How to Talk to Kids about Asian-American Violence & Racism

This podcast focuses on how to talk to kids about the uptick in Asian-American violence over the last year, culminating in the Atlanta shooting on March 16, 2021 in which 8 died, including 6 women of Asian descent. Dr. Robyn Silverman and Christine Koh discuss the source of this racism as well as how our kids can be allies and activists in today’s world. They also discuss conversations starters, ways to support those who are being discriminated against, and what to do when we see racism in action. How white people, including white parents, white teachers and white peers can support Asian and Asian-American children is also discussed.

Guest Expert: Dr. Christine Koh


Before we launch into the absolutely necessary topic for today, talking to kids about anti-Asian violence and racism, I wanted to tell you some great news. My next book, currently entitled How to Talk to Kids about Anything, will be published by Sourcebooks in 2022! The contract has been signed and I am writing, writing, writing—highlighting the tips, scripts, stories and steps that will make even the toughest conversations easier- from death and divorce, to sex, tech, porn, drugs, failure, racism and more- my hope is that this book will be a staple on every parent’s, coach’s and teacher’s book case to pull out when conversations are necessary but words escape us. I am honored to be writing this book for you- and so privileged to have amazing experts on the show who are sources for this forthcoming book. Experts, like the one on the show today- so let’s get to it.


Racism towards Asian-Americans is nothing new. However, when the pandemic hit and surges of the Covid virus washed over the world from the East to the West, racism and aggression towards Asian-Americans grew with it. The recent shooting of 8 people in Atlanta, including 6 Asian women, is a testament to that. This surge of anti-Asian violence has brought with it, the highlighted need for conversation starters, scripts and tips for how we can discuss racism, empathy, compassion and courage to stand up in solidarity as we meet discrimination towards diverse populations head-on. Given that one of our podcast guests and friend of How to Talk to Kids about Anything, Christine Koh, just wrote an article on how to support kids through the latest wave of violence for CNN, I thought she’d be the perfect person to interview on this topic so that we can provide all of you with what to do and say around this tough topic.


Christine Koh is a music and brain scientist turned multimedia creative. She is a fierce believer in the power of humans, small moments and actions, and vulnerable, authentic storytelling. She communicates on these beliefs through her work as a writer (her latest work is at the Washington PostBoston Globe Magazine, and CNN; co-author of Minimalist Parenting; and founder of the award-winning blog Boston Mamas), podcaster (Edit Your Life, Hello Relationships), designer (Brave New World Designs), and creative director (Women Online). You can find her at @drchristinekoh on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Important Messages:

  • Christine tells her origin story (also told in linked CNN story, below) “I was out for a walk with my mom in an affluent, picturesque Boston suburb when I was 7 years old when I suddenly heard yelling and felt something hard hit me on the back of the head. Cold, sticky liquid ran down my back and pain pulsed where the object had landed. I looked up in confusion as a group of teenage boys cruised past us, hanging out their car windows screaming, ‘Take that, ch*nks!’”
  • Story: First grader- middle name. The teacher laughed at her name. Took a long time to be able to say her middle name proudly. Korean name. Makes an impact.
  • Racially motivated violence. More than 3,700 anti-Asian incidents have been reported since last March, according to Stop AAPI, citing everything from verbal harassment and physical assault to civil rights violations and online harassment—where women reporting 2.3 times as many hate incidents than men and Chinese people being the largest ethnic group experiencing hate. Pew Research Center details that about 4 in 10 Americans say that it is more common for people to express racist views about people who are Asian than before Covid-19 and about three in 10 Asian Americans reporting having experienced racial slurs and racist jokes since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • Panicked about wearing masks- because drawing attention to my “Asian-ness.” “I felt like a liability to my family and my children.”
  • Leadership made a negative difference- “China Flu” and “Kung Flu.” Spreading anti-Chinese sentiments.
  • When we are talking about “taboo” topics- racism is like talking about sex, you need to just break it down to basic human values. You aren’t even talking about then thing.
  • Teach kids about empathy. We have a lot in common.
  • Isabel Wilkerson, in her book, Caste, talks about the key reason why people can do horrible things to others is by dehumanizing them.
  • Our ability to find human connection and look for those moments of empathy are such as crucial part of parenting and raising kids who will have an inclusive lens.
  • We all deserve justice and respect.
  • Caste: In that book, shows that black Americans are in the lower caste in the social system while Asian Americans are in the middle caste.
  • When talking to kids, consuming all media, more you can integrate inclusive, diverse characters, the better.
  • You have to actively seek-out.
  • Need more inclusive literature. Not just during Black History Month or on MLK day!
  • Don’t need big conversations with kids—the key when they are younger is quick, little conversations- frequent lens. (Dr. Robyn calls these Micro-conversations).
  • Be open honest with your children. Don’t panic. You don’t need to have a big conversation! You don’t- just little touch points.
  • Be an ally:
    • Tell your kids how important it is to be a good listener. Don’t brush over. Listen.
    • Stand up for that person. Scary though.
    • Get an adult to help.
    • Kids are capable. Be a part of things. Involvement in conversation. Peaceful protest.
    • Raise money to donate- Southern Poverty Law Center (work towards justice of others).
    • Fundraisers to make a difference.
    • Stand next to someone who is being picked on.
  • Think of moment in circle time- teacher made you feel awful in that moment. Would be great if someone said; “why are you laughing?” If someone came over and sat next to me in that moment. Or held my hand. Felt so alone. Name sounded different.
  • Being an ally, and being a good friend and being a loving person can take many forms. In the wake of all of the things that happened, one of the most valuable things that happened was friends just sending me a message that said; “I’m thinking of you, I’m here for you and you don’t need to respond.” They were holding space and giving me space and that was so crucial.
  • Empathy- when you feel alone or put on the spot like that, what would YOU wish someone would do? This is how Christine felt, what could you have done? (Circle time)
  • Gesture and taking the time to pronounce someone’s name correctly in that moment can be powerful.
  • Follow “The Conscious Kid” on Instagram.
  • Name: Many Asians changed names- assimilation and someone just has apathy.
  • Basic level: It’s really important to have these conversations and not be afraid.
  • Talk to them about what’s happening in their family of origin- not to scare but so that they are aware.
  • What can people do? (1) Speak up. (2) Go to a trusted adult.
  • A lot of Asian kids don’t know who to trust. That experience at age 7 crystalized this stance for me where I am always bracing for racism. I always think there may be something coming at me from the back of my head or the front of my head. That’s a really tough way of growing up. Nothing can really prepare you but the more we can have some gentle conversations to ease our kids in the more they will feel that there are ways to deal with what’s happening.”
  • Don’t just tell kids to fight or speak up! Walk away and get help. Can we challenging- vulnerable position- being a minority or being out numbered.
  • Say: “Get to a place of safety and call me. I will come and get you. I am here for you.”
  • TIP: “Respond in a way that you would go to bat for a friend you really care about.” That’s not ok to say those words.
  • We often want to have all the answers. Just being quiet can keep space open for them.
  • Connect your child to a professional if they need help.
  • Side by side, in the dark, no eyes on them, driving in car, baking in kitchen, before bed, magical space. Cozy. Safe place. Give space. Anything you want to talk about?
  • Dealing with your own biases: (1) Moment of grace. (2) Acknowledge that the views that you have are based on things you’ve been taught. Being in a place where you are willing to change is an excellent place to be. “I’m going to make mistakes, I’m going to say the wrong things, but I’m trying.” Don’t diminish the effort.
  • Adults: Expose yourself towards diverse stories. Watch movies, read books.
  • Cathy Park Hong: Minor Feelings- Book recommended. Link below.
  • Open your mind to learning. Keep your eyes open.
  • OhHappyDani- recommended IG
  • Don’t forget to listen- it’s the way to irradiate Asian-American violence. Hold space. Don’t diminish the experience or the people.
  • Top tip: Big take-away is to keep talking. Nature is to talk about it when it’s in the news but then it falls out of news cycle. Don’t let this happen. Gentle, loving, consistent conversations. Keep this work in our view.

Notable Quotables:

  • Masks: “At first, it felt like it highlighted my ‘Asian-ness’ and I felt like a liability to my family and my children.”
  • “A big piece of talking about [racism] is teaching kids about empathy and looking for those little moments to teach kids we are all humans and we have a lot in common as well as having things that are different.
  • “Our ability to find human connection and look for those moments of empathy are such as crucial part of parenting and raising kids who will have an inclusive lens.”
  • “There is a common human experience and we all deserve justice and respect.”
  • “In the classroom, I would love to see a world where inclusive literature was a major priority.”
  • “Parents; don’t panic because you feel like you have to have a big conversation because you do not. You just have to have little touchpoints regularly.
  • “Being an ally, and being a good friend and being a loving person can take many forms.”
  • “One of the most valuable things that happened was friends just sending me a message that said; ‘I’m thinking of you, I’m here for you and you don’t need to respond.’ They were holding space and giving me space and that was so crucial.”
  • “‘How would it feel if you’, that is the sauce for kids to see the other perspective so that they can develop empathy.”
  • “It’s really important for to not be afraid to have these conversation because obviously and clearly bad things can happen.”
  • “Support other people the way you would want your kid supported.”
  • “You can always find an adult to help you. You don’t have to fight this battle alone.”
  • “As parents, we often want to have all the answers but sometimes kids need to talk and just need us to be quiet. That empty space can be scary for parents but if you just wait, just take 10 internal quiet breaths, a lot times something I don’t expect comes out. Don’t try to fill the silence. Just let them talk and let them have those feelings.”
  • “Give yourself a moment of grace and realize that the views that you have are based on things you’ve been taught. Being open to change is an excellent place to be.”
  • “The most important step we can take towards eradicating Ant-Asian American violence is listening. I say this because I think that over time, people have diminished the experience of others or have diminished the people themselves so I think a big part of what we need to do is listen. We need to hold space for kids but we also need to do this on the adult level in a big way.”