Yesterday I offered a “cheat sheet” on what kids generally understand about race, as they enter the early elementary school years (let’s say kindergarten through 2nd grade). Today we get into the good stuff. What can we do, as parents, to promote a strong and healthy sense of self in our biracial kids? How can we help them embrace and feel good about all parts of themselves? I hope that the suggestions below are valuable for any parents who wants their child to grow up with a positive view of diversity, whether they are mixed or not.
|Photo courtesy of Mario Anders via Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.|
How Can We Promote Healthy Racial Identity At This Age?
- This is a great time to start teaching your multiracial child about her family background and celebrating the different groups to which she belongs, if you haven’t already. Kids this age are very curious about groups to which they belong and can take pride in their group membership. Talk about being mixed as both normal and wonderful, and make sure that your child feels loved just for who he is. Simply put, we want to teach our kids that their racial make-up (whatever it is) is something to feel good about.
- We need to make sure we have a solid handle on our own feelings about not “matching” our biracial kids (if we are the “not matching” parent), so that we can help our kids learn how to think about it and prepare them to respond in an empowered way, if others make comments or single them out. (Yes, as parents, we’ve received the same messages as our kids are now receiving about what families are “supposed” to look like. I remember, long before my husband and I even married, worrying that my kids wouldn’t look like me. So having our connection to our children questioned by others can be really unsettling for us as well as for them.) We should be ready to arm our children with empowered responses, if others question their family make-up. And, we can make sure that our children understand families don’t need to “match,” by pointing out examples of other multiracial families, pointing out the things we have in common with each other, and emphasizing that family is a relationship not a skin color.
- Help them understand what race means and what it doesn’t. Because most kids this age don’t see people of different races as different, we should look for opportunities to affirm this – before the world starts telling them differently! This applies to children of all backgrounds!!! This can involve fun activities, like using M&Ms, which are different colors on the outside but the same inside. (Credit to Dr. Margeurite Wright for that great idea!) It can also mean making sure our kids have opportunities to interact with or build relationships with people of different backgrounds before they start to learn harmful stereotypes. If a child doesn’t have any experiences providing evidence to the contrary, it is that much easier for stereotypes to take hold in the later years.
- Make home a safe place to ask questions and share feelings about skin color and race. How do we do this? By making sure we don’t shut down conversations by telling a child her thoughts are wrong or bad, or becoming overly emotional about what he shares (this tends to freak kids out), and by responding honestly
and compassionately. We need to be mindful not to interpret children’s questions from an adult perspective of race. Remember that kids this age are curious about and notice everything, and they don’t yet understand the social complexities of race.
- Having strong, healthy relationships with both parents and both sides of the family can help a child develop positive feelings about both parts of herself. If you aren’t with your child’s other parent anymore, keep in mind that your child needs to see that you value and get along with people of other races, and this includes the other side of his family. These relationships have so much potential to show our kids that interracial relationships are natural and positive. In a sense, we are giving them a powerful example for how the two parts of themselves can live in harmony. For kids who are adopted transracially or where one side of the family simply isn’t in the picture, it is important to find some place for him (and you) to develop close relationships with people of the same race.
- As parents, we need to be sensitive to the messages that our kids are getting about not just race, but also skin tone. Being around people who have extreme color bias can be very harmful for children of color, multiracial kids included. Kids at the ends of the spectrum – very light or very dark – are the most
likely to receive negative or confusing comments about their skin color, even from relatives. Make sure that the people your child is around don’t overly focus on race or treat your child differently because of skin color. Duh,
right? But there is still a lot of “color-ism” and our kids may experience this (e.g., mixed race grandchildren being treated differently than monoracial ones).
What ideas would you add to this list?