Children tease daughter about protruding ears

Child Life

December 14, 1997|By Beverly Mills | Beverly Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

How should I react when my daughter tells me that kids make fun of her ears for sticking out? Her dad believes that the teasing will only get worse and is prepared to have plastic surgery done. To me, the idea of plastic surgery seems ridiculous. I would appreciate some advice.

-- Debbie Tavenner Columbus, Ohio

"Generally when a child is teased about her appearance, it's important for parents to offer understanding about the distress she feels," says Jan Hughes, a professor of educational psychology at Texas A&M.

A parent could say, "The teasing hurt your feelings, didn't it?" The parent could also suggest a reason for the teasing, such as, "They're not happy with themselves, so they pick on you," suggests T. Joel Wade, a psychology professor at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., who studies how boys and girls feel about themselves.

Hughes says that insensitive teasing from a friend might end if a child simply says: "This hurts my feelings. Please stop."

That approach probably won't work with bullying, which can be a form of aggression, Hughes says. With bullying, it's best for the child not to respond at all, or to respond with humor to diffuse it.

It may turn out that plastic surgery will be the only way to stop the "Dumbo" name-calling that comes along with protruding ears. But experts warn you should not proceed until the child wants to do it and the parents agree.

Pushing a child to change his or her looks can lead to immediate problems with a child's self-concept and can cause drastic psychological problems later.

Parents should not not send a message to the child that she's not loved unless physically perfect. That's why experts advise -- postponing surgery until the child decides she wants it.

And that decision may be a few years away. Many children don't put a priority on personal appearance until between the ages of 11 and 14, Wade says.

"It's often not until early adolescence that it becomes critical to them to be considered attractive," Wade says.

Parents should be careful not to discuss their opinions about surgery in front of the child. "It will cause the child stress to be put in the middle," Hughes says.

Many readers who still remember the taunting they suffered as children for their protruding ears until they had surgery highly recommend it.

"Plastic surgery is not ridiculous when a child has an obvious abnormality that 'sticks out' and causes children and adults to tease," says Barbara Barry of San Leandro, Calif., who had the procedure at age 9.

"My 9-year-old daughter had the same thing, and people were making fun of her," says Barbara Gardner of Charlotte, N.C. "Last summer we had plastic surgery done on her ears. She has so much more self-confidence."

It is not uncommon for babies and children to undergo plastic surgery, says Robert J. Wood, a plastic surgeon and director of Cleft and Craniofacial Anomalies at Egleston Children's Hospital and Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

The "right" time for the procedure depends on when a child or parent begins to see the protruding ears as a problem, he says.

Here are other ideas from readers:

* Heather McClenahan of Tampa, Fla., who says she has "lived with the problem of protruding ears for 30 years," suggests that parents emphasize a child's talents rather than physical beauty. "Whenever I was teased about my ears, my parents directed my conversations away from my looks to things that I was good at, like school," McClenahan says.

* Try different styles of headbands in fun colors, suggests Beth Hart of Mesa, Ariz.

* Larry Launders of Dallas started wearing his hair longer after he started getting ribbed about his ears.

* Avoid earrings or hair bows that draw attention to the ears, says Margaret Davis of Hoffman Estates, Ill.

Pub Date: 11/23/99

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