Q: Recently, our four-year-old African-American daughter has been asking everyone whether she is “pretty.” We talk together about how our family is special because we are “all different colors” and reply that she is beautiful. What could be causing her focus on appearance and beauty?
A: Your daughter may be responding to subtle and not-so-subtle messages from society. She may also have been the target of racist comments that you are unaware of. I suggest you talk directly with her about the complexities of race and beauty in our culture. Look for support from the African-American community.
On a broader level, your daughter is also most likely grappling with issues of adoption and race, trying to understand why she doesn’t look like you, her parents. Children adopted transracially often wish they looked like their parents, expressing a desire to be closer to them rather than a rejection of their own race. You need to acknowledge directly that your family looks different from others at school. This is the time to explain her adoption story, why her African-American birth mother was unable to raise her, and why you, a white couple, chose to adopt her.