What if my kids get teased?
If you were ever teased about your appearance as a child and didn't know how to respond, you may worry about the same thing happening to your kids.
A mom of two boys asked*:
"I'm wondering if you have any advice on helping children who have noticeable physical differences. Both of my boys have prominent ears and the oldest starts kindergarten soon. I know it is only a matter of time before another child points out the difference. I'm trying to prepare for the moment so I can help my little guys get through it with the least amount of hurt feelings."
It sounds like you expect your children to feel hurt if someone points out that their ears are different. Hurt feelings are most likely if your children don't like their ears, so the most important thing to find out is how your boys feel about their ears. Have they noticed their ears are different, and do they care?
When you know that, it will be easier to know what to do, because kids don't always see being different as bad. In fact, some kids go out of their way to be different to stand out.
Being different is only a problem for someone if they think they should be the same.
When you are different and that difference is OK with you, it can become a point of pride. For those who like to be the same and blend in, it's hard to imagine, but all you have to do is remember the many celebrities who have inspired us by being different and OK with it - the actor Danny DeVito trades on being short; the physicist Stephen Hawking retains an outdated and very different sounding synthesized voice because he identifies with it; etc.
We accept them just as they are because they accept themselves.
It also happens in everyday life. For example, I once coached a mother whose 3 YO daughter had recently recovered from losing two toes in an accident. I talked with her about how our own reaction to our children's differences can affect our children's feelings about them.
When we talked, the mother realized that even though her daughter's foot was fully healed, she didn't want to let her wear flip-flops because she was trying to protect her child from unwanted comments. Protecting her would have taught her daughter that there really was something wrong that needed to be hidden.
I explained that the way to help her child the most was to demonstrate how to respond without reacting.
The best way to do that is to SAY WHAT YOU SEE (SWYS). Depending on what the other children say, it could sound like this:
SWYS: "You are curious about her missing toes."
SWYS: "You're wondering if that hurts."
SWYS: "You don't like how that looks. It looks scary to you."
When the mother began to respond to other kids' comments by saying what she saw instead of reacting or defending her daughter, she became much more comfortable with her daughter displaying her foot. Later she reported back to me that her daughter had actually surprised her with how proud she was of her unique foot. She said that her daughter loved seeing her footprints because they were unmistakably hers.
But the most amazing thing she told me was that she had actually overheard her daughter rehearsing what to tell kids when they asked how they could get a foot like hers, because she assumed they would want one:
"…First you need to have an accident. Then you need to go to the hospital…"
Kids are remarkably accepting when we keep our judgments out of their way.
If your children already don't like their ears, then you need to help them find a way to accept them. Associating their ears with something they like can be a big help. Is there an adult they admire with similar ears? Do they like a particular animal that has large ears? Are there special benefits to having prominent ears? Could there be a super power they could associate with their ears? etc.
The truth is that if your boys decide they don't like their ears, then even the slightest comment will feel cutting, but if they think their ears are unique and wonderful, they will be able to joke about the difference themselves, and their own acceptance will put others at ease.
THE MOM'S REPLY:
"Wow... I didn't have the support and self-esteem when growing up to deal with comments that were made to me about my appearance and I wanted to make sure I had some tools to help build my boys up if those comments ever arise. This was perfect."
*Note: This question was originally sent to Rachel Macy Stafford from a follower of her Hands Free Revolution Facebook page, answered by me upon request, and shared with permission here.