Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Around Primary 1, your child starts to take more of an interest in her physical appearance. She insists that her hair be brushed just the way she wants it, that her clothes fit perfectly and that she looks neat and tidy.
This surge of awareness about how she looks, however, comes just as your seven-year-old’s milk teeth are falling out at a fast rate. Suddenly, she becomes self-conscious of the gaps in her smile – and her self-esteem takes a nosedive.
To you, they are cute. But to her, they are disastrous! You need to do everything you can to boost her self-confidence.
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DON’T TRIVIALISE IT
Even though your child is beautiful in your eyes – and you know that within a couple of years, she will have a full set of pearly whites – take her current concern seriously. If you make the mistake of trivialising her worry over her physical appearance, you’ll just make her feel even more miserable.
So let her voice her complaints and listen without interruption. Your understanding is the first step in lifting her self-esteem because it shows that you value her.
Once she has made her self-criticism, explain to her that every child her age has similar gaps at some point or another, that it is normal, and they will soon be filled by her permanent teeth.
Reassure her that her friends are having a similar experience – and that the perceived problem with her appearance will be short-lived. It will make her feel more confident.
THE TOTAL PACKAGE
Next, encourage your seven-year-old to take a broad range of features into account when assessing her looks. Point out that there is more to a person’s appearance than the way their teeth are spaced.
Other important features are hair, cleanliness, fingernails, clothes, facial expression, posture and confidence. All these different elements ultimately combine to create an overall impression.
This enables your child to see that the gaps are only a small part of how she looks. It means that she does have some control over her appearance. Although she can’t fill those upsetting “holes”, she can improve her appearance in many other ways if she wants.
Talk to her about her clothes, give suggestions on how she could wear her hair, and advise on ways to improve her body language (for instance, by smiling more, making better eye contact and holding her head high).
She will definitely feel more confident when she thinks she can take positive steps to affect her physical appearance.
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LOOKING BEYOND LOOKS
Lastly, encourage your child to value herself in other ways, not just in terms of how she looks. polite, or because she is good fun or has interesting ideas. It’s highly unlikely she’ll say it is because her friend has nice teeth!
And then ask her why she thinks her best friend likes her. Use her answers to start a discussion about friendship and popularity being linked to personality characteristics – not physical ones.
Make a point of listing the positive traits that you see in her – for instance, she is good at maths, she works hard in school, she helps you with household chores, she is kind to her little brother and so on.
She’ll begin to see that there is more to life than her appearance, and this will further strengthen her sagging self-confidence.