We know that the bullying of children with unusual appearances is all too common in schools.

Feeling different

image002What is in this guide?

  • Why do people act the way they do?
  • How this might make you feel
  • Tips and advice to help and support you

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Why do people stare, comment or question?

Mostly people are curious. And some people just forget their manners and don’t really think about how it might make you feel.

Unless a person is being deliberately nasty, it may help to remember that they are not trying to hurt or upset you. They just don’t know how to react.

  • It’s natural for people to be curious, interested or surprised when they come across something new
  • When they see someone who looks different, they may not know what to say or how to act
  • Some people might wonder what happened to you and want to know all about it. (Of course, this doesn’t mean they have a right to know, or even ask – or stare!)
  • Some people worry that you’re hurt or want to check you’re ok
  • Some people think they are being clever by making a joke.

A few people are giving you a hard time or putting you down to make themselves look big – often these people have their own problems that make them act this way.

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Are they SCARED?

Changing Faces uses SCARED to describe how people think and how this might make them act.

IF SOMEONE FEELS… THEY MIGHT…
sorry or shocked S stare or be speechless
curious or confused C be clumsy
anxious A ask questions or act awkward
repelled (put off) R be rude or run away
embarrassed E act evasive – ignore you
distressed D be distressed or worried

Around the age of three or four, children may notice if someone looks different. They may stare at you because they’re trying to work it out. Older children may say things without thinking: “Look at him, mum.” Usually they don’t mean any harm – they just haven’t learnt that it is rude or that it might hurt your feelings. And sometimes even adults may stare or say something to you.

Maybe it would help to understand it a bit more by thinking about how you’ve acted when you’ve seen something or someone different looking. What did you think? What did you do or? Grab a pen and write it down.

How you feel about yourself? Are you SCARED?

Being SCARED can also explain how you feel… and how you then might act.

IF YOU FEEL… YOU MIGHT…
self-conscious S act shy
conspicuous (standing out) C cover yourself up
angry or anxious A be angry or anxious
rejected – like people don’t want to know you R retreat – pull away or hide from people
embarrassed E be evasive – ignore people
different D act defensive – try to protect yourself

Of course, looking different doesn’t mean you don’t look good. You and other people can like your looks just the way they are – after all, it’s a part of you – and you are unique!

But, it’s not always easy. Being worried about looking different and how other people might act can affect how you feel about yourself. It can mean you feel less confident and act embarrassed, shy or worried when you meet people. You might even try and avoid seeing new people as you are worried they will say mean things to you.

What if I am really struggling?

Some people find it really hard to cope. If you are:

  • Very unhappy or you don’t want to go anywhere or see anyone
  • Not sleeping properly or having nightmares a lot
  • Feeling like there is something wrong with you or worrying a lot about how you look

You might need to get some help with these things. Don’t struggle on alone – tell your parents, carers or your teacher. And ask them to get in touch with Changing Faces where you can be referred to a practitioner who will spend some time talking to you and helping you to cope better.

The way you are is more important than the way you look!

The way someone looks may be one of the first things we notice about them… but it’s not the only thing we notice.

Looks are only one small part of us. What really counts is what we are like as people. Think about someone you meet. What is it that makes you want to get to know them?

Ok, looks are the first part of it, maybe, but, even then, it is our whole look that says something about us… what type of things we wear… how we do our hair… what colour clothes we like…

And really, it is much, much more than that. It is the way we arethe way we act the way we smilethe way we talkthe way we standthe way we laugh

What if I find it harder to talk, or to look at people, or to move my face?

You may need to show what you mean even more, by using what you have. Use your body language – we can ‘talk’ with our bodies. We can ‘say’ more about what we mean by how we stand, walk, move, sit, talk, sound and by the expression on our face.

  • Make sure your voice is loud enough for people to hear and try to speak as clearly as you can. How fast you talk, or making your voice higher or lower, can give more meaning to your words. Try this out with a friend…
  • If you can, make eye contact and show people the expression on your face, rather than hide your face away
  • Use your hands to emphasise what you are saying
  • If your condition affects your speech, as well as trying to talk as slowly and clearly as possible, it may help to say something like, ‘Please listen carefully as my speech is not very clear.’ Let people know you don’t mind repeating yourself. Also, writing things down may be useful too.
  • If your condition means you are worried that people cannot read your expression or your smile easily, or you find it more difficult to make eye contact, showing them your whole face may help.
  • Try to look them in the eye as best you can – this will still add meaning (even if you only can do this with one eye)
  • And remember, we usually smile with our whole face and our eyes, not just our mouth.

People notice faces because they are always on show. But this is not just to see if the person is nice-looking. We watch people’s faces and eyes and mouths. If someone is happy or pleased, they look happy with their face, mouth and eyes – they smile and their eyes light up.

If someone is unhappy, their eyes look sad and their mouth turns down.

People who are confident, friendly and fun are lovely. They are the people that we want to spend time with.

Grab a pen!

Think of someone you like to spend time with. Why do you like to be with them?

Make the most of your talents and being unique you!

Now think about yourself – you have your own unique personality and talents.

List the things that other people like about you.

What is the best thing about you?

What are you good at?

Don’t blame everything on your different looks

Sometimes looking different may be the reason for some of your problems, but be careful not to blame everything on it – maybe it’s other things too… like something that has happened at school or at home, just being a kid or a teenager, or the everyday ups and downs of life. We all have them.

contentimage_image324Lucas – aged 13 – ‘I look different and feel good about myself’

My nose is wider and flatter than most people’s. It’s something I was born with and the long name for it is frontal-nasal craniofacial dysplasia. I use this name when I want to confuse people!

