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Tools to help young people cope with others’ reactions

You may find it helpful to prepare how to deal with other people’s responses to the way you look.

When people ask questions or make horrible comments, it can be helpful to have some things you can do to make the situation easier for you.

On this page, we share four things you can do to help you cope with other people’s reactions.

Preparing responses tool

Instead of waiting for someone to ask you a question or make a nasty comment, think about what you could say beforehand. You can plan what to say and practise it in front of a mirror or with someone you trust.

You’ll need a notebook to help you with this.

Top tips

  • Keep it simple.
  • Use words you feel comfortable and happy with.
  • Try using words that describe the way you look.
  • Stick to facts – don’t use words that criticise or judge your appearance.

Words you could use

You will find your own words to describe your condition, mark or scar. Here are some types of words you could use:

  • Different colour
  • Noticeable
  • Scarring
  • Unique
  • Small or big
  • Different shape
  • Bumpy
  • Raised
  • Patchy
  • Itchy
  • Numb

Now, think of the words that work for you and list them in a notebook. Or you might like to draw a picture (or you can do both).

Short descriptions

This is where you can use a simple, short line to explain your visible difference. Here are some examples:

  • “It’s just a birthmark.”
  • “It’s a scar from an operation I had ages ago.”
  • “The colour of my skin is not the same all over.”
  • “I’ve got vitiligo – it’s like freckles only backwards.”
  • “I lost my eye after an accident when I was little.”
  • “The bones in my face didn’t grow properly before I was born.”

Now, it’s your turn – try and give a short explanation about your appearance. Think about the words you have written down already and how you can make these into a sentence. Try writing three short phrases in your notebook.

Longer description

Sometimes, you might feel like saying more and it can be good to think about what you might say.

Use the words and sentences you have already come up with. In your notepad, write down a longer description that is about you. Think about what has happened to you and what you would like to say about your appearance or treatments you have had, so that someone understands more about you.

Different situations or places

Make a list of different situations or places you think you might need to prepare for – write these in your notebook. Think about what it is that you find difficult and write this down next to the situation or place. Some examples might be:

  • “Going out with friends after school – I worry people will stare at me.”
  • “Going to the cinema – I don’t like waiting in the queue in case people ask me questions about the way I look.”

Now look at your list. Put the things on it in order of difficulty – with the most difficult one last. You might want to talk to someone else to help you with this.

Now think about the words and phrases from earlier and how they might help you deal with it.

When the situation comes up, try your words and phrases out and see what works. It might take a few goes, but once you feel more confident, you can move on to the next one and do the same.

By going through your list in order, you can start with situations you find less difficult and build up to ones which are harder. By the time you get to the harder ones, it will feel a bit easier as you will have practised and already started building your confidence.

Explain, reassure, divert tool

This is a simple tool to help when you are out in public or with people you don’t know. Helping yourself, and other people, to understand why you look different can make it easier to cope with other people’s reactions.

You’ll need a notebook to help with this tool.

#1: Explain

Explain to yourself why something happened:

  • “This person is curious about me. That is why they are staring.”
  • “He has probably not seen my condition before.”
  • “This comment is unkind but that is their problem, not mine.”

Explain your condition to the other person, to help them understand:

  • “It’s just a scar.”
  • “I have something called vitiligo.”
  • “My face is different, but I am just the same as anyone else.”

Now write down your own explain phrases in your notebook.

#2: Reassure

Reassure yourself to help you feel OK:

  • “I am OK.”
  • “This person does not mean to ignore me – they are looking away because they don’t know what to say.”

Reassure the other person by giving them more information:

  • “It doesn’t hurt.”
  • “I am fine with it.”
  • “It’s OK, I’ve had it all my life.”

Now write down your own reassure phrases in your notebook.

#3: Divert

Find other things to focus your own attention on, so you do not think only about the bad things.

  • Think about something you enjoy, e.g. your family or your pet.
  • Count how many people are wearing red.
  • Think about what you want to do for your birthday.
  • Read a book or look at your phone.

Divert the other person away from talking about things that you are not comfortable with by talking about something else:

  • “I love the chips here, don’t you?”
  • “What is your favourite book or film?”
  • “Do you like football?”

Now write down your own divert ideas and phrases down in your notebook.

Practising explain, reassure, divert

Practise with these examples:

You’re at the cinema. A new boy in your group stares at you as you arrive.

  • What would you say to yourself to EXPLAIN?
  • What might you say to him to EXPLAIN?

You’re in the park. A little girl asks you if it hurts.

  • What would you say to yourself to REASSURE yourself?
  • What might you say to REASSURE her?

A bunch of kids start giggling behind you. You worry they are laughing at you.

  • What would you say to yourself to DIVERT yourself away from this?
  • What might you say to DIVERT them?

The suit of armour tool

Imagine a suit of armour. You can draw a picture of it if you like. It will protect you!

Now think about trying on the armour to make sure it fits and is comfy. How could it protect you in difficult situations where people are making you anxious or upset? All those comments, stares and other things just bounce off – you are invincible!

Draw a picture of yourself in the armour and write some notes on it.

Whenever you’re faced with a difficult or embarrassing situation, step into your suit of armour. Practise thinking about this in different situations and remember how you look and feel inside it.

Add extra power by using the MOTTO confidence tool at the same time!

Try a bubble instead

You could have a bubble instead of a suit of armour.

Imagine blowing a big bubble around yourself. It is a very strong bubble with special powers to protect you. It’s just as strong as the suit of armour, but it’s lighter to wear!

Stares and comments will bounce right off your imaginary bubble. The good thing about the bubble is that you can include other people in it with you – like friends or family.

3-2-1 go tool

This is a simple, quick way to get you started dealing with unwanted attention. Grab a notepad and write down:

  • 3 things to do if someone stares at you.
  • 2 things to say if someone asks what happened to you.
  • 1 thing to think if someone turns away from you.

Here are some example answers if you’re struggling:

  • If someone stares at you: Make eye contact and hold their gaze for a moment.
  • If someone asks what happened to you: Say that you prefer not to discuss it before moving on to a new topic.
  • If someone turns away: Acknowledge that they are the one with the problem by saying, “I can see that the way I look bothers you. I’m sorry about that – I don’t have a problem with how I look”.

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