How To Help Your Child Or (Pre)teen Navigate The World Of Beauty And Cosmetics

I wanted to start a short series here. Today I'll be talking about the psychological and parenting side of things, in the next posts I'll go into concrete tips for skin, hair and yes, makeup too.

The keys are: model, explain, introduce, joyful movement

Model your (beauty) values, keep your dark side to yourself

Kids copy what we do, not what we preach -- this is probably the biggest truth of parenting. Kids even copy things from their parents that they don't approve of on the conscious level (a child that is yelled at or intimidated often behaves the same way to others).
As parents we should pay really close attention to what values we model in our everyday life, and even when it comes to beauty and and even when it comes to beauty and body image and body care. Personally I model using makeup and clothes playfully but not having any problems going out without makeup and not dressed up. I model wearing clothing that is appropriate towards the situation. I model caring for the body and talking lovingly about it. I model feeling happy about a pretty skirt, my hair or my legs. With model I mean visible behaviour, which might be as simple as saying that I like how my hair looks. And it works -- I said that I like my butt a lot, and my daughter asked me "in spite of having that weird skin on it?" (I've got keratosis pillaris) and I was like "yes, the skin is weird there but I still like my butt" and she was "oh, cool".

I do my best never to complain in the presence of my children about my appearance, my those of another person, unless it is a loving and kind statement or is health-related. I try to talk as little as possible in terms of looks and more in in terms of what my body can do. I recently called out a friend for complimenting a teen on looking slimmer, as such a compliment carries heavy connotations (not being slim before, slim being good and not bad, the possibility of not being slim in the future).
Now comes the question: shouldn't we be frank with our kids? I don't actually accept my body 100%, probably not even 50%. And I do often apply makeup to hide what I think are my flaws. I often feel too fat. Shouldn't I be frank with my kids? The answer is -- there is a time for everything, and the time for being completely frank with your kids comes when they aren't kids any more. It's our responsibility to pass on the light, sunny parts of ourselves, the parts that are worth passing on. Our strengths, not our weaknesses. If you need to pour out your heart to someone, find someone of your own size (and age).

And on that note -- if you read beauty and fashion magazines (I do), keep them out of the reach of children and teens. I still remember the impact that fashion magazines had on me (I bought them because I didn't have anyone to teach me about beauty and makeup), and the self-scrutiny I subjected myself to after reading them. On the topic of self scrutiny -- it's best to keep a full-length mirror out of a child's room as long as possible, so as to allow them to be in their body and not scrutinise themselves of outside. A smaller mirror is enough, or at least a mirror in a corner where the child or pre-teen isn't confronted with it dozens of times in the day.

Talk with your kids, listen to them

Answer their questions, and grab chances to explain things. When your kid asks you why o you are putting on lipstick, you can say that you like this pretty colour and sometimes you like to paint your lips with it. If they are interested in your skin and hair routine, you can give them some simple tips that will stay with them for life -- that hair needs to be brushed gently otherwise it will get damaged, that you are cleansing your skin to get the dirt off. When kids have information, they are less likely to destroy their hair or skin when they start experimenting. If your kid asks why you are doing something, you can explain that you like it this way right now, or that your skin or hair need it, but it's also ok not to do it (for eg -- I'm shaving my legs because I like how that looks and feels, some women choose to shave theirs and others choose not to).

Be the one who introduces them to the world of self-care and cosmetics

If you won't be their first teacher, someone else will be.
When you child breaches the idea that they would like to venture in the world of beauty, take them seriously, listen, and then guide them. The worst thing you can do is say "you're way too young, anyway children shouldn't use cosmetics, go out and play". Then the next time they are curious about lipstick they won't ask you any more, they might buy something horrible and wear it outside of the home.
The first questions of a child might be tentative -- maybe they'll mention that they don't like that they don't like the way how their legs feel dry and rough, which is your cue to introduce moisturising. Maybe they'll ask to try your lipstick, in this case when you take them seriously and let them try it on (or even help them apply it properly), they'll look at themselves in the mirror, and very often that will be it for a long while. Probably they just want to try it on like they try on your shoes or your glasses. If they do express interest in actually wearing lipstick, you can tell them that lipstick looks weird on kids but you can pick up a nice lip balm (together with them) with a tiny bit of sheen to it. And -- please take your boys as seriously as you take your girls. Kids of both genders are interested in what both of the parents do, try to copy them. And often boys love beautiful things but have so much less opportunities to wear them, and are shot down when they express interest in their body or pretty things.
Allow them to make little choices -- to wear their hair short or long (both genders), jewellery. You can always try distracting them and steering them -- if nail polish isn't something you want your kid to wear, why not shop for nail stickers together? Or maybe metallic transfer-tattoos will satisfy their urge to adorn themselves?

 My mom told me pretty early on that she won't prohibit me to wear makeup because hers did, so she applied makeup on the staircase when she went out. 

One difficulty I had was pulling my kids away from the garish child-marketed conventional products with pirates and unicorns plastered all over them, and steering them away towards organic or at least those free from toxic chemicals. The first step was through the nose -- my daughter agreed that the gentle, close-to-real-flowers scents of natural cosmetics were nicer than the strong perfume of most conventional stuff. Than we talked about cruelty-free, and about decorating the containers with stickers. My son, who is a bit of a little scientist, enjoyed helping me mix his own lip balm (beeswax, oil and an essential oil, he loved smelling all the essential oils to pick one he liked). I feel like many kids have a much better understanding of things when they can take part in actually making it.

Help your child experience joyful movement and their senses

Every human should find a way to move their body in a way that brings joy. Joyful movement helps us accept and like our body, it also helps us be more in our bodies. Modern culture has people living in their head, and children are pulled out of their body into their head earlier and earlier.
For one child this could be martial arts, for another ballet, or break dance, circus, or kids yoga. It's really important that the child enjoy what they do, ideas like "I'll send her to ballet to improve their posture" might fix their posture, but might turn them off moving and accepting their body if the discipline and self-scrutiny in ballet is something they enjoy. Also don't put your child into anything competitive unless your child themselves expresses and interest in competing -- competitions can really take the focus of being in the moment, and can put a lot of mental pressure on kids.
Don't be afraid to look for unusual classes -- I know primary-school kids who aren't sporty but fell in love with belly dancing or Capoeira!

I also often see kids starved of sensory experiences -- I won't talk in detail about the "symptoms" on here, but city kids get too few chances to develop their senses. To walk barefoot, to whittle wood, to felt or knit, to really sing, to knead dough is to learn how our bodies let us experience the world.

So that's all for now from me. In case you're curious, my kids are in the third and the sixth grade. I'd love it if you shared your own experiences as a child or having children, ask questions or share your tips.

In the next posts I'll be giving concrete tips about how to care for hair and skin of kids, and I'll touch into the topic of makeup as well.

Photo credit: Diego Rosa

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