- I hate my hair/skin/eye color/eye shape;
- I’m not cool like FILL IN THE BLANK, s/he has the “perfect” hair/skin/eye color/eye shape.
It’s the worst feeling in the world and it can be exacerbated when you – the parent – possess what is deemed to be the “right” hair/skin/eye color/eye shape, according to the mystical (and completely mythological) thinking of grade-schoolers.
In a perfect world there would be a self-esteem booster shot that parents could request from the pediatrician or local pharmacy. But there’s not so we, as parents, have to provide that self-esteem booster.
Share Your Story
One of the first things I did when my child told me that he had the “wrong” hair type (curly) was to tell him that I had always longed to have curly hair when I was a little girl, which was true. I told him about the many perms I’d suffered through, the chemical smell that clung to my head, the embarrassment I felt when the perm didn’t come out just right, and all the time I’d spent getting my hair done or trying to curl it myself with a curling iron and tube of first-aid creme next to me to put on the inevitable burns.
I told him that his father had faced similar criticisms – that it’s just a part of life, unfortunately – but that you can’t let other people’s opinions about things like that consume you.
I let him know that there is always going to be someone who will tell you there’s something wrong with you. And I challenged him to ask what made those people the experts on what was right and wrong.
It was an early lesson in what I know will be one of the greatest tools I can give my child: the ability to question authority (even if that “authority” is a first-grader) and to think critically.
Media that Looks Like Them
It’s important to me that my child sees lots of different books, newspapers, magazines, TV, and online media that reflects diversity. For a long time after he first complained about his skin color, we would excitedly point out people on TV or in magazines who had the same skin color as he. I also tried to tell him about the people in those articles and show why they were exceptional or noteworthy. He may never be a politician or a tennis star, but it helps him to see successful people who look like him.
Building Your Child Up
I admit it: I think my child is the most beautiful person in the world. And I tell him that. I also tell him how kind he is. I compliment him when he shows good manners or helps a neighbor or younger cousin. I want to reinforce all the wonderful character traits he has – from physical beauty to sense of humor to academic skill to music ability and on and on. I want to help him see all the things that I value in him so that he will learn to value that in himself.
I try to make sure that my child sees my relationships with people of different races, religions, ages, economic status, etc. I want him to know that I care about these people and am happy to have them in my life because of all the things that can’t be seen. But at the same time, I compliment these friends to my child so he can understand there is no one definition of beauty.
We are fortunate to have a diverse family and I point this out to my child. I talk about the attributes he got from me and from his father and I let him know that he is the perfect blend of the two of us and I would never change a thing about his appearance.
As far as we’ve come as a country and a culture, we still have a long way to go before we are truly able to see others clearly. But teaching our children to have respect for themselves will ultimately enable them to have respect for others, as well.
Here are some more resources that may help as you grapple with the right way to handle these issues with your own child: