Raising Confident Multiracial Children
Like most parents, I’ve thought a lot about my daughter’s future. I have considered race, culture, language, religion and so many other factors that will become a part of her developing identity. Being the mother of biracial children, it’s been a growing concern for me. While our nation is increasingly diverse, there are still factors that can leave kids feeling less than confident about their heritage and wondering where they fit in. This can cause them to feel marginalized on both sides or like they have to identify with one ethnicity over the other. Now, through the growth of the internet, nearly unlimited resources are available to modern parents who want to educate their children in a variety of cultures. We all have the opportunity to build a foundation of multicultural heritage that treats all parts equally, rather than seeing our children pigeon-holed into an ethnic category that forces them to identify in only one way.
In a world where diversity isn’t always accepted, there are a number of things that parents can do to help multiracial children to feel more accepted and confident about their diverse heritage.
- React to negative responses from society. Whenever you hear or see someone responding negatively to your child, make sure that you come to their defense. Treat those situations like you would any other and show your child that you value their feelings by speaking up. By dismissing the negative you are also setting the example for your children, of how they should handle future attacks when they’re on their own.
- Encourage discussions about heritage. Always be open to your child’s questions about their ethnic heritage and be willing to learn more in order to teach them anything that they show interest in. In the same way that you’d want to understand about general American history, you should also be willing to educate your child on their personal heritage. When they know their full history, they can then begin to realize a personal identity.
- Draw attention to the positive. Bicultural and biracial children often hear a lot of criticism about their mixed heritage. It helps to boost their self-esteem whenever parents, relatives and friends can give some positive feedback or compliments. Talking about or meeting with other individuals of similar backgrounds can also allow a positive influence in your child’s life, one that will help them to develop a sense of pride in themselves and their heritage. A mentor can often help them to see that their dreams are possible.
- Create a family identity. Show unity in your family and minimize bias by sharing culture as a family. Mix-up your heritage by choosing variety in the meals you eat, music you listen to and activities that you attend. Each culture, language or religion should receive equal respect and appreciation. The example starts at home with parents showing their kids that there is equal value for all aspects of their heritage.
- Expose them to diverse materials. Thanks to expanding diversity and internet resources their are more diverse toys, clothes, foods, etc. available to modern families. Invest in bilingual toys, racially diverse dolls, books, action figures, tv characters and more. When you expose your children to diversity, they feel more at home with those ideas. Also, seeing images of people like themselves will help them to see themselves as part of the big picture, instead of as an outsider.
- Participate in cultural events. Attending a variety events is another great way to expose your family to diversity and learn more about a particular culture or ethnic group. Attend religious events, festivals, weddings, museums, outdoor markets, etc. Every interaction is a learning experience and a chance to bond with their heritage. Show your children how to get involved and you can bet that they’ll continue those traditions in the future.
- Embrace integration. With all children, and especially multiracial and multicultural children, it is so important that they have opportunities to interact with kids of various backgrounds. Rather than pick our children’s friends by race, language, religion, etc. we can embrace the differences and schedule play dates and social time with diversity in mind. This allows our children to feel at home with the differences and demonstrates to them that you acknowledge their need to socialize with others like them.
- Let them choose their label. Sometimes we place a label on our children without even giving it a second thought. We may consider them ‘African American’, ‘Hispanic’ or ‘Asian’, but often times children prefer to create their own term to describe themselves. We don’t always have to submit to the politically correct term, instead let your child choose to refer to themselves as they wish. They may prefer titles like ‘Tejano’ or simply ‘American’, rather than the politically correct versions. Remember that this “label” often becomes a big part of your child’s identity, so it’s important to let them have some say in what it should be.
How about you? What would you add?
This post was first published on April 13, 2012.