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5yo dd keeps saying she is ugly

(24 Posts)
hester Mon 25-Jul-11 21:34:03

I just think I am handling this all wrong, and could do with some advice.

dd is 5. She is highly strung (ok, a drama queen), complicated, intense, sensitive, loving, articulate. I hesitate to say mature because I don't think she is really, but she has a way of talking that sounds spookily old for her age iyswim. She used to really struggle with her social development - she was a very odd kid - but has really blossomed this year and seems to be holding her own at school, socially and every other way.

The other bit of context is that she has two mothers who try hard to not talk about weight, body image etc in front of her, but tbh we are both pretty looks conscious, both have had real issues with body image (in my case anorexia for many years) and can't be sure that she has not picked up some anxiety despite our efforts to send the right messages.

The final bit of context is that she is a nice-looking girl - neither so pretty or so plain as to attract attention or comment at this stage (thank god).

So why does she keep telling me that she is ugly, that she can't care for herself because she is not pretty on the outside or the inside? Why does she spend so long staring in the mirror, in clear dissatisfaction with what she sees? I had dreaded this happening in her teens - surely it can't be normal for it to be starting so soon? Could it be some sort of rebellion against her mothers' feminist values? What can I DO - telling her that she is pretty, but that that is not as important as being kind and brave and fair doesn't help. It doesn't help to cuddle her and ask her why she doesn't like herself. It doesn't help to discuss with her that telling people they are ugly is really mean, and telling yourself you are ugly is not good either.

I always thought I would know what to do in this kind of situation. But I just don't. I think it's raising too much of my own stuff and I just can't see the way forward clearly sad

PacificDogwood Mon 25-Jul-11 21:42:20

Oh, it is awful, isn't it sad? Your poor DD and poor you.

I am not sure what the answer is; wish I knew (it is my DS2 aged 7 who 'is ugly and stupid' - he is neither).
At present I am going with 'I am sorry you feel like that about yourself.'
We look at baby/toddler photos of him together and he likes being told how cute he was grin. I do make the point of commenting about his particulary good points when I happen to notice them (he has amazing green eyes and when the lighte catches them just so, I tell him).

Would it be an idea to say to her 'I used to feel unhappy about how I looked. It is not a nice feeling, is it? The more you tell yourself you are 'ugly' the worse you'll feel.'

Oh gawd, I don't know.
This parenting lark is hard.

hester Mon 25-Jul-11 23:36:02

Thank you, Pacific. I like your line, and will give it a go.

You're right, it is so hard. Your poor ds sad. I always wanted one of those resilient, puppyish kids. Ah well...

NoHoldsBarred Tue 26-Jul-11 00:21:22

Oh poor you and poor dd. No advice just sympathy.
My dniece told me last yeat (age 6) that she was ugly, and if she was pretty people would like her because everyone likes pretty people sad awful to have those thoughts at such a young age

cottonreels Tue 26-Jul-11 09:17:38

lots of sympathy. Just wondering if a 5 year old thinks pretty things makes pretty people iyswim. Would choosing her own 'pretty' hairslides and clothes (within reason!) help?

hester Tue 26-Jul-11 09:32:11

Thank you both. cottonreels, over the last 18 months or so she has become very interested in clothes and generally chooses her own (and sometimes mine!). She is actually rather stylish - into a kind of junior rock chick look - and she and my dp often talk about fashion together. We've tried to encourage this as a way to express yourself, a fun thing to do in itself, rather than a way to look pretty or to get others' admiration.

At school she looks like the other girls: uniform, long hair put back into plaits or bunches, pretty hairslides.

My mum always used to say, "There's something of the night about that child", and she is certainly very complicated and intense. I often find it hard to read her. She always knows how to push my buttons and part of me wonders if she is feeling generally a bit low and needing attention, and has picked up that this is an issue that makes me slightly panicky, so she's (probably sub-consciously) zeroing in on it as a way of getting my attention. Which would call for quite a different response, I think (giving her attention but trying not to pay attention to the looks thing, as opposed to paying loads of attention to the looks thing if that is genuinely the issue).

She also talks a lot about being fat. She isn't, but she is very tall (100th centile for height, 75th for weight, she is the tallest in her year) and I wonder if she's already picking up that this is considered 'unfeminine'.

Oh, and she is obsessed with wanting to be a rock star. I promise this child only watches CBeebies - I don't know where she's getting all this stuff from!

sad

activate Tue 26-Jul-11 09:36:49

every time she says "I am ugly" does she gets lots of attention and positive praise

or does she get "don't be ridiculous" and you walk away from her

then at other times when least expecting gets cuddles and positive praise of you're so clever and beautiful but more importantly you're a really nice person and my favourite was always you know how much I love you well I really like you to because you're and then you list qualities you like ie funny, kind, generous, works hard

cottonreels Tue 26-Jul-11 09:39:28

Oh hester, sounds difficult. It certainly sounds like youre already doing all you can. I think your own advice sounds the best! Maybe you could find some story books that might help with positive image of oneself in a subtle way...

Bartimaeus Tue 26-Jul-11 09:40:35

This must be awful for you sad No real advice or experience but have you tried looking on amazon for books about self-image in children?

I had self-image problems but when I was a teenager. At 6 I wasn't too bothered.

Does she do any sport? I found, funnily enough, that swimming competitively from age 7 actually helped my body image - I was so used to wandering around in a swimming costume in fornt of hundreds of people that I wasn't self-conscious about my body in the slightest. Didn't help when I was a teenager feeling my face was ugly, but did help not to be bothered about the size of my thighs...

activate Tue 26-Jul-11 09:41:05

I feel reading this site that many parents seem to imbue their children with adult cogniscence and emotions a lot - that all their outpourings must be taken with utmost sincerity and believed as stated.

Much of what children do and think is hidden from adults - the processes I mean - but they are not the same as yours - it's normally more if I say this I will get that reaction - I want some attention so I know saying this or that works

Much of what parents do is based on our own insecurities and it is our job as parents to fight these and to perfect a blase air about these issues

Well that's what I think anyway - and that's why I dislike when parents over-talk their children and try to explain and rationalise everything, I think it is intensely counter-productive and the antithesis of parenting while pretenting to be parenting for the best

- not saying this is you but I'm digressing on to what should probably be a thread in it's own right tbh

hester Tue 26-Jul-11 09:42:22

She gets the former, activate. Not sure if you're saying that's right or not?

And yes, generally she gets lots of cuddles and positive feedback. I know I have many faults as a mother, but I'm warm and affectionate and she is daily told about ways she is valued. I do tell her that she is pretty, but not very often; usually I try to give her praise for being kind, fair, a great big sister, well-behaved at school, imaginative etc.

But I must be doing something wrong. Obviously my greatest fear is that I am subconsciously channelling into her all my shit and issues about weight, food and femininity.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

hester Tue 26-Jul-11 09:50:41

No, I think you may be right activate. I am worried that my reaction to what she is saying may be more damaging than the original problem. When she says things like, "If you had to choose just one of your children to be killed, Mum, I know that you would have to choose me" (last week's gem) I am pretty confident that she is intuiting this would be a good button to press, and my response should be to give her a cuddle and a tickle and just give her the attention she wants without paying attention to what she's said. But when she says she's not pretty I panic that she will have full blown anorexia by the age of 8 - which is my stuff, I know.

On the other hand, it is of course possible that this body image stuff is very real and I need to respond to it and take it seriously.

Bartimaeus - she does swimming, drama and ballet. She is getting a bit tired of ballet, and I'm thinking of suggesting she try something like judo instead, something with a focus on strength rather than femininity.

activate Tue 26-Jul-11 09:53:02

OK, and without meanign to sound horrible, I personally believe you're doing completely wrong thing (although I agree that it feels natural as a human being I think it's completely wrong from a parenting perspective)

I would walk away when small children diss themselves with an air of oh talking silly again and ignoring them

I also think as you have already established the loop of if I say this I get lots of positive attention I think this will take a few weeks to break the bad habit and it may well get a whole lot worse and go into tantrums

I would then continue to when she's doing lovely, or even just normal, things compliment and express your love so it's not connected with her asking for it by insulting herself

activate Tue 26-Jul-11 09:57:24

Oh what a fabulous mind - she's really rather good isn't she grin

"If you had to choose just one of your children to be killed, Mum, I know that you would have to choose me" I think is pure manipulation (in a fabulous, gothic, childish and yet quite normal way)

My answer would be to walk away while saying "well that'd never happen and I would never choose to lose anyone I love" ignore, blase and shrug off

if repeated I'd say "Oh stop being stupid"

(I would then probably worry endlessly about it for a few nights until my goldfish brain sets in and I forget or DP tells me shut up)

hester Tue 26-Jul-11 09:59:39

I told you there's something of the night about her, activate grin

I wasn't expecting to be told I should tell my beloved dd not to be stupid and walk away, but what you are saying is making a lot of sense...

