Children with biracial identities need to understand and appreciate both cultures.

Raising a Biracial Baby

by Janet Mulroney Clark

According to a 2011 article in "The New York Times," the number of children in the U.S. who do not identify with only one race "has increased almost 50 percent, to 4.2 million, since 2000, making it the fastest growing youth group in the country." As more children identify as biracial or multiracial, raising a biracial baby becomes more common. At this point, however, issues and challenges remain.

1. Children's Stages of Racial Awareness

Child psychologist and author Marguerite Wright, in work cited in "Meeting the Needs of Multi/Biracial Children in School and at Home" by Brea Cunico, says children go through four stages of racial awareness. Three-year-old children are in the racial innocence stage. They are not aware of their own race or color and they are not aware of other people's race and color. In the next stage, color awareness, children ages 3 to 5 begin to notice and comment on skin color. They believe skin color can be changed by painting it or by magic. Children do not show prejudice at this age. Awakening to skin color is the stage when children begin to understand that color is permanent. In this stage, children ages 6 to 7 begin to categorize people by race and are at risk for picking up the prejudices of the adults in their lives. The racial awareness stage arises in children at ages 8 through 10. Children in this stage recognize race and features that identify race in addition to skin color. This stage offers a window of opportunity to teach children not to be prejudiced.

2. Concerns

According to a 2008 article in the journal "Psychiatry," biracial children are at higher risk for issues with self-esteem and racial identification, and problems with substance abuse and violence. "They are likely to possess some memories of unkind stares, questioning by others, family disapproval, feelings of uncertainty and discomfort, or outright racism," the journal reported.

3. Communicating About Race

As the educator, minister and children's television program producer Fred Rogers said, "What is mentionable is manageable." It's important for parents to keep lines of communication open so their children will feel comfortable talking about race with them. Parents can encourage their children not only to talk about race, but to talk about their own ongoing search for racial identity; doing this helps children develop self-esteem, respect and closeness with the parent, according to Cunico.

4. Establishing Racial Heritage

Parents can help their children understand their racial heritage and develop a racial identity by exposing them to art, literature, music and other elements of both cultures. They can choose books and films with biracial characters. They can help the child spend time with both sides of the family. As children grow and develop, they might identify more strongly with one race or the other, or they might identify as blended. This often changes over time, according to "Raising Biracial Children" authors Kerry Ann Rockquemore and Tracey Laszloffy. Some children eventually identify as transcendent, no longer viewing race as something that defines them or is an essential part of their identity.

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