Guest blogger, Matthew Ridley (The Centre for Appearance Research, UWE Bristol), writes:
‘Will my child be OK?’ ‘Will my child be OK in the future?’ Are perhaps some of the questions you as parents of children with Microtia are asking yourselves (and maybe others!).
The school environment, one where your child will be surrounded by peers, is likely to be the place that your child begins to become aware that they look different. It is here where your child is likely to face their first questions. Furthermore, it is here where there is potential for teasing and bullying. As a result, the school environment is an important one. ‘Will my child be Ok at school?’ is a more specific question of concern.
The good news is that there are things that you and your child can do in order to prepare for such scenarios. So, what strategies can you as parents use to help prepare your child when faced with such questions and/or teasing/bullying?
One size does not fit all
Obviously, specific strategies will very much depend on the context – the age and educational stage of your child. For example, school experiences may differ in their large secondary school, when compared to the small primary school they may have attended.
That being said, ‘one size does not fit all’, and the strategies that are used may need to be adapted in relation to the context. In addition, experiences will not be the same for one child with Microtia to the next, so again the ‘one size does not fit all’ applies.
Having said that, there are some constants in approaches to questions and comments, and it is these that will be predominantly discussed in this blog post.
Social skills techniques
First and foremost, it is important that you arm your child with social skills techniques. Start with the basics – saying hello and smiling upon meeting a friend (old or new). In addition, help your child with conversation openers so that they are ready to discuss something they have in common e.g., a school lesson, music, sport, a TV programme. Finally, encourage your child to stand tall and to use eye contact.
Preparing your child for questions/comments
Arm your child with a repertoire (age appropriate) of responses to questions. The intention being, that once they are able to they can use as they see best in the moment. Central to this preparation for questions is the notion of choice – they have control over how much they want to say in response to the question, which is important.
See below an example with a variety of potential responses that your child could use in relation to how much they want to tell the questioner, as well as in relation to how they are feeling:
Q: Why does your ear look like that?
- “I notice you are looking at me. Are there any questions you want to ask me?” (open, engaging & also direct)
- “My ear looks different because I was born with Microtia.” (factual)
- “I was born with a condition affecting my ear. It doesn’t hurt.” (reassuring)
- “I’ll tell you about it another time.” (shut down the topic)
- “Please don’t stare at me. It makes me uncomfortable.” (assertive)
Finally, it would be great to work on developing your own responses together with your child.
Working together to tackle bullying/teasing – an ongoing conversation
Should your child experience teasing/bullying, the best way to approach this is to encourage open discussions of what went on and what was said. This way, you can develop a strategy together with your child – most importantly one that they feel comfortable with.
For example, as a starting point, you could encourage them to write down that was said and how it makes them feel. In addition, you should encourage for them to speak to someone they trust at school when this happens (i.e., as well as you), and you could help them to identify a suitable person for this.
Thank you for reading, I hope that this has been helpful. In summary, the following are the key points:
- Arm your child with social skills techniques
- Arm your child with a repertoire of responses that they can eventually use as they feel best in the moment
- Empower your child with a sense of ownership in developing the strategies
I can be contacted with any questions / comments in the space below, or at Matthew.Ridley @ uwe.ac.uk
For more on the work of the Centre for Appearance Research, see http://www1.uwe.ac.uk/hls/research/appearanceresearch.aspx