10 Tips for Parents of Kids with a Facial Difference
Updated: Jul 29, 2020
I’ve been asked in an interview lately what I would say to parents of kids who have a facial difference? I didn’t really have a good answer, so I thought about the things that have helped me in my life and what I would have liked to know.
I’ve come up with these tips I think might be useful.
1. LOVE YOUR OWN BODY
One of the most important gift you can give your child is to love your own body! Show them that you love yourself as you are. Never talk about not liking your weight, your height, your nose, etc.
To help bring more awareness to this, start by making a list of everything you don’t like about your body. Then try to make a list of everything you love. If you’re like most people, your list of things you love will be short. Then start thinking about how you can learn to love every part of yourself unconditionally. Modelling self-love and self-acceptance for your child is a gift of a lifetime.
I tell my own children, we only have one body but two choices about how we’ll live with our bodies. We can choose a life of loving ourselves or we can dislike ourselves. Not loving your body won't make it any different. It certainly won't make what you don’t like disappear. It will only make your life less joyful.
Gently start by doing a daily gratitude practice around your body. “I’m grateful for my sagging belly because it’s given me three awesome children. I’m grateful for my birthmark because it gave me a gift of empathy, confidence and self-love. I’m grateful for my height because I feel cute. I’m grateful for my aging hands because they let me do my art.”
2. YOUR CHILD IS PERFECT JUST AS THEY ARE
In real life - not like in magazines and media - humans actually look different from one another. Point this out when you’re out in the world with your child. Help them notice how people have different skin colours, are differently able-bodied, have different genders, different heights and widths, have different ways of thinking and speaking. Remind them that this is why the world is so interesting, and that they’re part of this world. That they belong.
3. TEACH THEM NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION
Teach them to keep their head up and/or shoulders straight. If they're unable to do this physically, talk about doing the equivalent in their mind. People will sense their self-confidence and be more respectful. There are many studies that show that when we “fake” confidence, we actually feel confident.
Furthermore, many of us who are physically able to smile will use smiling to send the message that we are safe. It feels good to connect with others and this breaks down fear from people we encounter. Being a “bubbly person”, can also be used instead of smiling.
Some days though, I don’t feel like smiling or being bubbly. I find that that’s when I’m most vulnerable to people coming to ask me personal questions when I’m in public. My strategy is to bring someone along with me at that time. This generally guarantees that people won’t approach me.
Make sure your child also knows that they don’t have to smile if they don’t want to. It’s not our job to make others feel good about us. But if it’s important for them to connect, this is one way to do it.
4. HELP THEM DISCOVER THEIR SUPER POWER
When we’re different, we have a different view on the world around us. For me, my super power is empathy. Because I’ve lived adversity, I understand that every human being has lived it also. When someone speaks to me, I can hear what they say without judgement, without wanting to change them, and I can just be open to understanding things from their perspective (not mine). I’m proud of this super power.
5. TEACH THEM TO USE THEIR DIFFERENCE TO EMPOWER THEMSELVES
Help them use what makes them different to make a positive impact in their life. Find their interest and support them as far as they want to go. They can do anything they want, and they’ll learn about their limits by exploring their abilities.
I Once told my guidance councillor that I wanted to be the next Barbara Frum -an incredible Canadian radio and television journalist, acclaimed for her interviews. I was a natural reader and actor throughout my life, but my guidance councillor said I couldn’t do this job because of what I looked like. This actually stopped me from going into journalism. Though, I've made up for it, I took a longer road to achieving my dreams because of it.
6. DON’T SPEAK FOR YOUR CHILD
Let your child answer people’s questions. Let them know that you won’t be speaking for them unless the person is being rude or abusive (though we could argue that strangers asking personal questions is always rude). This will prepare them for a lifetime of being able to answer questions that will definitely come their way.
Practice what they want to say to people when they ask “What happened to your face?”. Let them know that they don’t have to answer if they don’t want to and have a short answer prepared for that too. They could say “nothing happened” or “I don’t share personal stories with strangers/people I just met”.
Know that for some people it feels empowering to answer strangers’ questions. There are also people who like to educate at every opportunity. And then, there’s others, like me, who don’t like either of these.
I personally like to educate only when I’ve connected on a deeper level with someone. For me, when I bring up my facial difference casually in a discussion, it works as a social cue for people to ask me their questions.
I don’t like answering personal questions when I’m shopping for example, but I will always connect with a child by smiling or saying “hi” if they’re staring. I do however like to educate in interviews, public speaking or by writing articles.
At first your child won’t know how they feel about this, and as they grow up, you can have multiple discussions to help them figure it out.
The key here is letting your child know that they always have a CHOICE. They don't have a responsibility to educate or fill someone's urgent need for an answer. You will notice that it's mostly strangers who lack empathy who will ask "what happened to your face?". Again, it's not your child's responsibility to meet the needs of others. Be aware that constantly educating can be emotionally exhausting and intrusive.
7. ADVOCATE FOR INCLUSION AND EQUALITY
As a parent, fight so that there is equity for your child. This can mean inclusion, equality, adaptations and fairness. You’ll make the world a better place for your child, and also, you’ll let them know that you’re in their corner, giving them strength to navigate their world and advocate for themselves.
8. NEVER ACCEPT BULLYING
There is never a good excuse for anyone to bully another human being. Keep an eye out for signs that your child is being bullied — this includes verbal, physical, relational (done with the intent to hurt somebody's reputation), cyberbullying, and mobbing (bullied by a group). Take action to keep your child safe emotionally and physically. This is not a time for your child to stand up for themselves on their own.
9. ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILD TO BE AN ADVOCATE
Advocating for yourself or for others is very empowering. Enrol them in classes that can help them feel empowered like public speaking, acting, singing, dance, etc. Consider having them participate in a program like Making Faces makingfaces.ca or AboutFace’s Camp Trailblazer https://www.aboutface.ca/program/camp-trailblazers/ .
10. THEY DON’T NEED TO CHANGE — SOCIETY DOES
Diversity and inclusion is not only good for our kids, but it’s good for everyone. It’s not up to your child to change how they look/talk/move/think to accommodate society. The more people learn about and see people who are different from them, the less those of us who are “different” will be marginalized. We need to take up space in public and in media. We need to tell our stories until they’re so common that no one cares to hear them anymore.