Spread Facts, Not Fear — Talking with Kids about COVID-19
As COVID-19, otherwise known as Novel Coronavirus, begins to spread, so is misinformation about the disease. Folks are reporting increased Anti-Asian bias. As of this morning, I saw that the hashtag #KungFlu is trending. (This is after some folks began calling it the Wuhan Virus… funny how there are no Italian names for it.) That said, there is no denying that our kids will come in contact with these harmful messages.
Now, more than ever, it is important to share up-to-date factual information about the virus to protect the many vulnerable populations, namely the elderly and immunocompromised folks, who live in our communities. When we do, we also need to have conversations about race as well. As a Commissioner on the SF Board of Education, I’m encouraging SFUSD instructional leaders to find ways to talk about this with kids. It’s also important for parents. Don’t assume that because we live in a “progressive” city your kids are immune to misinformation and bias being spread about the disease.
Yes. Even in San Francisco.
I witnessed this, myself, just last week while waiting in line to check-in for my regular doctor screening. The man behind me struck up a conversation with my husband. They began chatting about the fact that folks had obviously been stealing hospital masks from the free dispensers at the door (I know… seriously!) Then out of the blue, he starts telling us that his wife won’t go to Chinese restaurants anymore.
He looked older and sickly, and l honestly didn’t have the energy, but I just had to say something. I told him, it was a disease anyone could get. It wasn’t associated with any one race. He made some excuses and then, thankfully, stopped talking to us.
Racism starts with fear.
This experience showed me we have to be vigilant! Times like these are scary, especially for folks who are vulnerable right now. Yet, that doesn’t excuse us from spreading racism, or xenophobia.
As a parent, I know racism starts at home. So, I’m doing my best to ensure my kids have the resources to push back on the racist and xenophobic messages out in the world.
While it is normal to be afraid of new diseases we are just learning about, being afraid isn’t an excuse to be racist. Nonetheless, I know when folks are scared, they are more likely to revert to black and white thinking and less likely to challenge false narratives or their assumptions. While we educate our kids to prevent the spread of the disease, we also need to “innoculate” them from spreading the racism associated with it as well.
How I’m talking about Coronavirus
I’m using the following strategies in conversations with my kids:
“Just the Facts”
When I had cancer, I learned that each of my kids had a developmental sweet-spot for handling potentially scary topics like illness. Share too much information, and you risk overwhelming children with too much information. On the flip side, not talking about illness can sometimes cause more worry as kids’ imaginations fill in the void.
Share basic facts, in kid-friendly language, and limit sharing to only as much detail as your kids ask you for.
Be proactive and positive
Kids feed off your energy — so do your best to be calm and positive when talking about potentially scary topics like a disease. Don’t lie about potential risks in catching COVID-19, but don’t dwell on them either. Instead, talk about what actions you can take as a family and focus on positive outcomes. It is important to remind children that this virus has a very small chance of getting them sick, and no fatalities in the Bay Area. Much of the work we are doing is to help prevent the spread and keep others healthy.
Washing their hands and covering their coughs are a way to help prevent the virus from spreading and keep other more vulnerable folks safe.
Don’t forget to talk about RACISM!
When we don’t talk about controversial issues (e.g. sex, drugs racism) we leave room for our kids to speculate or take in information that is untrue! It’s important to talk about the ways that fear can make us for associations. Even so, it is also important to question our assumptions and harmful narratives that spread on social media and in the news.
As I’ve talked about before on this blog, being “colorblind” is also a form of racism. It is not only OK, but it’s also necessary to talk about racism in order to make sure we are not increasing harm for those who are being targeted!
At times like this, it is really important to speak up and express your support for the Asian-American Community!
Resources for talking about COVID-19 with kids/teens
The following resources are designed for kids of all ages to share factual information about the virus, and also unpack Anti-Asian bias we see associated with it.
This is one of my favorite videos for little ones explaining that while the COVID-19 is usually mild for kids, it can get grandparents really sick. She also does a really good job of showing how virus germs spread.
Here’s a video explaining how the disease can spread from Brain Pop
Quick Facts on Coronavirus with Dr. Pak
This video from the SF Department of Public Health shares information on the illness and even some suggested alternatives to hand-shakes!
This slideshow created by SFUSD educators contains some great content on handwashing…
… and not sharing cell phones. If the slide below doesn’t get you to clean your cell phone, nothing will!
Unfortunately, it doesn’t mention anything about Anti-Asian bias.
Science > Rumors The basics of COVID-19 (A lesson for middle school students on preparing for the coronavirus in NYC)
I love how they’ve integrated information about the science of the disease as well as integrating information on xenophobia.
This is a great video to watch with your upper elementary through high school kids.
Gilbert Gee is a professor at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, explains how the coronavirus outbreak is similar to other health crises like the SARS and AIDS. He explains the history of scientific racism ti Hari Sreenivasan and explains racism’s role in public health emergencies.
This jam-packed list of resources was compiled by Jason Oliver Chang (twitter @chinotronic), Associate Professor of History and Asian American Studies at the University of Connecticut.
“As we continue to track the development of the coronavirus, racial fears and anxieties have become a dominant frame in which people evaluate the concerns over the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus infection. This page is intended to gather textual and digital resources to provide easy access to material useful for teach-ins, talking points, and classroom teaching.
Consider using this hashtag, started by our French brothers and sisters: #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus | #IAmNotAVirus”
Jason Oliver Chang (twitter @chinotronic)
[Parents and caregivers in SFUSD can stay up to date on school closures related to the virus by going to the District website. View public health announcements related to Novel Coronavirus by going to the SF Department of Public Health website.]