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Help your child cope with their disfigurement

How parents of children with a disfigurement can react positively to stares and comments from strangers

Get tips on handling social situations with confidence if your child has a condition or injury that affects their appearance.

Your child will learn from watching you deal positively with challenging situations.

Talking about your child's condition

Think about your preferred way to describe your child's appearance. That way, you'll be ready if strangers ask unexpected questions.

One tried and tested way of dealing with questions is to:

  • explain: provide a brief explanation of the condition – one that you and your child are comfortable with, or simply give the name of the condition
  • reassure: let the person asking the question know that your child is OK
  • distract: move them on to another subject

For example, to a question like, "Why is your child's face like that?" you could say: "Sarah has a birthmark – it doesn't hurt her. We're off to the park. Where are you going?"

By seeing how you respond to people's curiosity, your child will learn that questions can be dealt with calmly, and that their disfigurement isn't a forbidden subject when meeting new people.

Dealing with stares and comments

If someone's staring, it can be helpful to make eye contact and smile. That's often enough to break someone's gaze.

You can then choose to continue what you were doing or engage the person staring at you in a conversation.

Parents sometimes find this is a positive way to help people move beyond focusing on their child's disfigurement and learn more about their child.

You don't have to listen to comments that are rude or upsetting – and if you feel like saying something, you can.

Short responses are often helpful. Try to keep calm, even if you don't feel it.

Here are some ideas:

  • "Please don't stare, my child has a scar on his face."
  • "My daughter has a birthmark, but it's not contagious in any way." 
  • "Please don't stare. It makes us very uncomfortable."

Talk to your child and try to move your thoughts away from the person commenting or staring.

Your child's questions

Children start becoming curious about their appearance from an early age.

Your child will benefit from:

  • learning about their condition
  • developing their own set of responses to different situations

Be open and honest with your child. Encourage them to ask questions. Use language that's appropriate for their age.

Remind them that their disfigurement is one small element of who they are.

Try activities like drawing and reading to help them spot similarities and differences between people.

Help your child make friends

Encouraging children to develop their social skills can help them feel in control of and confident around others.

Good social skills can include being the first to say hello, smiling, listening to people, and being interested in others.

Talk to your child's school

If your child's starting a new school, make sure their new teacher is aware of how to help them settle in.

For example, you can discuss with them how best to manage the reactions from other children, and you can explain how your child likes their condition to be referred to.

Some teachers may want to speak to the rest of the class before your child comes in to reduce the chance of stares or questions, but the charity Changing Faces doesn't recommend this approach.

Their advice states: "Making friends begins with looking and being looked at. The other children are likely to look carefully, perhaps with surprise and interest. They usually ask questions.

"If these expressions of interest are discouraged, the child who looks different is at risk of finding it harder in the long run to make friends."

More support, information and advice for children and their families is available from Changing Faces.

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