Many of you have told me that your first memory of racism occurred as early as preschool, and you’re still experiencing microaggressions today. Understandably, you are concerned about how to prevent your multicultural and/or multilingual children from being bullied.
As an Asian-American mother, I can relate and empathize with your worries. To encourage dialogue on this topic, I will start by sharing my personal experiences. From the perspective of a pediatrician who is concerned about bullying as a public health problem, I will also highlight mental health consequences of racism and conclude with anti-bullying resources.
I hope that discussions about racism and bullying can occur proactively and frequently with your family and school.
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Types of bullying
Bullying is a public health problem that can manifest in various ways:
- Physical: assault, theft, destruction of personal possessions
- Verbal: threats, name-calling, racial slurs
- Emotional: rumors, manipulation, gaslighting
- Digital: emails, text messages, social media
Physical bullying is the easiest to identity, while others types can be insidious and difficult for adults to monitor.
My personal experience with racism and bullying
Growing up as one of few Asians in our school district, I experienced everything from slant-eye gestures to mocking of my immigrant parents’ accents.
However, microaggressions have been the worst, especially from people who have no insight to their actions. Microaggressions can be subtle, not obvious to others, and often exacerbated by gaslighting.
Like many of you, I became embarrassed about being a minority and avoided speaking Chinese. I skipped classes and gave every excuse to avoid school.
In high school, a group of girls I had never met decided to target me. They spread stories about “an Asian b*tch”, and as rumors go, they claimed I had said and done things that never happened. I was harassed and assaulted.
I’m lucky that I survived these situations emotionally and physically. Eventually, I was able rebuild my self-identity with confidence and integrity. After years of counseling, prayer, and spiritual guidance, I have healed.
Consequences of bullying and racism
Unfortunately, too many bullied children are at risk for life-long mental health consequences.
With modern cyber-bullying, victims may feel less able to escape from attacks. Misinformation can spread rapidly and widely; insults can become permanent public record and affect university and work opportunities.
Acute and chronic consequences include:
- Drug abuse
In severe cases, children may be at risk of suicide and life-threatening attacks. They may also reciprocate the aggression.
6 tips for multicultural and multilingual families to prevent bullying
Anti-racism and bullying prevention begins at home.
Provide positive affirmations to your child
Although compliments are not the norm in many Asian cultures, such as Chinese and Korean, children do need to hear that they are smart, worthy, important, and beautiful.
This is because overt and subtle messages from the media and community can fill impressionable children with doubt and low self-esteem.
Genuine positive affirmations at home can help children establish a strong sense of self. When they feel supported at home, they are better equipped to counter negative falsehoods at school or elsewhere.
Talk to your child about school everyday
Make a habit of talking about your child’s friends, classmates, and teachers every day. Kids who are comfortable with their parents are more likely to open up about vulnerable experiences like bullying and racism.
What if kids give one-word answers and don’t know what to say? First, talk about your day so you can demonstrate how to share. Also, you can ask specific questions, like:
- “Who did you sit next to at lunch?” “你午饭時坐在誰的旁边?” / “你午飯時坐在誰的旁邊?” (Nǐ wǔfàn shí zuò zài shuí de pángbiān?)
- “What was the best part of your day? “一天中最美好的时光是什么? / 一天中最美好的時光是什麼?” (“Yītiān zhōng zuì měihǎo de shíguāng shì shénme?”)
- “What was the hardest part of your day?” “一天中最困难的時光是什么? / 一天中最困難的時光是什麼?” (Yītiān zhōng zuì kùnnán de shíguāng shì shénme)
- “How do you pronounce your friend’s name?” “你朋友的名字怎么发音? / 你朋友的名字怎麼發音?” (Nǐ péngyǒu de míngzì zěnme fāyīn)
- “How did you feel when______?” “_____ 時你感觉如何 / 時你感覺如何?” (Shí nǐ gǎnjué rúhé)
- “What is another way that you could have responded to this situation?” “你可能会对这种情况做出反应的另一种方式是什么? / 你可能會對這種情況做出反應的另一種方式是什麼?” (Nǐ kěnéng qiánzài de zhè zhǒng qíngkuàng zuò chū fǎnyìng de lìng yī zhǒng fāngshì shì shénme?)
These discussions establish rapport with your child and help caregivers have insight to school experiences.
Validate your child’s feelings
When your child is sad, frustrated, and angry, acknowledge each emotion, even if you do not feel the same. Help your child identify and name these feelings in all languages that you speak at home.
If a child’s concerns are often dismissed as unimportant, the turmoil that comes with bullying may be internalized and repressed.
For children who are bilingual or multilingual, they may not want to speak the minority language in attempt to fit in with peers. They have the right to choose what to say. Meanwhile, you can still consistently speak the language and create positive opportunities, such as cooking or other extracurricular activities in Chinese.
Be an example of anti-bullying and anti-racism for your child
Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.Matthew 7:12 NLT
Children mirror what they see and hear.
When you are upset with an aggressive telemarketer or a driver who is tailgating your car, how do you respond?
Do you shout expletives, or do you remain calm?
How do you discuss people that bother you? How do you personally handle insults and disrespect from others?
On the other hand, do you have friends who speak other languages and look different than your family?
If you are bilingual, can you confidently speak the minority language in public?
Read books with diversity and people who overcame adversity
According to research by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, the vast majority of children’s books feature Caucasian or animal protagonists. Conscious effort is needed for reading diverse books and narratives about overcoming challenges.
Bilingual books that we recommended:
- 25 Important Children’s Books About Black History in Chinese and English
- 10+ Picture Books Celebrating Hispanic and Latino Protagonists in Chinese, English, Spanish
- Chinese and English Picture Books with Asian Protagonists
As a Christian family, we also draw inspiration from Jesus’ redemption after being persecuted.
Practice responses to bullying and racism
Be clear about what consists of helpful versus harmful behavior. Bullying, being bullied, and watching other kids get bullied is never okay.
Talk through example scenarios and how to respond. What situations should be confronted directly? When should you walk away and ask for help?
Advice for schools to prevent racism and bullying
Bullying and racism are public health issues that require anti-bias education and bullying prevention training across schools. Teachers and principals need to be allies to children, but unfortunately they are sometimes complicit deliberately or unconsciously.
(Edit October 25, 2020) After writing this post, I came across the Asian American Psychological Association Bullying Awareness Campaign. I haven’t had a chance to look at the 20-page guide in detail yet, but it appears to be quite comprehensive with scenarios for spouses, caregivers, teachers and school administration to brainstorm. Translations in simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese are available!
Colorín Colorado has a detailed article with “8 Tips to Protect English Language Learners from Bullying in Your Classroom and School”.
Please see the websites below for additional resources.
Helpful anti-bullying and anti-racism websites
- Stopbullying.gov: This website has a list of training resources, media guidelines, research, and more.
- Common Sense Education: This is reputable nonprofit organization in the US is dedicated to education and advocacy of safe technology and media for children.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) This toll-free number offers 24-hour crisis counseling and mental health referrals.
- Asians for Mental Health: Dr. Jenny Wang, PhD is a psychologist who is dedicated to common issues pertaining to the Asian diaspora. Her Instagram account features thoughtful reflections, while her website has a directory of Asian mental health providers.
- Be The Bridge: This is a Christian organization dedicated to racial justice and reconciliation.
Faith-based articles about bullying
- How to Teach Children to Deal with Bullying(Gospel Coalition)
- When They Hurt You with Words (Desiring God)
- Lay Aside the Weight of Slander (Desiring God)
- Haters Gon’ Hate (Desiring God)
- Jesus Taught the Solution to Bullying (Psychology Today)
Have you talked to your children about preventing bullying and racism?
Parents and teachers, can you share your experiences with these discussions? Please feel free to comment below with your story and any suggestions you may have.
Together, we can prevent bullying and empower our children to speak out against injustices.
And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.Micah 6.8 NIV