Dear Liz, I have a 7-year-old niece who is very pretty but, no matter how cute we dress her or how many times we tell her we love her and that she is beautiful, she does not see it. She says ‘No, I’m not, I want long hair down my back and green eyes, I want to be white, I want a different name,’ etc. It hurts my family so much and we don’t know how to explain to her that she is beautiful and that everyone is different and special in their own way. Please help us.
Hi in Morrisville,
So sorry to hear this. I can imagine just how difficult this would be on your family. The first piece of relief I can offer is that kids really do ebb and flow through challenges. This will indeed pass as she matures and begins to understand and surrender to life’s realities. It’s a process so make sure to remind the family it will move from where it is now and most likely land in a reasonable place. Hang on to that thought, and pass it on to her mother.
I’d like to ask a few questions for you all to ponder. Do you have any idea where she might be getting these ideas? Is she in a school that is predominantly white? What are her group of friends like? What is she watching on television? I ask because you can counter these points easily by exposing her to different influences. Who are her present role model icons? Singers? TV stars? Pay attention and quietly begin trying to at least introduce someone she can imagine she is a little more like.
If it makes you feel any better, more than half of all kids in the U.S. ask their parents to change their names before the age of 12. Becoming independent from our family as we grow is a challenge in different ways for everyone. She is so very young, which is why I'm sure it is so shocking, but perhaps she won't go through this when she is in her teens.
I would be careful not to engage this issue more than you need. By that I mean that if she gets the whole family throwing her compliments and tip-toeing around her, this will not expedite the adjustment she must eventually make. Consider her feelings, let her know she’s loved and then get off the subject of her looks.
There are also many great ways to try and shift her interest from superficial looks to matters of true substance. There are a ton of books out there now on improving self esteem and confidence in children, so seek them out. Also, make sure to focus on her interests, whether sports, art, or dance, to move her toward building herself and her abilities. This will help her perspective and confidence in the world.
Seven is VERY young to be going through this issue. Keep the faith that something has most likely triggered this reaction, and something might as easily trigger it to stop. Meanwhile, all you can do love her through this and keep the faith that it will pass. Great things for you and your family!