Don’t tell your your children they are beautiful
Don’t tell your children they are beautiful. Because they are not. They are clearly not. Not in the perfect airbrushed flawless definition of beauty that your children may believe is the only definition of beauty. They are being educated all the time about beauty and appearance from their peers and the media. It is up to us to educate them in a different way.
Of course, you think your children are beautiful. They are the most precious beings alive. You treasure them beyond life itself. However ugly that scrunched up ball of life in your arms is, you burst with pride at the perfection of your beautiful little bundle. You’re biased. Of course you are. You are meant to be. Your children are meant to mean the world to you, because then you will cherish them and protect them and put their needs before your own.
But when you love someone, beautiful takes on a whole new meaning. It’s so much more than outward appearance. It’s about soul and personality and individual little quirks and the external flaws and mesmerising features all rolled into one that make this little person the one you adore. The one whose fluffy hair you can’t stop touching. The one whose sparkling eyes you can’t stop staring into. The one whose infectious chuckle always makes you smile.
We want to protect our children as they go out into the world . We know the world is cruel. The world judges. Children can be cruel. We think that by telling our children they are beautiful that they will listen to us, rather than the kids in the playground teasing them about their ginger hair or goofy teeth or prominent birth mark. It doesn’t work like that. For a start, they know we are biased.
Hey honey, you’re so beautiful.
Yeah right, you would say that. You’re my mum.
And secondly, it doesn’t stop the nasty comments hurting. Because there is some truth in them. You don’t get called ginger if you don’t have red hair. You don’t get called goofy if you don’t have sticky out teeth. Teasing is always based in some sort of reality. Kids are experts (although I wonder if they learn from the masters – their parents) in spotting something different and slightly less than perfect and making it the big thing. The only thing that defines that person.
Self esteem is fragile. We know that only too well in our own lives. With self esteem comes the confidence to face the world, to take on any challenge, to believe that you can overcome. That’s what we all want for our children, isn’t it? So what can we do?
Well, with five complex bundles of completely different issues and beautiful aspects and hang ups and physical imperfections that I have the joy (and frustration and heartache) to call my children, here are some ways that I have tried. Sometimes I’ve got it wrong. Very very wrong. But I’ve really tried and thought about it and worked on it. I’ve had to. Just telling them everyday that they were beautiful and hoping that was enough didn’t ever sound convincing, even to me.
So. Here goes.
SEIZE EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO PRAISE
We all know the theory and yet it’s so easy to slip into nag, nag, nag. We want our kids to be the best they can be so we are hyper sensitive to all the areas of their lives that need improving. We end up constantly criticising, pushing, pointing out all that is wrong. And we generalise. ‘You’re so untidy.’ ‘You never brush your teeth.’ ‘You need to smile more.’ ‘You could have achieved so much more.’ Our kids hear enough to drag them down without us reinforcing it all. And they know. They’re not stupid. They know all that without us needing to tell them. Our narrative to our kids needs to be weighed the other way. We need to be pointing out the positive every time we see it. However small it may seem. And insignificant. Otherwise why when they have the choice would our kids want to spend any time with us? If all we do is nag and criticise? I find this with Keir at the moment. He’s 20 and prefers to be anywhere rather than here, it seems (always has, actually – he is our feral cat). So when he does appear, we cram all the serious conversations about money and his studies and his future into the little time we have – which is always tense and fraught with frustration……..so why wouldn’t he want to avoid that? How about we find something more fun and lighter to talk about some of the time? How about we find out more about what TV series and music he’s enjoying at the moment?
I’ve always hated generalisations – ‘You’re beautiful’…..well, not first thing in the morning. ‘You’re so clever’……well, not at everything. ‘You’re dead sporty’….but probably not the best at synchronised swimming. So I’ve always tried harder to be more specific. ‘I love the way your eyes sparkle’. ‘I’m really pleased with how you did in that test.’ ‘I love watching you play football.’ And specific to each child too. Because some things come more easily to some than others. Learning to tell the time is a real struggle for one and will be a massive achievement when we have conquered it – it’s a huge mountain to climb….whereas for another, his massive achievement was a First in Engineering from Cambridge – we are equally proud of both.
Your eyes are beautiful.
I know. Amanda told me.
When we stood in the waves at Wet n Wild.
Wet n Wild? That was two years ago!
MIX IT UP
Don’t make it all about appearance. Or all about academic achievement. Don’t make one aspect more important than all the rest. We are all a bundle of great and not so great aspects in all sorts of different ways. Our kids need to know that appearance is not all that matters. Being clever is not the be all and end all. Stroking the cat gently is great too. And being helpful around the house. And showing respect when out and about. And making everyone laugh with your funny accents or facial expression. And being excited for Christmas. And being double jointed. I love all my children for being them. I have never wanted any of them to try to be like another. I’m proud of each one of them in so many ways. So many different ways. I really hope that I have managed to convey that.
KEEP IT REAL
When our kids are teased for some sort of physical defect, we want to make it better. We want to fix it. So sometimes we’re tempted to deny the issue – ‘There’s nothing wrong with your hair.’ ‘Your spots don’t show that much.’ ‘You look beautiful just as you are.’ We try to minimise it. Pretend there isn’t a problem. When clearly there is.
So face it head on. ‘Yes, your acne is really bad – but let’s go to the doctor and see what he can do.’ ‘Yes, your teeth do stick out a lot – but you will get them fixed, the dentist has promised that.’ ‘Yes, you are a bit chubby at the moment, but you know it’s all about the right balance of exercise and food and when you’re ready,I’ll support you in finding that.’
I believe in building in resilience. When Jordan was anxious about what the other kids would say in Spain if he went in the pool, I said ‘Are you really going to let what other people think and say stop you from doing something that you really want to do? Are you going to let them spoil your fun?’
We use humour a lot too. Not in a nasty way. But we encourage our children to see the funny side. To be able to laugh at themselves and not take themselves too seriously. So when Nicola was practising with make up the other day and Jordan made up a spoof make up tutorial speech – ‘Hey, I’m Nicola, and today I am going to teach you how to look orange…….’, she thought it was funny too. She could laugh about it. And when Courtney got her new hair extensions before Christmas and Andy put his glasses on her and showed us all a picture of Garth from ‘Wayne’s World’, we all fell about laughing. Courtney included. Because there can never be too much laughter in the world.
Back to resilience. Nicola has been teased every single day for the last three years or so about her teeth. Really really cruel, unrelenting teasing that has made her cry almost every day. With labels that have stuck like ‘tombstone’ and ‘Suarez’ (because he bit someone) and ‘rabbit’. And she has had to learn to be resilient. She has had to walk into school every day knowing that the teasing will not stop, however often we ring the school or teachers talk to the bullies. She has become strong. She is amazing. Because she knows she is more than her teeth. And if that is all they see, then that is their problem. She will not let these comments have power over her. These people will not always be in her life. She now has a brace and is on the way to getting her teeth sorted.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Finally – and this is really important – what we say to our kids is only meaningful if it is backed up by the way we lead our lives. If we say that weight doesn’t matter, but then obsess about calories and scales and diets, then our words are meaningless. If we say appearance isn’t the most important thing, but then we make it the most important thing by spending all our time and money on beauty treatments and refusing to go out without a new outfit, then our words are meaningless. We hate our kids being teased, but then we pass opinion and comment (usually negative) about the appearance of others. We talk about what everyone was wearing on the Christmas night out; who looked ‘hot’ and who did not. We compare our kids to other people’s kids. We join in the whole oneupmanship game on Facebook. If we want our kids to value the whole person and not prioritise appearance or academic achievement or whatever, then we have to lead by example and value the whole person too. We have to value ourselves and accept ourselves. We have to develop a robust self esteem too. We have to find an acceptance and confidence in how we have been made. A resilience that says ‘I’m OK with me, more than OK – if you’re not, then that’s your problem.’
So there you have it. Do it that way and you too can have perfect kids like mine.
Although a couple of days ago. Nicola made this comment that made me think we are getting something right. She was looking at a photo of someone she hadn’t met and said –
You can see what someone looks like from a photo but it doesn’t tell you anything about their personality, does it?
That’s my girl.