Comments and questions about your child’s appearance can be unkind and thoughtless. We share some suggestions about how you can deal with this.
We often give others an inquisitive look when we first meet them. This is very different to the outright staring your child may have experienced as someone living with a visible difference.
Staring can make your child feel uncomfortable and awkward – or even upset and offended if it goes on for a long time.
On this page, we consider why people stare and explore ways to help you and your child cope.
The information on this page has been written to support you, as the parents and carers of young people with visible differences. We have produced separate advice and guidance for children and young people. You might want to share the guide linked below with your child or you could read it together.
Not everyone will have met someone with a condition, mark or scar before – and most of us are curious when we see something different. Sometimes, people look for longer than usual without realising it as their brain tries to make sense of what they are seeing. Sometimes people make a double-take or even turn away in surprise or because they are embarrassed and don’t know how to act.
In most cases, people are not trying to hurt you or your child’s feelings. Bearing this in mind can help reassure yourself and your child.
The other person will probably be looking at your child but it will be clear that you are their parent or carer, particularly if they are a small child or baby.
Acknowledge the staring
This might give you the chance to engage the other person by making eye contact or looking their way to catch their attention and help them become aware of their staring:
- Look back, smile and hold the other person’s gaze briefly. Most people will smile back and then look away.
- Look back, smile or nod to show them you have noticed their staring – this may also help break the ice.
- For more persistent “starers”, look back and hold their gaze whilst raising your eyebrows as an acknowledgement that you’ve noticed their staring.
- If the staring continues, frown to tell them you are not happy.
Decide not to respond
You might notice someone staring at your child and you decide that you are not going to respond at all. This is not you “letting them get away with it” – it is entirely in your power to choose how to respond to others.
You may decide to move away from the other person because it is making you and your child uncomfortable – or because you don’t want your child to notice. You can do this discreetly without your child noticing the reason why you are moving.
Use a prepared response
Having a brief explanation ready when you notice someone staring at your child can defuse an awkward situation. It can help people to move beyond their initial reactions and make it easier for you to get on with your day with as little disruption as possible.
There is no need to provide adults or children you meet in public with in-depth medical explanations.
A brief and straightforward answer will satisfy most people:
- “I see that you have noticed Jordan’s face. It is the way he was born.”
- “Zarina’s face is swollen on one side. It doesn’t hurt her.”
- “Mason has eczema. That is why his skin is red and itchy. You can’t catch it.”
- “Tom was born with neurofibromatosis. It means he gets lumps and bumps under his skin.”
You don’t owe anyone any kind of explanation – so only use this approach if you want to. If it’s appropriate and you feel able, a simple “hello” can sometimes be enough to help the other person notice that they are staring.
If your child becomes aware of the staring, they may be upset, offended or hurt. Talk to them to reassure them that they have done nothing wrong and the staring is not their fault. Here are some phrases you can use to reassure them:
- “They are just curious, maybe they know someone who has the same condition.”
- “Staring is rude. You don’t need to worry about someone who is being rude.”
- “People notice others who look a bit different and sometimes they don’t realise they’re staring.”
You may be feeling shaken and upset yourself, so feel free to say some of these things to yourself. You could also try:
- “They may be too nervous to ask me a question about my child.”
- “I know they are staring but I am going to choose to think about something else. I don’t need to spend energy thinking about someone staring at my child.”