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

superjobee Tue 26-Jul-11 10:02:58

my DD is 6 and did this for a while once she started school, i think with her it was a case of ''omg theres lots of girls here and i cant possibly be prettier than all of them!'' we just told her not to be daft she's the prettiest smartest little thing in all the world and not to forget it, ok there are ppl who disagree with that but it worked for us! i tell her daily how pretty she is i.e your hair looks really pretty like that, ooh look at you with your pretty smile things like that and she is sick of being told how much i love her blush really hope your DD outgrows this soon its horrible to hear when they say it.

Poledra Tue 26-Jul-11 10:07:55

Agree with activate, though I would say silly or daft rather than stupid - stupid has very negative connotations to my children. I'm not sure why, but 'silly' is more light, even the sound of it is more frivolous than 'stupid'.

Actually, I think my children's school dislikes the use of the word 'stupid'. and that's where the DDs have become so averse to it. The more I think about it, the more I see that 'silly' seems to refer to a type of playful behaviour whereas 'stupid' is a value judgement on their intelligence, IYSWIM. Oh, I don't think I'm explaining this very well, but I'll post anyway, as someone else might be able to clarify my burbling.

Your DD, by the way, is a smart cookie smile

ImeldaM Tue 26-Jul-11 10:08:24

Agree with activate, think you are over-thinking and "dont be silly" is probably a good response when she's being negative.

Also to give praise at other times, pointing out how lovely you think she is.

Selks Tue 26-Jul-11 10:27:20

I agree with the above comments about not rewarding the behaviour with attention. Dismiss it matter-of-factly and ignore. make sure you give her loads of attention at other times when she is not showing those behaviours. And I wouldn't spend too much time on the fashion or clothes thing either, as I think that could feed into appearance insecurities.
I'd instead focus on building up her self esteem in other areas. What activities does she enjoy? If she can become engaged in an activity - junior art group, horseriding, ballet, school choir, photography (yes even at that age) etc etc - , that she might be able to achieve in, gain attention and 'kudos' then that may take the pressure off the attention thing - she will have something that she is good at and that she feels important and values herself for. The main thing is that as she grows she has lots of areas that she thinks that she is 'good at', not just being 'pretty enough'. I'd try to take the focus off that entirely.

activate Tue 26-Jul-11 10:30:17

Poledra - I do know what you're saying about silly and stupid (although you may find once you have hulking great teens in the house as well as small children your langugage becomes a bit fruitier anyway grin)

I do think that silly is a sweet word and agree with some of your burblings there - however some comments, from 5 to 95 year olds, do show a marked lack of intelligence - so even though I'd never call a child stupid I would at times call the things they say or do stupid, because they are really.

pickledsiblings Tue 26-Jul-11 10:33:34

I tell all my DC that they are beautiful at random moments throughout the day. At 5, yours and your partner's are the opinions that matter most to DD; I don't think telling our DC that they are beautiful will result in them being shallow or looks obsessed. My DD is 10 and as far as I can see she is very comfortable in her skin and only a little bit vain.

I think it was Dawn French who said that she never remembers being told that she was beautiful as a child sad.

[Beautiful is a much stronger word than pretty and it enables you to draw on the expression 'beauty lies in the eye of the beholder' if needed.]

Agree that trying to conceal your fear/worries is probably the best way forward and yes to 'ignoring' and making light of when DD says she is ugly. You could lighten the mood by pulling a weird face and saying, 'now this is ugly' grin. DC will realise soon enough that people who look pretty aren't always nice (although there are some people who are pretty and nice) and that how a person 'is' is more important than how they look.

hester Tue 26-Jul-11 10:58:07

Oh thank you, lovely Mumsnetters, as ever you have managed to pull everything into perspective and get me understanding it in a new way.

I think I'm bringing loads of baggage to this, perhaps because - in addition to my body stuff - my mum has a kind of zero tolerance for any need for emotional support. As a child I constantly had the message that my feelings were too ridiculous to even pass the time of day to, and I just had to get on with it and not be such a wimp. So I suspect I am seriously over-compensating with my dd. Her teacher says she has a vivid imagination and an 'often startlingly mature vocabulary' which I think may be code for 'precocious and knows how to press adult buttons'.

I will definitely try the back off and lighten up strategy. pickedsiblings, I LOVE your tactic of 'now, THIS is ugly', which I think will make her laugh and pull her out of herself, while also sending the message that ugly is actually nothing to be scared of.

If you're all horribly wrong and my dd ends up in emergency CAMHS I will come back here and haunt you grin

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