“Mommy, I’m Ugly!” — or Mommy I”m Fat, Building Your Child’s Self-Esteem Part 1

Screenshot 2018-03-29 14.59.33The first in a series of steps to take to build your child’s self-esteem. Here’s one moment that all Moms dread: you’re standing next your daughter, and she looks in the mirror and says “Mommy I’m Ugly!”

As a child psychotherapist, I’m very familiar with this scenario. So when I recently encountered another Mom’s who wrote, “My daughter said ‘Mommy, I’m Ugly!” and another said her daughter said “Mommy I’m fat” (and she isn’t) I felt compelled to share what it probably means, and specific techniques that can help our children build their self-esteem.

(See the books “My Feelings are Hungry” Or Hungry Feelings not Hungry Tummy if your child is overweight) on Amazon  
When your daughter doubts her appearance, your heart sinks, and your first impulse is to say, “That’s not true, you’re so beautiful. Why would you say that?” Every Mom worries that this is the first step on the long road to poor self-esteem.

Do you remember the scene in “Alice In Wonderland” when Alice falls down the Rabbit Hole? That’s what happens to a child’s self-esteem when they experience what I call “hard feelings,” and don’t have the skills to deal with them. These pivotal moments, when handled well, can positively impact the course of your child’s life.

I won’t blame parents or the media here. In fact, this discussion is completely separate from the realm of appearances, because what’s really happening lies beneath the surface.

When children experience what are for them unmanageable feelings, those feelings can easily become transformed into thoughts like “I’m ugly ” or I‘m fat. If they’re not handled correctly, those emotions are then acted out in a variety of ways.

Self-esteem, as you may know, comes and goes — sometimes all of us feel good about ourselves and sometimes we don’t. Therefore, what we really need to teach our kids is resilience, so they develop the skills to overcome their “Rabbit Hole” moments and reclaim their self-esteem.

Here are the first 3 of 6 steps to take when your child says the dreaded words, “I’m ugly”: or I’m fat (and its not true relative to size:)

Step 1: Instead of Over-Reacting, Use Empathy and  Behavior Detective Parenting Techniques

Strive to handle this sharp heart-piercing arrow without over-reacting. Some knee-jerk responses include, “Don’t ever say that!” or, “Why would you say that?” Children don’t really know why they say things, so your best bet is to instead discern what’s going on underneath, then learn to talk about feelings in new ways.

This is what I call “Time-In Parenting,” a new collection of research-based techniques designed to improve family members’ Emotional Intelligence.

First, you must listen carefully and acknowledge how your child is feeling. After you hear her out fully, use empathy and say, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” You can also say: “That’s a hard feeling. Let’s talk about it, because it’s not nice to call yourself names. We treat others kindly, and we need to talk to ourselves that way, too.”

Most kids know how it feels when a friend says something mean or they get bullied, so comparing this type of negative self-talk to bullying may help them relate to it more. If your child then points out your own negative self-talk by saying, “But Mommy, you do the same thing!” first thank them for telling you, then make a promise to improve in this area, too.

Step 2: Become a Feelings -Behavior Detective
After you’ve acknowledged the hard feelings your child is experiencing, begin to address the underlying reasons. Become what I call a Feelings Detective by subtly moving the discussion away from feeling ugly. Say, “Sometimes kids use the words ugly, fat, and hate when they don’t have the words to say what’s really on their minds.”

There are a wide variety hurt feelings that can arise in the course of your child’s day, any of which he or she can easily turn into a negative thought about himself, herself or someone else. Your job is to discover what happened, and find a better way to express it and heal it. Here are some helpful things to say:

• Say, “Let’s figure out together what hurt feelings you’re really trying to tell me about.”
• Ask, “Did something happen at school with your teachers, or when you were playing with friends?
• Did I do something that hurt your feelings?
• Did someone give you a mean look?
• Do you wish I paid more attention to you?
• Am I too busy and distracted?
• Did you see a post online that was hurtful or you felt left out?

Perhaps your child got in trouble at school, was scolded harshly, or fought with siblings or classmates. Any of these things could provoke a negative self-image. You’d be surprised by some of the things that cause children to think negatively about themselves, and until you ask — and really listen — you may never find out what they are.

Maybe they’re angry because one parent works too much, gets easily distracted, or yells often. You’re probably certain that you’re not mistreating or neglecting your child, but kids have a view different view of the world then adults do. For instance, they often miss you deeply while you’re at work.

