Psychologist & Professor
Montclair State University
Many foster arrangements and adoptions are “transracial”, meaning the child is of a different race or heritage than one or both of the foster or adopting parents.
As it is, foster and adopted children are subjected to “microaggressions” which are subtle (and not-so-subtle) slights based upon their family status.
Add to this the fact that children who are racial minorities can be subjected to hundreds of microaggressions per month (English, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology) and it becomes crucial for parents to address these issues head-on.
Two approaches experts tend to favor are “cultural socialization” and “preparation for bias training”. Both have data that corroborate they improve a child’s self-esteem and ability to cope.
Cultural socialization is when the whole family takes a real interest in the race, culture and heritage of their child. This means getting exposed to the history, music, food, film, books and other facets of that child’s birth culture.
One example of a cultural socialization opportunity exists in Chicago, where Styles4Kidz provides hair styling services for transracial families so non-African American parents can learn about how to celebrate the tradition of styling and keep their kids feeling confident and proud. A salon doesn’t necessarily have to be set-up to train parents for you to go with your child, have them feel welcomed and for you to learn a few crucial basic skills.
Not surprisingly, the data strongly supports the value of social culturalization in transracial foster and adoptive families. A study of 241 US, caucasian families that adopted children from Korea showed that children were 26% more likely to have higher self-esteem when their families practiced social culturalization.
Preparation for bias training is having frank discussions with your child about how people may say and do hurtful things based upon race and ethnicity. These can be hard conversations to have, especially with a younger child.
Keep in mind that these discussions aren’t just about delivering bad news, but also about training your child how to respond externally and internally. Without your guidance, an unsuspecting child will be forced to understand it on their own.
In a study of over 66 transracially adopted adolescents, data showed that respondents whose parents practiced preparation for bias training (and cultural socialization) felt less stress after hearing racist remarks than those whose parents didn’t practice preparation for bias. This was particularly true amongst respondents who encountered a high number of racist comments growing up.