Coping with other people’s reactions as a parent

Unwanted attention and having to cope with other people’s reactions is one of the biggest issues people with visible difference can face. As the parent of a child with a visible difference, this can also be challenging for you. How will other people react to them? Will they be bullied because of how they look? How will I feel if people stare or comment? How will your child cope? How you will cope? These are all common concerns that Changing Faces hears from parents.

Acknowledge how you are feeling. It is difficult being a parent, and natural to worry about this. It is ok not to feel ok sometimes. It is ok to wish you or your child didn’t have to manage other people’s reactions. It is ok to feel angry that other people can be unkind.

In this section, there are several documents to help you manage some of these issues as a parent.

In the children’s section of Coping with other people’s reactions there are also materials designed for you to work through with your children to help them to cope with challenges such as handling staring, questions or comments and various tools. One size does not fit all, but there are lots of different tips and practicing these with your child help you both find what works best.

Here are a few additional things that may be helpful to consider:

Children often look to adults for how to behave; so how you respond to unwanted attention may be something your child will follow. Your child may be listening to what you say when you respond to people and may copy your style or language. Use the words you are happy with your child both hearing said and using themselves. 

Of course, you can feel angry that someone has made a rude comment about your child, but it is how you manage this in the moment. If you respond in an angry way, it is likely your child will do this too. A polite, simple explanation that your child looks different, but they are fine, can be enough to stop any further attention. This can be difficult and you may feel the person does not deserve your polite approach; but this will help your child to see a calm way of dealing with the situation.

Consider how much you say and how much of your child’s situation to share (and this may vary depending on who you are talking to). If your child is old enough, it is good to have a general  conversation with them about this – about how they want to respond, if there is anything they want you to say, or things they don’t want you to talk about. It is also good to check in with them later about what was said and how they felt about it at the time – discuss what worked for them and for you. 

It is also good to talk about how the unwanted attention made your child feel. If your child is upset or angry, this can be acknowledged and you can share your feelings about it too. For example, you might say something like, ‘Yes it is upsetting, I didn’t like it either, but some people are curious and it isn’t about you, it is about them’. This can help your child to be clear that the problem lies with others and not them.

‘What’s wrong with you?’ is often a difficult question children with a visible difference get from other children. This can feel hard for them and trying to navigate the negativity of the word ‘wrong’ can be tricky. Of course, nothing is ‘wrong’ about your child – they have a visible difference and simply look different to other children in some way due to their condition, mark or scar. Discussing this helps them to understand there is nothing ‘wrong’ with them, as well as finding the words to respond. Again, this is something you can model as a child when you are asked.

Speak to teachers or child care providers too – it can be helpful for them to know what helps to reassure your child if they have become upset about comments and ensures they feel comforted when they need it, in a consistent way.

How people might act

Read

Handling comments

Read

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