As a parent of a biracial child, I am always thinking of how to best equip him with the skills and tools to navigate society. While many biracial children are perceived as attractive, more open-minded, and adaptable, biracial people may face some challenges. Some biracial individuals are questioned about their identity, challenged about where they are from, and sometimes pressured to identify with one ethnicity. Despite the increase in multi-ethnic children around the world, there are still many problematic beliefs and stereotypes about their experiences and identities. For many children of mixed background, these types of responses may have a less than desirable effect on their sense of identity.
Over the years, I have experienced and learnt what it is like to raise a biracial child. Today, I will talk about some things you can do when raising a biracial child that may help them navigate their environment.
1. Start Talking to Your Child from an Early Age About Their Differences
By the age of three, children are aware of their differences. They can define themselves and start comparing themselves to others. So, at this age and beyond, we can start talking to them about their identity so that they know where they belong. You can help your child understand why their skin may be darker or lighter than others’, why their hair is curly, why their eyes are round, why their lips are full, or why they have features that may be deemed different by others. Talking to them and providing them with answers may help them embrace who they are from an early age. According to Dr Francis Wardle, founder of The Center for Biracial Studies, “Children raised from the early years with pride and appreciation of their total heritage have the best chance of developing into secure adults.
2. Acknowledge that Racial Bias and Discrimination Exist
Talking to your child from an early age about their heritage helps them understand who they are. As they get older, you can find appropriate ways to talk to them about racial and cultural biases. Let them know that people will talk about their skin colour and physical features and may not want to be their friend for these reasons (and why that is wrong). Educating your child on what prejudice is and what to do in such a situation will better prepare them to face the reality of the outside world.
3. Coach Them on How to Respond
You will be asked questions about your child, and you may know how to respond. Similarly, your child will be asked questions about themselves when not in your presence—for example, at school, at parks, or at a party—but your child may not know what to say. As your child gets older, coach them on how to reply to questions about their appearance, heritage, and family.
4. Teach Your Child How to Respond to Others They See as Different
I will never forget my son coming home from school at the age of four and telling me that he didn’t want to be friends with a boy in class because the classmate spoke to him in another language. This boy, I believe, comes from a multicultural home like my son. I explained to him that it is okay to speak another language because he speaks another language too, and I gave examples of different people that he knows who speak multiple languages. Since that day, I have continuously ensured that I teach my son how to respond to individuals and people who he thinks are different.
5. Introduce Your Child to Both Sides of Their Culture or Heritage
One of the wonderful parts about raising a biracial child is that we can expose them to their dual cultures or heritages. If you are raising a biracial child, and you and your partner speak different languages, you can introduce both to the child. Additionally, you can introduce your children to foods, music, holidays from your cultural background. If possible, have them spend time with relatives so that they can understand where each parent is from. If visiting family is not possible, take advantage of technology to connect your child to their cultures.
6. Seek Out Other Multicultural Families
You can seek out other biracial or multicultural families. The children will get the chance to meet people who look like them or people with other biracial backgrounds. Especially if you live in a monocultural society, meeting other families and children can help your child feel normal instead of being othered or seen as exotic.
7. Read Books and Use Media That Shows Diversity
Choose books or media that show diversity. Children can get a glimpse of someone who looks like them and can model what they can become. This experience may help them feel like they are not alone or side-lined. When children are reflected in media or books, they can gain role models and be inspired.
8. Do Daily Affirmations
Daily affirmations are a good way to nature self-belief in your child. Affirmations can be done daily and may stay with them for the rest of their life. Your affirmations can be specific to your family or general, such as, “I am wonderful just the way I am.”
Your child’s experience will be unique. The best we can do is to be open about who they are, give them knowledge about their cultural heritage, and be honest about the biases and prejudices they may face. Your positive messages and love will empower them to embrace their multiracial identity. As you empower them with the knowledge, you must also allow them to explore for themselves and choose who they want to be.