The first time I realised I had any kind of condition was when I was four, and I went to school for the first time. The other children stared and asked questions like, ’What’s wrong with you?’ or ‘What happened to you?’ They didn’t understand – and neither did I. It was confusing and scary hearing them say those things, because I didn’t understand I looked different. It was shocking to realise I wasn’t the same as everyone else.

After that, I was bullied for most of my time at primary school. Boys would punch me and try to wrestle me to the ground and the girls called me cruel names like ‘pig nose’ or ‘elephant man’.

The physical bullying was the worst and most of the time I was in tears and too scared to go into the playground. They were so out of touch in my primary school that the teachers kept me inside until I felt better and told the children to stay away from me, so I ended up on my own. They suggested I see an educational psychologist when it affected my school work. They were thinking I had learning difficulties, but when the report came back from him it showed I was actually very able, but in an oppressive environment.

One day when I was nine years old I’d had enough, so I just got up and went home. That caused a quite a stir… and it was soon after that, my parents got in touch with Changing Faces for help and advice. Someone from the charity came to the school to help the teachers and thankfully things got much better from there on.

My next school got it right from the start. They had a meeting with people from Changing Faces and my Mum. They know that looking different is like having something extra to deal with and that it is support that I need to cope with other children’s behaviour and reactions. Curiosity about my appearance is now treated appropriate to the manner in which it is asked and I’m pretty happy there.

As I’ve grown older I have had to learn how to handle people’s reactions so that I can feel good about myself. Now, if someone stares too long, or keeps looking back, I often smile and mouth the word ‘Hello’.

Meeting new people

Most of us feel a bit nervous when we meet people we don’t know, especially if we feel worried about what people might do or say. We all want to make a good first impression. Sometimes, you might feel worried about some of the following things:

  • People noticing your condition and how they might act
  • Worrying what people think about you
  • Feeling awkward or embarrassed
  • Not liking people looking at you

When meeting other people, write down the things you worry about

How might you act?

If people have made hurtful comments or made you feel uncomfortable in the past, it makes sense that you might get SCARED and nervous or worried about it.

This might mean:

  • Without thinking about it, you might expect people to be mean… which can make you even more worried…
  • You might try to avoid meeting new people at all – which can make you more nervous – especially as you become less used to talking to people you don’t know.
  • You might feel angry with the people giving you a hard time and shout at them
  • Or you might take it out on the people around you, like your parents or carers
  • Or maybe you just keep it inside and try not to think about it.

All of this is normal… this is what people do when they feel hurt or upset.

Things to try

There are some things you can try…

EXPLAIN REASSURE DISTRACT ASSERT HUMOUR

Changing Faces has come up with these five helpful skills to help you when you are out in public or with people you don’t know. See if you can learn them… and then try to remember them when you are in an uncomfortable situation.

As each person is different, you’ll need to find out what works for you – and when it works best. Try out a few things in different situations (maybe starting with your family and friends). Don’t worry if you don’t get it right straight away – it will take a bit of practice and time at first.

You might want to think about situations beforehand – and come up with some things you might say or do. Here are some examples for you to think about.

image006EXPLAIN

To yourself: Explain to yourself why something may happen. Think about why someone might behave in a particular way towards you. For example, if a person asks about your condition, think to yourself, “This person is curious about me” or “He’s not seen my condition before”.

Someone makes a comment to you. EXPLAIN it to yourself… write it down.

To the other person: Explain your condition to the other person, to help them understand, for example: “It’s just a scar”, “I have something called vitiligo” or “My face is different, but I am just the same as anyone else.”

Write how you might EXPLAIN to someone else.

REASSURE

Yourself: Reassure yourself, for example: “I am ok.” or “This person doesn’t mean to ignore me – they’re looking away because they don’t know what to say.”

Write how you might REASSURE yourself.

The other person: Reassure the other person, for example: “It doesn’t hurt”, “I am fine with it” or “It’s ok, I’ve had it all my life.”

Write how you might REASSURE someone else.

DISTRACT

Yourself: Distract yourself in a difficult situation by thinking about something else, for example: count to 100, say the alphabet backwards, listen to music, or think about something that makes you feel good

Write how you might DISTRACT yourself.

The other person: Distract the other person by talking about something else, for example: “I love chips! Don’t you?” or “This is my favourite song. What’s yours?”

Write how you might DISTRACT someone else.

image009ASSERT

Yourself: Assert yourself by showing you are in control – either walk away or make a short statement, for example: “Please stop staring at me.” or “I didn’t ask for your opinion.”

Write how you might ASSERT yourself.

The other person: The other person is most likely to be embarrassed or surprised. Even if they’re not, walking away shows you are in control.

Ellie – aged 15 – ‘Assertiveness is something I have always found useful’

It doesn’t need to be anything more than a quiet confidence; you don’t have to be aggressive or blunt.

Being assertive means thinking positively, reassuring yourself and others, reminding yourself of your control and finding strength.

It means finding a certain kind of courage, and not being afraid to admit you’re afraid.

It’s saying ‘Hey. I know in some ways I’m different and yeah, that can be hard.’ But I know my strengths and I’m going to stand tall in this world.

image010HUMOUR

Yourself: Use your sense of humour to either lighten the situation or put the other person in their place, for example: “You think that’s funny – wait till you hear my brilliant jokes!” or “Wow – you’re so clever!”

Write how you might use HUMOUR

The other person: The other person may laugh or respond to the humour… or be embarrassed.

There’s a lot more information about all this in the guide Build Your Confidence

Try to remember:
  • You are unique and amazing – you have many talents
  • Your whole look and personality make you who you are
  • Other people may act in the way they do because they are SCARED
  • There are things you can try – and it’s fine to practice them and try things out in different situations
  • Smile – smiling has a funny way of making us and everyone else feel better – even if you just smile with your eyes!