Keeping kids from fearing "scary looking" people

I have a cousin who is a couple of years older than I am (I was born in '71), and he had a cleft palate.

I didn’t see this cousin very often and I was afraid of him because of the scarring on his face. He tended to be very isolated at family gatherings.

My parents never told me anything about him. I’m guessing they would have had no idea that I found him frightening. But I was thinking about him yesterday (no idea why. I haven’t seen him in years) and wondered how they could have or should have handled it so that I wasn’t afraid of him.

How did your parents handle situations like this? If you are a parent, what do you do?

Did my parents have the right idea by ignoring it? I don’t think they did, but my knowledge of parenting is pretty much nonexistent.

My daughter is 8 years old. When she was about 5 a young man (Andy) who had been severly burned started attending our church. Andy is very severly scarred and has no hair. Lilly was petrified of him until I told her what had happened and that while he may look different, he’s just a person. I also told her that it probably hurt his feelings when people thought about him in a certain way only based on how he looked. I asked her, “How would you feel if people were afraid of you just because you have blonde hair and blue eyes?” She eventually got the point. She was still afraid of him until they actually met and she found out that he liked to ride his skateboard, listen to music, draw, and eat pizza just like any other kid.

I think what **plnnr did is best. Don’t ignore it, 'cause it is weird, and kids know that. Speak of it, name the elephant in the living room, and encourage your child to be brave and make friends with the person anyway and get to know who they really are.

The “scary looking” person also knows his/her effect on kids, and might be able to offer advice on how to help the child feel more comfortable. I have a friend, Missy, with severe CP, wastingly thin with no control over any limbs. She has tremors and often spasms and makes distressing grunting or choking noises trying to keep her airway clear. Even grown-ups are frightened and embarrassed by her, and she knows it. She told me it was okay if my baby touched her wheelchair (the default rule with wheelchairs is to treat them as an extension of the body, and not to lean on, grab or fondle the chair without permission), and she even got out of it briefly to let the child sit in it and explore it. Now that she’s two, Missy lets her touch her rigid arms and legs while I explain to her that the muscles just won’t let go, even though Missy wishes they would.

Another friend of mine is missing a leg due to cancer. He lets the kids take off and put on his prosthesis, which gets them over the fear of it very quickly while they’re distracted with buckles and straps.

Sometimes touching scar tissue or the stump of an amputated limb (with the person’s permission, of course!) is all a kid needs to do to be reassured that there’s a person under there, and looking and feeling funny never hurt anyone.

IANA Parent, but I do watch children and handle them quite well. I will tell a chld beforehand (Andy looks different because he was in a terrible fire, but inside he is the same as you). I would also make sure they knew that if that if they had any questions they could ask me, and the rules about not intentionally hurting people and their feelings certainly applies here, the same as anywhere else.

Good advice so far. We just tell our boys that everyone is a child of God, coming in all shapes, sizes, colors, and body conditions. It’s impolite to stare or point. Be friendly but not pushy. If the person seems uncomfortable or sad, try to help them, and later, privately, count your blessings.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh told in one of her books about having a dinner guest over. The guest had a particularly large, red, inflamed-looking nose. Before he arrived, Mrs. Lindbergh talked to her son (not the one so notoriously kidnapped and killed, BTW) at length about not staring at the guest, being polite, treating the guest normally, etc. Then the guest arrived and was introduced to the child, who said while staring fixedly, “Hello, Mr. Nose!”

Most kids take this stuff in stride if you explain it to them (preferably beforehand)…my kids aren’t usually afraid, just curious. When I explain to them what’s going on with the person they’re curious about, they seem to be very accepting and even sympathetic, all on their own. It’s amazing, really; I think kids are better at dealing with this stuff than adults, most of the time.

I have an uncle that is a burn victim of a coal dust explosion. You can not just ignore it. You will look until it’s set in your mind. At that point dealing with it begins. I would tell the kids what happened, and then be ready for the fact that they will look and ask questions. They will understand and stop being scared at some point. There is noway to go from directly from never seeing it to it isn’t scary. Discussing it before the meeting can help greatly. They will ask hard questions at some point, but a question answered is a step towards not being scared. He had a number of children after the accident, and they never had a problem, because they were used to it.

jsgoddess, could it be that your parents never said anything because they were a little afraid of him too? Fearing what we’re unfamiliar with isn’t necessarily reserved for children.
I’m pretty sure they did know you were put off. Likely, they just didn’t know what to say.

