Family, Kids & Relationships

What to say if your child doesn’t like the way they look

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Has your child ever said they were ugly, or said something else negative about their appearance? Body image issues can show up in kids as young as three years old. No matter their age, they’ve no doubt taken note of the beauty standards frequently promoted in the media and social media.

One important thing to remember is not to try to convince them that they’re wrong, even though that can feel really hard, because you know how beautiful your child is to you. Replying with, “What? No way, you’re gorgeous!” will only serve to invalidate their feelings and experiences which can shut them down. Responding in this way can also make them believe that they’re right to focus on their appearance because it sounds like you’re agreeing that it’s important.

Instead, try to respond in a way that acknowledges the validity of a child’s feelings, reassures them that it’s normal, and leaves them feeling more secure. Here are some tips for how to respond if your child puts down their own appearance —

  • Get curious. You can say, “Oh honey, I know it hurts to feel that way. What makes you say that?”
  • Normalize their feelings. You can say, “Listen — what you’re feeling about yourself and how you look is totally normal. Just about everybody feels that way about themselves sometimes, unfortunately. Me, celebrities, every single person at your school. We all see other people and think ‘I wish I looked like that,’ or pick ourselves apart in the mirror.”
  • Offer a different perspective. You can say, “There will always be people thinking that about YOU, too. People in your class or kids you pass on the street who think, ‘Wow, I wish I had her thick hair. She’s so beautiful. Look at how smart she is — I wish I had her confidence. She can make ANYONE laugh.’”
  • Relate to them. You can say, “When I was your age, I felt so awkward. I mean, Grandma used to cut my hair. I had glasses, and glasses were not cool back then. It feels terrible to be unhappy with the way you look. Those feelings will come and go, but your value and worthiness don’t ever, ever change. I love you. You want a hug?”

Hearing your child say something hurtful about themselves can be so heartbreaking for a parent. Remember that it’s normal behavior, and that you can help them turn those thoughts around with some gentle guidance and empathetic validation. 

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