The recent and rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 caused many changes to the holiday season, including schools making the decision to return to virtual instruction instead of in-person learning. As schools slowly return to full in-person learning, we know both children and their families can be anxious about what is next to come.
Last week, I was out to dinner with a really good friend, and I quickly realized her concerns about the return to school were very different than what my other friends had on their list. Amanda (name changed to protect her identity), is of Asian descent, and while her children were born in America, their features, and looks definitely showed they are of Asian descent. Amanda rightly so was concerned about the health and potentially life-threatening side effects of COVID-19, she is also greatly concerned about how her Asian American children may be a target of bullying or blame placement around the misinformation around the origins of COVID-19. While I am aware of the incidents of violence against Asian Americans around COVID-19, it never dawned on me that this is something that a parent of a school age child would need to be concerned about.
As educators, it is important that we talk about being safe during these unprecedented times, it is also imperative that we inform children in a developmentally appropriate manner that COVID-19 is linked to a geographic location, and not to one group of people or nationality. As we journey back into full in-person learning, it is important that educators and parents help children identify harmful language or behaviors and empower children to speak up and stop it. History along with research has shown us that children take their cues from adults and as educators, we have a strong responsibility in our classroom to promote equality and dignity for everyone.
We know COVID-19 does not discriminate based on nationality or ethnicity, COVID-19 does not care if you are Asian American, African American, European American. No one should be treated differently or stigmatized simply based on their skin color. The best way to keep ourselves and children safe is to become empowered with accurate knowledge of COVID-19 and share with each other.
To help model compassion and acceptance; here are some very actionable steps to apply as we head back to school.
1. Allow children to express their feelings.
COVID-19 has caused a lot of illness and even deaths of children’s loved ones, friends, and acquaintances which has caused a plethora of emotions in their homes. The range of emotions and lost may cause some children to experience anxiety or anger, so allow them a safe place to express and/or explore these emotions. Play games or offer developmentally appropriate activities that will help a child with the words to express those feelings.
2. Educate children to not stereotype people or ethnicities.
To avoid children generalizing negative statements towards others in the classroom, avoid focusing on the appearance, ethnicity, or nationality of those who reside where COVID-19 originated.
3. Talk about emotions around being unfairly blamed by association.
One way to do this is ask you students if they have been blamed for an accident at home when it was actually their siblings? Discuss their feelings around this incident and how they dealt with it.
4. Be honest with yourself around your own bias and fears and continue to model the behavior you would like to see.
5. Continue to provide positive images of diverse groups.
Nothing combats negativity more than children seeing images of people from diverse ethnicities and communities.
6. Identify heroes.
Use this season as an opportunity to identify everyday heroes. Encourage children to bring in pictures of neighbors, family members and friends who are medical workers, rescue workers, firefighters, public works, nurses, and allow them to talk about that individual.
7. Provide useful and accurate information to children as well as ensure they have a parent to talk with at home.
8. Continue to read books with children that promote equality and tolerance.
by Jevonne McRae, Early Childhood Educator, MOJO Education