Caring for critically ill children made that fear very obvious. I would always explain to parents and sibs, in detail, how a child looked after surgery. Knowing why someone looks different goes a long way to acceptance.

When my son was about 10, he wanted to see where I worked. At the time I worked in a bone marrow transplant research unit. Everyone was utterly bald, no eye brows or eye lashes. Several of the kids had skin involvement from the treatment. In other words they weren’t very pretty.
Because I explained what he could expect, he made some long term friends, because he was able to see past the skin to the beauty inside.

(missed the edit window)

I think it’s often harder for adults to get used to a disfigurement, because we think it’s impolite to look/ask about it. Kids are guileless, so can get comfortable more quickly. IMO.

I agree with this.

I saw a medical show on TV about a kid, about age 5 who was brought over to the US for surgery.

He had a growth on his forehead about the size of a tomato. He was put into a sort of kindergarten group, and the kids accepted him readily. ( Although one little girl started to cry).

The surgeons removed the growth and everybody was happy.

I read Marie Rothenberg’s book David, about her five year old son whose father took him to a motel room, gave him a sleeping pill., covered him with kerosene and set him on fire. The boy somehow survived.

When David was ready to return to school, Marie and the school held a meeting for the children and their parents. The parents sentiments were that David should not return to school, he needed special education, he should be kept home, he’d scare the children.

The children themselves were more concerned with whether David’s father could escape and hurt him again. They asked David about his injuries, but didn’t shun him. The chldren seem to know instinctively who the bad guy and who the victim were in this case.

My mom has scar tissue covering her right forearm from a car accident we were in when I was 3. My siblings and I were used to it, but Mom always wears long sleeves in public because she’s self-conscious about it. My daughter and niece aren’t afraid of the scars, because they just see them as part of Grandma. They did ask questions about Mom’s arm when they were younger, and Mom answered them honestly and told them, “See? This is why you always wear your seatbelt whenever you ride a car.” (I was riding in her lap in the passenger seat, unbelted, and the window was open. Dad fell asleep at the wheel and our VW bug flipped over. Mom instinctively placed her arm over me, and lost the top layer of skin from it. I always think, “That could have been my face.”) :eek:

I’ve got a rare type of dwarfism – really super rare, not the one you all probably think of when you hear the word, I did win the Shortest Doper thread so yay! – and while I don’t scare people, I do get a lot of looks, especially from kids. I also get asked fairly often things like, “Are you a grownup?” or my favorite, from a little girl who obviously didn’t know any women without kids, “Are you a mommy?” I told her that no, I’m not a mommy, but I am grown up.

It’s taken me a long time to come up with this for some reason, but it doesn’t take much to explain to kids. “Some people are waaaaaay tall, you know, like basketball players? And some people are waaaaaay short, like me. Most people are in the middle, like you!” More detail isn’t necessary, at least not unless I get to know them better and they want more information, but I don’t need to unload tons of info on a little kid who is just trying to process “Looks like a grownup…short like a kid…head spins

I’d rather a kid ask me something than the parents yank them away like I’ve got the plague or something. I’ve assured more than a few parents that it’s okay, I know I’m unusual and the kid wasn’t rude, just curious. Sometimes it sucks being a walking lesson, but that’s life, and most of the time it’s okay.

That’s a great answer. My daughter is very, very short for her age, and while she may catch up, she may not. She’s not got a genetic disorder (that we know of), but she was extremely premature, and prematurity is linked to short stature as an adult. Right now she’s about as tall as the average 18 month old baby, but she’s two and a half, and out of her infant growth spurt stage. Kids younger than her call her “the baby”, and she’s starting to look at me like WTF? when it happens. I’m going to try and remember your explanation if she ever needs to hear it or use it herself.

Well, you probably get called upon to be a walking lesson more often, since your “lessonplan” is so visible, but rest assured we all have *something *about us that kids are trying to figure out. I get kids patting my butt all the time to figure out if it can really all be me or if I’m wearing balloons under my pants! :smiley: