One of the biggest challenges for parents today is helping their children cultivate a positive attitude about how they look and who they are as individuals—to appreciate their own unique beauty, inside and out, and not to feel like they have to look or act a certain way in order to be considered attractive or acceptable. Admittedly, it can also be hard for adults to deal with the pressure to look a certain way based on media ‘norms’. But as parents, we’d like to do our best to help our kids deal with that influence in a healthy, positive, happy way.
I wrote The Tortoise and the Hairpiece to help parents accomplish that very goal. It’s the story of a little turtle who wants to look like everyone else. He’s afraid no one will like him if he looks different, but he learns that who you are on the inside is more important than how you look, and that all true friends know that. The book is designed to help parents teach their children this important lesson.
In some ways, children today are much more sophisticated and precocious than earlier generations. Technology that previous generations could only imagine is now a commonplace part of daily life. But along with that technology comes a steady barrage of advertising and media influence that can’t help but shape children’s perceptions of themselves. And that molding is not always a good thing.
Advertising is designed to make people feel like they’re missing something in their life, that happiness is only a purchase away. There’s even a term for the phenomenon: FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out…and as any parent knows, young children are easily convinced of this. And children are absolutely certain that once they have that something, they will be happy. When that gets old, there’s always something new for them to want. Most families find a way to break that cycle and teach their children that happiness is not dependent on buying and having things.
But what about teaching children less tangible lessons about happiness?
There are more subtle influences that come from advertising and the media…the ones that subconsciously influence children to believe that if they just look a certain way or wear certain clothes or have a certain body shape that they will be like all the other beautiful people and they will fit in and be happy. Indeed, advertising and character portrayals would have anyone thinking that receiving love and acceptance hinge solely upon these external statements of worth. These messages begin influencing children at an early age, and counteracting them can be difficult for parents because they are working with their children’s subconscious beliefs and ideals, which are not always obvious.
It requires a consistent effort to draw up children’s thoughts on such subjects. Doing so helps keep the lines of communication open so that there are regular opportunities to talk about subjects like these that may not naturally arise in everyday conversation. And a parents’ efforts must be ongoing, because the barrage of messages shrieking at us that we are not enough won’t stop any time soon.
That’s why The Tortoise and the Hairpiece addresses this issue and includes questions at the end to help start conversations about self-image, even with very young children. The story and questions are a jumping-off point…each child is different and will have different concerns. So use the questions to help your children explore their thoughts and feelings on the subject of self-image…you may learn something new about them, and it will bring you closer together!
I’ve compiled some ideas to help parents help their kids develop a positive self-image about their appearance, and also a positive attitude about the way other people look. You can find a few more ideas in this article on the WebMD website too.
- After meeting a new person, once you are alone with your child, point out positive, appropriate things you noticed about that person’s appearance. Mention the color of their eyes or their nice smile or anything else you appreciated. This will help children learn to look for the good aspects of other people’s appearances and not just to focus on less appreciated aspects. Training them to be able to see this way will help them learn to see themselves in the same way—appreciating the good things about their appearance.
- Refrain from making negative comments about other people’s appearance in your children’s hearing.
- When you see someone who looks happy and content, even a stranger in a crowd, if it is possible to do so in a discreet way, point that person out to your child. Draw their attention to the idea that a person looks attractive because they look happy. This could help children realize that attractiveness is not necessarily dependent on physical features.
- If necessary, you could point out to your children that there’s a connection between practicing good hygiene and being considered attractive to other people.
- Set a good example. Don’t let your children see you hating things about your own appearance. Show them through your words and actions and the comments you make about yourself that you are comfortable with who you are. Even if there are things about your appearance that you would like to change, let them see that these are not the most important things on your mind.
I’d love to hear your experiences. How have you helped your kids have a positive self-image in this world that is so concerned with appearances? What has worked for you? What have you learned about this as a parent? If you try any of the ideas above, what results have you seen?