Equipping my daughter to choose her own reactions to stares and questions

I wanted to insert myself into the conversation happening a few feet away from me, to explain and to defend, but I held back.

I craned my neck a bit, waiting to hear what my children would say to the little girl who had just asked about my daughter’s red, peeling skin.

“She has a skin addition,” Connor said, and I had to hide my smile over his error, as he obviously meant “skin condition.” But then, as I thought about it a little more, skin addition is pretty accurate too – after all, Brenna’s body produces too much skin!

“Yeah,” Brenna chimed in.

“Oh,” said the little girl, still watching Brenna. And then she all but shrugged, like that explanation was good enough for her, and continued playing next to my kids.

I could have offered more information. I could have explained that was how Brenna was born, that she has really dry skin, that she has to wear lotion that makes her a little shiny, that that was how God created her.

But if I had jumped into the conversation, would I have conveyed something else? Would I have made the little girl feel badly for asking, would I have attracted unwanted attention for Brenna, would I have created a bigger issue than it needed to be?

Would I have placed a shield in front of my daughter when she didn’t need it?007

One of my greatest motherly desires is to instill autonomy, self-respect, and strength within my children, so that they can fly out into the world with responsibility and confidence and a deep sense of who they are as beautiful and unique people created by one very awesome God. And when it comes to Brenna, who faces the world with such physical differences, I find myself backing off more and more – very reluctant but well-intentioned –  pushing my baby bird out of the nest instead of sheltering her under my wings.

I know she will face all kinds of public reaction to her skin differences, whether I am there or not. So I’m grappling with giving her what often feels like less advocacy, but what I hope will be the best kind of gift: the opportunity to answer for herself. I’m trying to equip her with encouragement and support, instead of teaching her the way she should feel. I don’t want my words to become her words or my reactions to become her reactions.

As her mother, my story feels very different than hers. My story often feels more protective and defensive. And I am very aware that many experiences are much harder on me than on her because of this.

I know it is crucial for Brenna’s confidence and her inner strength to experience questions and choose her own reactions and responses, instead of taking her cue from me and my reactions. What she will feel as the object of stares and comments will be very different than what I feel as her mother… and I hope that we can both support each other in every new situation and season of life as we strive for the kind of grace-filled advocacy found in living out God’s purpose for our lives.

And physical differences or not, our kids often gain far more from us backing off than stepping in.

A few months ago, Brenna came home sharing about a new little boy who had just joined her morning preschool class. He had, she told us, pointed at her and said “your face is red.”

“What did you say?” we asked her.

“I said, ‘yes’,” she nodded firmly, confidently.

No shame. No embarrassment. No offense. Just an observation, and an affirmation: Yes, that’s how I look.

And with that confident one-word answer, all of those previous experiences with questions from other children that made me stiffen and force myself to hold back became what I was hoping for: opportunities to teach my daughter to be proud of who she is and how she can choose to meet those around her, in her own way.

My book, A Different Beautiful, is now available for order!

Interested in reading more with your kids about differences and being yourself? You can download a guide to the best children’s books on differences and disabilities when you subscribe to my monthly email newsletter!  Follow me on  Facebook and Instagram.

18 thoughts on “Equipping my daughter to choose her own reactions to stares and questions

  • January 26, 2016 at 8:22 am
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    Courtney, you are SUCH a good mother. Wow. I know a lot of moms without kids w/special needs who haven’t learned this lesson, and you learned it in 4 short years despite all the valid reasons you can use to justify being a helicopter mom. It’s obvious you are open to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and what’s more, have the courage to act on it. Thanks so much for sharing. You are an inspiration for so many and in so many ways.

    • January 26, 2016 at 8:40 am
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      Thank you Sheila, that’s so kind of you to say!

  • January 26, 2016 at 2:59 pm
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    “Your face is red.” Yes.” I love this. I should put this into action in my own life – own what I am; even if it just a tiny part of what makes me, me.

    • January 28, 2016 at 6:33 am
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      Yes! 🙂 We have a short saying around here: “You be you.” 🙂

  • January 26, 2016 at 7:33 pm
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    As if to say, “I’ve got this, mom.” She is a wonder to behold. With parents like you, and a brother that loves her so, she will continue to soar. I agree with Mary. Love to hear kids talk for themselves and be their own little persons.

    • January 28, 2016 at 6:32 am
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      It’s wonderful to see and difficult to let happen when all we want to do is protect 🙂

  • January 27, 2016 at 1:44 am
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    She and Connor are so sure and confident, I think they will overcome so much and move confidently into any situation they face with grace and honesty. Often that is only what is needed to satisfy the questions and the stares.

  • January 27, 2016 at 5:56 am
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    I’m so glad you’re writing a book. You have so much to offer the world.

    • January 28, 2016 at 6:31 am
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      Thank you!

  • January 27, 2016 at 6:35 am
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    You are wonderful Parent’s and Brenna is a very smart and wise little lady…I get such joy at seeing your post..she and her Brother are close and she learns so much from him, which is great…she watches im sure as baby Sister’s do and loves him and it had made her more able to go out there and be Brenna and tell them yes her face is red, and yes is all that is necessary..You have precious children….Brenna will be just fine…

    • January 28, 2016 at 6:31 am
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      Thank you so much 🙂

  • January 27, 2016 at 8:08 am
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    Such a wonderful and inspiring attitude. We’ve had some bullying issues with my kindergartner and it is so hard to try to let him handle it on his own. I want to call the moms of those boys so badly! Your daughter already has quite a lot of inner strength and I commend you for that! Thanks for the wake up call.

    • January 27, 2016 at 9:41 am
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      Angela… Make sure that his teacher knows about the bullying. He should not have to handle bullying on his own.

      • January 27, 2016 at 9:55 am
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        Yes, agreed. There should be zero tolerance for bullying at his school, which should be a safe environment for all students. I will be thinking of you and your son during this challenging time…

    • January 27, 2016 at 1:30 pm
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      Let the teacher know… and if not resolved speak to the school principal and the parents! Bullying is much different than asking a question…this really has nothing to do with “inner strength” ….. No child should be bullied!

  • January 27, 2016 at 4:48 pm
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    Children are very observant and as adults we view those observations as negative judgments. But your approach is perfect in my opinion–take the reaction as far as Brenna does because at this age it’s mostly innocence, but when she gets older it’s going to get harder so there’s not much point in making it a big deal before it becomes one. Brenna seems confident because you’re making her feel confident and in turn her confidence is going to get her less reactions as she gets older. I have the same skin condition as Brenna (type and everything) and I feel like I hardly get reactions because I don’t let them bother me. I shrug it off and give short answer unless they seem really interested. It has worked well for me. I’m also a preschool teacher so I understand how kids can be but their comments bother me the least of anyone! They are all about stating the obvious. But the comments are much worse from older people–it’s crazy! Keep it up 🙂

  • January 27, 2016 at 10:14 pm
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    My granddaughter, Ava, was born with Sturge Weber Syndrome, and thus, has a large port wine birthmark on her face. A few years back when she was about 5 or 6, I had the kids at a local playground, and a boy asked her what was wrong with her face. Her response was “Nothing is wrong, it’s just a birthmark. People are born with them, sometimes on their arm, or their leg, or their face, like me.” His response was “Oh…..hey you want to go play on the swings?” I think that letting the kids handle the questions of other kids is the way to go – as the kids don’t think too much about it. It’s the adults that stare or make rude comments that require some stepping in. Love your blog!

    • January 28, 2016 at 6:30 am
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      That’s a wonderful story, I’m so glad to read about this positive experience. You’re so right! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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