The importance of self identity for any individual is high. However I would argue that that importance can skyrocket when it comes to mixed children. Raising a biracial child has a lot of nuances that I think few parents realize. Children with more than one ethnic background can often find themselves at a crossroads. Not knowing whether to go right or left, which box to check or how to identify. It’s an internal struggle that many can’t even begin to understand, and it’s why teaching your young children a sense of identity is so important.
Unfortunately for us, our race still plays a huge role in society. Being judge based solely on the color of ones skin. And although it would be nice if our skin tone had nothing to do with our self identity, it does. For biracial children, the color of their skin plays an even greater role.
Imagine being asked where you’re from almost daily. Or if you’re insert foreign ethnicity not even remotely close to who you are. This is just a small apart of what it feels like to be mixed feels like. Growing up in a racially dominated society, biracial person’s are often TOLD who they are. Where we’re from. And where we belong well before we even open our mouths.
“You’re not blank enough so stop trying to pretend.” “No way you’re blank. Stop lying.” I’ve heard these and many others far more often than I’d care to admit. And it always left me wondering where I fit it.
Who exactly was I if I was too this or not enough of that to belong to any one group? How was I supposed to identify myself, when those within my own cultures didn’t believe I belong?
As a multicultural woman, I have struggled with my own self identity for many years. We didn’t have those types of conversations when I was growing up. My heritage was never explained to me. Nor was I given the opportunity to explore who I was as a child. It is this lack of encouragement that led to me questioning if I ever truly belonged.
I wholeheartedly believe that had my parents taken the time to teach me how to have a positive self identity I would not have suffered all those years. And that is why I want to share with you the importance of your children’s identities and why you should be an active participant in helping your mixed child develop it.
What Is Self Identity?
First things first, don’t get it confused with social identity. The two do work in tandem but there are differences. Our social identity is how we see ourselves in relation to the groups we belong too. Such as our family, peers, or co-workers. Where self identity is how we see ourselves. It’s how we see our individualities in regards to those around us. Our self identity shapes what we think of the very things that make us unique. Do you celebrate your child’s coil hair or tell her its unmanageable? Do you encourage your child to have fun in the sun during summer months? Or warn them not to get “too dark?”
While these things may seem insignificant, comments like these are damaging to a child’s self identity. They may begin to question if their differences / uniqueness is a bad thing.
Why Self Identity Is So Important (Especially for Biracial Kids)
The importance of self identity goes beyond childhood. And the lack therefore can be seen in many areas of a child’s life. Having a healthy sense of self identity helps shape who they are. A positive sense of identity helps develop self-esteem and confidence. Children with a good grasp on how they are, naturally feel worthy and capable. This, in turn, makes them more likely to be optimistic and to do well in school.
Self identity can also help children be more open to people from other backgrounds. When a person is confident in themselves, it is less likely for them to fear differences or put others down to feel better about themselves.
Studies have shown that children establish their identity in early childhood. The process actually begins at birth! Babies figure out who they are from those around them. In the first few hours they can tell one smell from another, one voice from another. Hence why infants typically can look in the direction of their mother when she speaks, even at just a few hours old. And as our babies grow emotionally close to us, they begin to associate our smell, sound, and touch and recognize that we are their “safe space” early on. But how does this affect their self identity?
Children who are raised in diverse families and communities learn to understand differences in others. Variations in how people look, feel, and sound are all normal for them. However children who have a more homogeneous family expect the human face, voice and touch to be a particular skin color or tone.
Being a parent to a biracial child means exposing them to as many differences as possible. Letting them explore both of their cultures will help them learn that their own differences are okay. They will grow to feel less alienated. Mixed children can be empowered to embrace all of who they are.
Look for These Signs of Self-Identity Issues
Whlie identity development begins at a very young age, teenage identity development is just as critical. Certain stressors can lead teenagers to look for their identity in other places. Looking to help define their identities, children experiencing an identity crisis may exhibit certain behaviors.
Examples of identity issues can be things like seeking validation from others. Wanting status symbols or to be the “cool” kid are all ways children look for validation. Additionally children lacking a positive self-identity may begin acting out. Displaying behaviors that may be taboo or considered “grown up.” Forming or joining cliques and rebelling against one’s parents are other examples of the impact of a poor identity.
Parenting Mixed Kids? How to Help Them Develop a Positive Self Identity
Understanding self identity is key if you want to help your children develop theirs. In order to foster young children’s sense of identity we as parents must first value them. Showing your child how amazing their uniqueness is helps them to see how special they are. Ways to do this include listening when they speak (and not being judgment or dismissive) as it lets them know they are important. Try to be a safe space for them to express their feelings and emotions with you.
Its also important to encourage your child to make their own decisions and choices. This teaches them its okay to make mistakes. And when they say they can do something, give them the space to do so. Even if we think they may mess it up.
Additionally, raise a problem solving. Provide plenty of opportunities for them to think outside of the box. Avoid walking them through every aspect of their lives. Ask questions that promote questioning things and encourage them to find a better solution.
And lastly, help your child learn how to treat others. Our differences are what make us special. Instill this in your child and instruct them to be loving and accepting of everyone they meet. Taking them to different places where they can learn about, see, and encounter not only people who don’t look like them, but also different cultures is a great way to facilitate this.
Invest Time Now So They Can Reap the Benefits of Self Identity for Years to Come
By now I hope the importance of personal identity is evident. As a parent to a biracial child the things you say and do have lasting effects on their identities. The more we as their role models model accepting and loving behavior of not only them but everyone around us, we teach our children to be strong in these three areas. Areas that if cultivated will carry them further in life.
Confidence can get you in a room you were never intended to be in. It is what told Micheal Jackson he could have a solo career after years of being in the Jackson Five. (Am I showing my age? LOL). Our level of confidence plays a major role in our psychology.
Your biracial child’s confidence will tell them they belong even when others say they don’t. It will help them shake those negative thoughts formed from years of hearing they aren’t blank enough. Having confidence will help a mixed woman joyful proclaim she is neither one or the other and shall not be confirmed to any racially driven box that society tries to put her in.
2. Strong Sense of Belonging
As I mentioned earlier, I have felt alienated most of my life. I was near sure where I belonged. As a Black and White biracial child I was often told I wasn’t black enough. Or I acted too white. This made me question where I’d fit in. If the two races that made me shunned me, who could possibly like me?
Your multicultural child needs to know they belong. Having a strong sense of belonging is vital in their development. Especially as a teen. Our teenage years are when we start to gravitate towards people who we feel “get” us. It’s during these times that we make lasting connections based on who we believe ourselves to be. Having a strong sense of not only who you are but where you belong in the world around you will ensure those connections are the right ones.
3. Satisfaction with Life
Have you ever felt like your entire life was a waste? LIke you could be gone tomorrow and no one would care? I can tell you that I have. I can tell you that for a long time I struggled with being okay with myself. And I finally figured out why. I didn’t know myself. I had no idea who I was. My lack of self identity left me feeling unsatisfied with my life.
Being satisfied with life is more than just being okay with your career path. Its being happy with your choices overall. Having no regrets as some like to say. Even if you’ve made mistakes, you’re able to look at them as learning experiences. Continuing to move forward despite them. We all want that for our children. Teaching them to have a positive self identity encourages this.
No matter our racial background, we must be aware of how children’s sense of self can be shaped by experiences in the world. Sometimes based solely on their race. And if your goal is to help your biracial child develop a strong, positive sense of themselves then the importance of self identity should not be something you take lightly.