Psychologies: When can a child be considered to have a complex?
Galina Burmenskaya: The image of oneself – the idea of one’s attractiveness, strength – begins to take shape very early, at the age of four or five the child has a general idea of who he is. By the age of seven or eight, this image becomes more and more definite: comparing himself with other children and adults, the child gradually realizes his strengths and weaknesses. For girls, their appearance (face, figure) is more important, for boys – strength and agility.
Children’s complexes are often based not on real defects in appearance, but on a negative assessment of others and, as a result, a feeling of dissatisfaction with oneself. In children, self-doubt is always associated with what others say about them: “fat”, “nerd” …
It is from close people that the child learns about what he is: beautiful hair, smart eyes, dexterous hands
The child begins to feel ashamed of himself, feels that he is worse than others. A special time for the heyday of complexes is adolescence. At this time, children are very picky about themselves and acutely experience (real or imaginary) their imperfection. That is why complexes in adolescents form more often and are experienced much more painfully than at any other age.
To what extent are parents responsible for children’s complexes?
Of course, a lot depends on them, first of all – the child’s self-esteem and self-acceptance. It is from close people that the child learns about what he is: beautiful hair, intelligent eyes, dexterous hands … In response to the delighted “What a beauty I have!”, “How brave you are!” a sense of self-worth is developed in children (regardless of objective data).
On the contrary, a lack of attention to a child, especially the coldness of loved ones, undermines his self-confidence, makes him vulnerable. In addition, when adults themselves suffer from complexes, they can involuntarily pass on dissatisfaction with themselves to children. They often complicate matters by giving the child characteristics born of the idea of his own imperfection (“He is all in me, just as shy”), or trying to do everything so that he does not inherit their “shortcomings” – for example, they establish a diet.
But the older the child gets, the more important the opinion of his peers is for him: the adolescent’s self-image can change dramatically under the influence of assessments of his company, as well as youth fashion. That is why it is so important from early childhood to draw the attention of children to the fact that all people are different. We look different, think differently and love are not the same. The idea of this will help at the right time to withstand the views of others, critically perceive someone else’s opinion and maintain faith in yourself.
How to react if a child began to worry about his appearance or personal qualities?
Consoling a child, do not pretend that there is no reason for his suffering: “Only you pay attention to this!”, “Just think, glasses!” Feeling that he is not understood, he will be left alone with his doubts, will exaggerate the problem and feel even more discomfort …
Sometimes children are complex because of some trait they inherited from their father or mother. Do not emphasize this similarity, wishing to dissuade a son or daughter: “Look, mom has freckles too, it’s so beautiful!” His self-loathing can only intensify. But emphasize in a conversation with a child: each person has features that someone likes, but someone does not, it is impossible to please everyone at once.
The main thing is to help your child succeed in what he is passionate about, and then he will have something to be proud of.
If a girl suffers from freckles and wants, for example, to powder them, agree: she will feel that they understand her and try to help. If you do not like it, tell me bluntly that you would not do this.
It is very important for the child to be able to tell an adult about their concerns. When a topic that is painful for him is hushed up, he may decide this: if at home it is impossible to talk about what is being laughed at at school, then he is indifferent to his parents or the situation is really difficult. Be delicate, avoid categorical statements: “You really were not lucky”, “Nothing can be done with such hair!”
How can you help your child learn to accept himself as he is?
When children are worried about something, first of all they need our support: they are not yet able to cope with their feelings, they do not know how, for example, to respond to someone who laughs at them. Give the exact words: “I’ve heard this a thousand times, say something new.”
Try to fix the defect: change the frames of the glasses, correct the protruding ears. Teach by your own example of self-irony. If you have a similar experience, tell us about it: for example, how you worried about the shape of your nose, until you found that it does not bother anyone, and some even like it. Or tell us how over time some of your features became merits – your version of The Ugly Duckling. But most importantly, help your child succeed in what he is passionate about, and then he will have something to be proud of, except for his good (or not so) appearance. Knowing about your merits, it is easier to gain faith in yourself.
When is the help of a psychologist needed?
Children’s complexes are natural and should not cause panic in parents. It is necessary to react if the child constantly talks about his experience, he has no mood to do anything for a long time (more than a week), he is upset, depressed, does not want to communicate with anyone …
Stories to make peace with yourself
It is difficult for children to express what worries them, to openly talk about what they are experiencing, what they are afraid of, why they are now ashamed. But they love to listen to stories – fabulous, magical, exciting and at the same time surprisingly real, because they tell about a boy or a girl “just like me”.
These are the psychotherapeutic stories offered by Australian psychologist Doris Brett in the book “Once upon a time there was a girl who looked like you…” (Class, 2014). They allow the child to understand their experiences, to feel that he is not alone, that other children experience the same. The child ceases to feel worse than others and, following the hero, finds a way out of a difficult situation.
The book contains stories about children who are teased because of their appearance, who are always worried or jealous of brothers and sisters … Author’s comments and recommendations will allow parents to adapt “stories about Annie” to the peculiarities of their own child or even compose their own, special story for him.
About the expert
Galina Burmenskaya – PhD in Psychology, Associate Professor of Moscow State University. MV Lomonosov, co-author of the book “Age-psychological approach in counseling children and adolescents” (MPSI, 2007).