Therapists Discuss How to Develop Positive Racial Identity
in Internationally & Transracially Adopted Children
Approximately 20,000 children are adopted from other countries by parents in the US every year. And, roughly 20 percent of all domestic adoptions are “transracial” – meaning that at least one of the parent’s race is different from the child’s race.
As a result, many internationally and/or transracially adopted children struggle with judging their own physical appearance and identity by the standards of a culture that is not their own.
How Positive Racial Identity Develops
A child’s identity is influenced by both their significant role models (adoptive parents, teachers, etc.) AND ideals or standards to which the child is consistently exposed in their environment (at school, in their neighborhood, and in the media). So what happens when an adopted child’s appearance, nationality, language (and perhaps even customs or religion) are different than those that now surround him or her after adoption?
When a child observes that he or she is “the same as” the members of his home, school & society that are in charge, they will naturally be confident that he or she has the same rights and same “worth” – and they will likely achieve the same rewards and accomplishments as everyone else.
But when a child identifies as “different”, he or she may assume that because he or she is NOT like everyone else, they can only achieve limited position, status or acceptance.
This can affect his or her self-esteem, confidence, sense of worth and self-respect. Being “different” can result in feelings of inferiority, lowered expectations and lack of confidence. Further, exposure to societal discrimination, prejudice, and negative stereotypes about their identity will further fuel the flames of self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness.
Parents’ Dialogue Can Facilitate Positive Racial Identity in Adopted Children
The good news is that if the child’s minority group tis celebrated and held in esteem, he or she can have self-esteem and self-identity that is just as positive as a child from the “majority” group around him or her!
To foster positive racial identity in adopted children, adoption therapists recommend telling your child:
- That he/she & any members of his minority can accomplish the same achievements as anyone else, when given equal opportunities,
- That their minority group has the same rights and entitlements as every other group,
- That their race, religion, nationality is absolutely equal to and as good as any other group,
- That it is a fact that prejudices and stereotypes are untrue, and
- That stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination are wrong.
Parents’ Actions Can Facilitate Positive Racial Identity in Adopted Children
To foster positive racial identity, adoption therapists also recommend that adoptive parents:
- Expose their adopted child to historical figures and accomplishments from individuals of his/her race, religion, country or culture,
- Define success and accomplishment by highlighting individual achievements, and spiritual and moral strength,
- Expose the adopted child to members of their own minority group (race, religion, nationality or culture) in positions of power, achievement and control,
- Acknowledge the existence of prejudice, racism, and discrimination (don’t ignore it or pretend it does not exist) – and explaining why such behavior exists, and
- Provide the child with a range of responses to discrimination, in order to minimize the child’s feelings of helplessness.
All of these steps are conducive to the formation of a positive identity in your adoptive child. By advocating for family, social, and educational experiences that are respectful, reflective, and sensitive to cultural diversity an adoptive parent can help ensure self-acceptance, confidence and high self-esteem in an internationally or transracially adopted child.
Oakland County Adoption Therapist Victoria Schreiber Can Help
If you suspect that your internationally or transracially adopted child is demonstrating symptoms of stress, depression, anger or withdrawal related to their racial or national identity, we are here to help. If your child’s negative behaviors have become more persistent, are interfering with your family functioning, or affecting their school performance – it is probably time to consider professional help from an adoption therapist.
With love, patience and the guidance of an adoption therapist, adopted children can overcome their feelings of “differentness” and live full, happy, successful and productive lives.