The onslaught of news reports and social media likely means teens have already seen many of the disturbing images of the attacks, and younger children are sensing their parents' increased tension and anxiety, according to Reena B. Patel, parenting expert and licensed educational psychologist.

"Ask them first, what they heard what they what they saw, but we want to help correct it, and expand where it needs to be," said Patel, who advocates parents approach their children first and initiating the conversation.

"We don't want to say 'What's wrong?' and make it seem like there is something wrong with them. We want to ask them, 'What's going on, how are you feeling?" said Pham.

For infants and toddlers, who are not ready for more direct conversations about race, Kurahashi said parents should introduce books, toys and movies that celebrate diverse cultures and races.

To build self-confidence and resiliency against future racist comments, Kurahashi said: "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."

For elementary school age children, parents should be concrete when answering direct questions, such as "Why is this happening?", Kurahashi said.

"It's really important for parents to be educators," said Kurahashi. "And to talk about how 'unfortunately, government officials in leadership positions have been using terms like kung flu and China Virus. It's not the fault of Asians, and people mistakenly think that, and believe in that. But as parents, you know, we don't believe that.'"

As for warning older teens about possible future encounters of racism, Patel says parents should be wary of creating a mindset of vigilance, versus fear.

"We don't want to instill anxiety in our children. We don't want them to anticipate something negative is going to happen to them, but do prepare them," said Patel.

Kurahashi advises parents not to immediately react in the presence of their children after seeing disturbing broadcasts or social media posts.

"That's where it's important not to be too reactive with everything that's going on and jumping right into your kids," said Kurahashi. "Sit with it yourself, reflect on it. Process the experiences with friends and support systems. And then when we shift to our children, it's a balance."

"It's OK to express feeling angry, feeling sad, feeling disappointed, but in a more regulated way. You're modeling, being able to express feelings and modeling emotion regulation. And showing our children in that way, that it's OK to have these feelings. It's OK to talk about them. And that has been shown to increase resilience for children and families."

"You need to put your own biases, your own frustrations, what your thoughts are on the situation, and just put it aside," said Patel, about imparting bitterness and anger onto our children during the conversations.

Asian American Attack Resources
Asian Americans Advancing Justice
Stop AAPI Hate
Hate is a Virus

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