Welcome to the school section of iFace. You can read here what other young people with disfigurement think about school - good and bad - and how they deal with difficult situations (check out the forum for loads of great advice on how to beat the bullies). We'd like to hear from you too. Click on the 'add your story' button at the
bottom of the green box on the right and send us an email - you can suggest new forum posts and FAQs too.
Note: Unfortunately, Changing Faces is currently unable to continue to provide its discussion forums. We are looking into alternatives to put in place as quickly as possible.
In the meantime, why not check out discussion forums on Facebook?
Q My Mum and teacher think it will be a good idea to an assembly on my birthmark to teach others in the school about disfigurement. I think it would be awful and would just make me stand out even more. What can I do?
People who bully others are generally really sad and lonely people. Hard as it is to believe they feel really bad about themselves in some way and rather than deal with this they decide it would be better to make someone else feel really rubbish about themselves instead. Thing is they nearly always succeed and end up making others life a misery. It is also worth remembering that 'bullies' will always target something that they think you will feel bad about. Keep saying to yourself that they are saying these things to get a reaction from you and above all remember that its not because you are in any way a bad person or deserve the comments or that the comments are true. Bullies on the inside although they will never, never admit it are sad and lonely people who make other people suffer to make themselves feel better.
People will bully others for different reasons. Sometimes it can be easy to think that it's because you don't fit in, or that there is something wrong with you, but it is important that you remember that the problem is theirs and not yours!
Many bullies feel weak and insecure themselves, although this can be hard to see as they will usually disguise this well. Regardless of their reasons for bullying, their behaviour is not OK and you should be able to walk to school without being called names or intimidated.
Perhaps you could try the following:
- Keep a journal to record what was said /done, when and where it took place. Try writing down things you wish you could have said in response or things you would like other people to have done to help.
- Speak to an adult you can trust and show them your journal. Explain what you would like to happen and ask how this can be done
- Find support for yourself. Remember there are many organisations who help with bullying and different people you can talk to including Changing Faces' Children and Young People's Service, Kidscape and Bullying Online.
Bullying isn't a one off situation and it doesn't tend to go away on its own. Bullies will use physical, verbal, threatening or manipulative behaviour to intimidate or put others down. As well as hitting, kicking and shoving, bullying can also include purposely leaving people out, stealing things, threatening others and spreading rumours or hurtful gossip.
Your school will have a bullying policy that explains how teachers should respond. Has your friend spoken to anyone about this? Could you encourage him/her to speak with a trusted adult about what is happening? There are lots of people inside and outside school who can provide support, including Changing Faces' Children and Young People's Service, Kidscape and Bullying Online.
Your friend may also find it useful to to keep a journal or log of what has happened to help explain and give examples of what has been going on.
Have a think and a chat with your parents about the following:
- How much information do your teachers have about your visible difference?
- What do you think it would be helpful for them to know about your visible difference?
- If another student or teacher asked them about your visible difference, what would you like them to say?
You or your parents might also want to let your teachers know that Changing Faces produces a whole series of guides for teachers on supporting students who have visible differences. They are available to download free of charge from Changing Faces' website at www.changingfaces.org.uk and contain lots of useful information. They're a really good idea if you feel a bit shy or embarrassed about approaching the subject yourself.
What about your year group...
- Are they friendly and co-operative?
- Are they accepting of people's backgrounds, cultures, race and physical differences?
- How do you react if they ask a question or make a comment about your cleft lip and palate?
It's likely that most people will notice so if you feel confident enough you could take the initiative and say something like, "I see you noticed my lip. It's ok. It's called a cleft lip and palate and it doesn't bother me."
Try noticing something about them too so there's not an awkward silence after you've explained about your cleft lip and palate. Something like, "Where did you get those earrings. They're amazing!" or "Are we in the same class for biology?"
If you can practise doing this, you will get the initial curiosity out of the way and you will also seem like a very relaxed and approachable person.
Our School Specialist says that is actually better for you and everyone else if you and your teachers can respond to any questions or people's curiosity about your birthmark as they come up. It's more natural and less likely to look like a big deal.
It would be really helpful if you and your parents could:
a) think about what you would like your teachers to know about your birthmark
b) come up with a quick explanation about your birthmark which you and your teachers could use if anyone asks a question
You could then either prepare an information sheet for your teachers which contains some questions and answers about your birthmark and how to talk about it or get your parents to arrange for you and them to meet with some of your teachers and teach them about your birthmark.
"When I started orchestra I thought everyone was going to ask about my birthmark. They were more interested in how I played the violin."
"I'm really shy. It's so hard meeting people for the first time."
"My friends don't take much notice of how I look and it was me who had to ask them if they were curious. Only two of them said they were."
"I never used to talk about my cleft but now I just tell people what happened so it's out the way. It's great. No more worrying about whether anyone's noticed or not.'
One thing we all have in common is that meeting new people can be scary whether or not you have a visible difference. If you have a visible difference, the chances are that new friends will be curious the first time they meet you but there's a lot you can do to put them at ease.
Have a quick explanation ready about your visible difference if you notice that someone is a bit shy with you. Something like, "You've probably noticed my scar. I was in a car accident when I was three. It doesn't bother me now" will get any curiosity out of the way. You can go into more detail later on if you want.
Making friends doesn't happen automatically - a lot of it is about what we say and what we do. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Smile and say 'hi' to people. You'll know you're being friendly and others will too. (We don't just smile with our mouths; our eyes, our voice, our skin, even our ears get involved in lighting up a smile).
- Make eye contact. You'll feel more confident and you'll look confident to other people too.
- Make the first move - other people will be so relieved that you are taking the initiative especially if they are shy.
- Ask lots of questions because most people love talking about themselves! Try questions that can't be answered with a yes or no e.g. 'what kind of music do you like?' or "You're really good at pool. How long have you been playing?" By asking friendly questions people will know you're interested in what they have to say.
- Be a good listener. It's one the things we value in our friends.
- Remember other people want to be liked as much as you.
The best way to make friends is to show other people that you are friendly and approachable. You can do this by asking them questions about themselves, showing people that you are really listening when they are talking to you, being open, making eye contact and smiling also really helps.
Changing Faces recommends teachers get in touch with new pupils who have a visible difference and their parents before school starts, so that everyone can agree what to say and what to do if there are any question or comments or if you are finding things difficult.
If this hasn't happened, don't worry. You can always ask to talk about it now. A lot of people would rather not do this because they just want to get on with school and not feel different but if someone does ask your teachers "what happened to so and so" it is helpful for them to know how you would like this handled.
If you're shy about introducing the subject with them, why not suggest they look at www.changingfaces.org.uk and the information there for teachers.
'It's just the way I was born, don't let it bother you' (this answers the question and shows you are OK with it but don't want to go into detail).
'I was born with a condition called Aperts which meant that my fingers were fused together. I've had lots of operations since I was little. Have you ever been in hospital?' This example answers the question, shows you're comfortable talking about it in more detail and creates an opportunity to ask the other person about themselves and start a normal conversation.
Remember to use words and language that you feel comfortable with. Sometimes it helps to practise to at home on your own in front of a mirror or with someone in your family. If you have a group of friends at school, it's worth talking to them about the things that they could say to help you out if someone asks a question or makes a comment so everyone has the same explanation.
If the same person keeps asking you questions or making comments to other people , this is not OK, so talk to someone you trust about it. If you find answering questions really difficult or it upsets you, remember you can contact Changing Faces on 0845 4500 275 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.