Your child’s appearance and self esteem

How people view themselves, their value and worth as a whole, otherwise known as our ‘self-esteem’ can be influenced by several things. One of these is appearance – and your child’s self-esteem may be affected by how they look. Children may notice how they and others look – and make comparisons, causing them to struggle with feeling good about other aspects of themselves.

People are not born with high or low self-esteem. Self-esteem develops over time and this can fluctuate. This is the same with body image – people’s perception of their appearance may change over time. Research tells us that children can feel negative about their bodies from a young age. With social media young people are often exposed to body ideals of what the body ‘should’ look like. If your child has a visible difference it can be even more challenging as people with visible difference are under-represented in the media. As a parent it can be very difficult to control what your child sees and as much as you can try and promote a healthy body image, it can be difficult. Often things are picked up at school and with peers. 

What can you do?

Here are some tips for supporting your child in having a positive view of themselves, and their visible difference. 

  • Talk about your child’s visible difference in a positive way, to help to remove any shame or discomfort they may feel about it. It’s just another part of them as is being funny, or being good at sport, or having blonde hair.
  • How you refer to yourself and others is important to consider. Think about the words you use to describe appearance and try to make sure there are neutral and factual. In society, there is a lot of judgemental and negative language about appearance – so try and intervene if your child uses negative language to describe themselves or someone else.

“One day my daughter was sat on my mums knee and said, ‘I can see Grandma’s fat belly.’ I explained, ‘We don’t use that word it’s unkind and it doesn’t matter what Grandma looks like. She loves us and we think that she is kind and beautiful’” Katie

“My daughter has eczema and last Summer it was quite bad on her legs. I went to put her shorts on for school and she said, ‘No I want jeans because of my yucky spots.’ My daughter was three at the time. I said,  ‘Your spots aren’t yucky, it’s eczema. I know they are annoying for you, but they aren’t yucky.’” Kerry 

  • It’s also good to focus on the whole – and discuss all your child’s good qualities, so they do not just focus on their appearance. If they’re feeling low or down on themselves, remind them of the things they do well, for example: “You are very kind” or “You did so well on your maths test”. This will help your child to see themselves as a whole person who is more than just how they look. The Seeing my good points tool might offer a good way to think this through with your child.
  • Try to consider what you can and can’t control. You cannot control the effects of your child’s condition, mark or scar. However, you can influence how they feel about it, their confidence  – we have a factsheet on confidence building for parents, as well as the Confidence materials for children. You might need some other support with all this and you could speak to someone like Changing Faces.
  • Encourage the whole family to have open conversations about body image and appearance. If you see something on tv together or in a magazine, this is a great time to open up a conversation. Or your child may say something that enables you to talk about this with them. For example, if your child said, “People at school today said horrible things about my face” this is an opportunity to talk calmly about this (upsetting as it is for you to hear this). Open up the conversation by asking them how that made them feel – and comforting them as well as confirming that is not an okay thing to say. Try to offer reassurance by looking at all the positive things about them. Talk to them about how they might deal with that type of situation next time.
  • There is a lot of helpful information about this in the Coping with other people section for children and Coping with other people’s reactions as a parent.

Building your child's confidence

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Seeing my good points tool

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