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10 Tips for How to Talk to Your Kids about COVID-19 & Racism

We are in an uncertain time. Uncertainty breeds fear and anxiety. Many people want to find someone to blame to help alleviate that fear and anxiety. This creates an “us” versus “them” mentality that is not helpful during a pandemic where energy and resources need to be focused on solutions. Unfortunately, there is a long history of racism in this country during times of heightened fear and anxiety linked to disease outbreaks, including the “Spanish Flu” of 1918 and “Asiatic Cholera” of 1882. Now, many Americans are blaming the spread of COVID-19 on China and other East Asian countries, resulting in aggression and violent attacks towards innocent people from Asian communities. In fact, NBC recently published an article that Asian Americans reported over 650 racist attacks in just the past week.

Why Calling COVID-19 the “Chinese Flu” or “Kung Flu” Is Racist

Calling the Coronavirus the “Chinese Flu” or the “Kung Flu” is racist and xenophobic. According to the Lexico dictionary, racism can be understood as prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. Xenophobia is dislike or prejudice against people from other countries. When people rename COVID-19 in a racialized or regional way it attaches an ethnicity to the virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises against naming pathogens after geographic regions or groups of people.

Here are five reasons why calling COVID-19the “Chinese Flu” or the “Kung Flu” is racist:

  • It places unwarranted blame for the spread of an illness on one community;

  • It enables and encourages people who are not Asian to criticize, discriminate against, and even attack people who are Asian;

  • It creates unnecessary divisions and conflict between people, which is counterproductive when people need to come together to solve this serious global health issue;

  • It sends the message that anyone who is not perceived as Asian is “better than” people who are Asian because they are not responsible for the virus; and

  • It allows people who are not Asian to feel as though it is not their responsibility to solve the problem.

The Effects of Racism on Kids & the Asian/Pacific Islander American Community

Racism and xenophobia, like calling COVID-19 the “Chinese Flu,” has serious significance for children and the Asian/Pacific Islander American community. When children experience or witness racism, it can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and negative emotional and physical development. For children and adults who are Asian, the racism and xenophobia related to calling the Coronavirus by other names has had very alarming implications, including verbal abuse, slurs, being spit on, and physically assaulted. And this is not just an Asian issue. When Asian/Pacific Islander Americans worry about their safety, it means that everyone is living in a country where fear has more influence over our lives than hope.

Talking to Your Kids About Racism and COVID-19

It’s incredibly important for parents of all races to talk with their kids about racism and xenophobia related to the COVID-19. Children as young as three are aware of racial differences and many of them have questions about their racial identity. When parents create space for children to talk about racism, it lets them know that the topic of race is something that they can talk about without fear. It also allows parents to provide important information that can counter and dispel racist messages for their kids. When children go back to school, they are likely to encounter these racist messages from their classmates or even their teachers. The more parents are able to have conversations about racism and xenophobia related to COVID-19 with their kids, the more they will understand and the better prepared they will be when and if they are faced with it on their own.

Even though your children may not be talking with you or bringing up the subject of racism and COVID-19, it doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking about it, hearing comments from their friends or relatives, experiencing racism themselves, or consuming media which may fuel internalized racism. Therefore, proactively initiating conversations with your children is just as important as reactively responding to their questions or comments. Any age is a good time to start or continue these types of conversations. For children who are very young, it can be good practice for parents to start the conversation!

Here are ten tips (in no particular order) to help parents talk to their kids about racism and COVID-19:

  1. Keep it simple and straightforward;

  2. Use developmentally appropriate language and examples;

  3. Be specific, rather than general (e.g. “It affects a person’s self-esteem and how they see themself.” versus “It’s not nice.”);

  4. Let them ask questions, even if the questions make you uncomfortable;

  5. When/if kids hear racist rhetoric on the news/radio/social media, parents should address it right away (e.g. “That is not the appropriate name…”)

  6. Talk about racism and COVID-19, even if it doesn’t come up in the news;

  7. Let them know that racist language and rhetoric is hurtful and not okay in any situation;

  8. Give them factual information to dispel racist myths (e.g. “The Coronavirus is a global problem that everyone is responsible for.”);

  9. Explain how racism hurts everyone (e.g. “Racist language creates conflict instead of solutions.”);

  10. Prepare them for the fact that they might hear racist comments from other kids or adults (e.g. “There are some people out there who are calling the Coronavirus the “Chinese Flu” or other racist names…”)


Here are more resources to help parents talk to their kids about racism and xenophobia related to the COVID-19:

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