They’re also egocentric, thinking the world revolves around them, or that everything is their fault, so they often take innocent actions personally. With guidance and practice, they can develop the necessary skills to express their feelings effectively.

Step 3: Find Out What’s Underneath “I Don’t Feel Pretty”
or “I feel fat”

Begin to pinpoint the exact feelings your child is experiencing. Are they angry, sad, hurt, disappointed, lonely, or missing their grown-ups? A child might feel ugly or unwanted because they’re being compared to, or picked on, by their siblings. Perhaps your child is comparing herself to you?

Explain to your child, “When you look in the mirror and think you don’t look great, it’s usually because you’re upset about something that happened.

Are you angry with Mommy because I didn’t spend enough time with you? Are you missing or angry with Daddy? Often talking badly about yourself is turning your anger inward and we want to work on that.”

If you’re both having trouble figuring it out, you can use Feeling Town Map at back of my book, “My Feelings are Hungry” for choices of feelings or situations that your child may be experiencing. Or Try  the conversation starters in Hungry Feelings not Hungry Tummy.


I Love Oprah! My Hit and Miss Oprah Story (reprint from


I love Oprah and have watched her show for decades and still do. One day years ago I came home  to a message on my answering machine from  Oprah’s producers saying to please call them back they want me to be on the show!

I was so excited I still remember the feeling, I  was beyond elated and I felt like I had won the lottery. I had  just written my first book Listen To Me Please ( I am now on my 4th book) and I was thrilled and beyond excited. I couldn’t wait for the morning to come when I quickly called with great anticipation. The producer answered right away, we chatted briefly,  laughed a bit till we figured out that sadly they were looking for different Ava.

I was so disappointed I nearly cried.

I think my disappointment definitely came across because the producer apologized many times and seemed to feel really bad. She said if I ever had something else to submit I could submit it she would take a look.

So hence began my  journey of  “What can I submit to Oprah to be on the show.”

Believe me, I submitted many many many different things over the years. And to the producers, credit she always responded with a very nice no thanks, it’s not right for us:) My social emotional books for kids and parents didn’t align with the theme of the show. Although Oprah was very into psychological change and growth the show wasn’t about  Emotional Intelligence and Parenting and kids feelings.

Over the years I  continued to be a big fan and after a number of years of watching the show every day and loving it, I was inspired to write a song for Oprah.  I felt her work was incredible, inspiring, amazing and generous to all.

I presented my idea to my co-writer Alex Forbes and I got universal music behind my idea and they, fortunately, loved it and then the wonderfully talented artist Haley Westenra loved it and sang it and put it on her album Odyssey.

When we were co-writing the song I wanted to put Oprah’s name in the song, but my co-writers didn’t think it was the right thing to do, so it was two against one majority rules so we just use O for Oprah and O magazine.

I again submitted something to  Oprah’s producer thinking this time the song is it:)  and while the producer said she really liked the song it didn’t go further than that. Which of course was my last and final submission.

About a year goes by when all of a sudden while watching the show I see someone singing a song she had written for Oprah and low and behold the songwriter had used Oprah’s name in it…Oh well

When I looked into it, it turns out someone who worked at Universal music had moved over to Sony and they must have loved my idea from Universal and the next thing I know someone from Sony is singing Oprah a song.(It was a good song:) Perhaps Sony pushed the idea more than Universal or Oprah liked the song better or the timing was right. Who knows what really happened this is all speculation on my part.

However, I was recently reminded of the story so I decided to post it here.
The album did well it sold 100,000 units in the US so that was cool!
I still don’t actually know if Oprah ever heard it.But let me know if you have an Oprah story too!

Here is the song for Oprah I Called it  “You Are Water”

You Are Water, Song For Oprah
Written By Ava Parnass, Alex Forbes and Eve Nelson
Performed by Hayley Westinra


When I’m lost in a tunnel of shadows and fear
With no light
Only night
And I listen for a kind word, but nobody’s here
All so blue
All but you

You are the one voice
That gives me my own voice
O, don’t you know

You are water on a hot summer day
For a thirsty daughter who’s finding her way
You are water
I found my oasis
I’m drinking from the fountain of dreams
You are water

You hear the melody of my song
You stop time
Heal my mind
You show me struggle can make you so strong
Plant the seed
That is me

You are the one voice
That gives me my own voice
O, don’t you know

You are water on a hot summer day
For a thirsty daughter who’s finding her way
You are water
I found my oasis
And now I’ve got my arms wide open
Now I’ve got my wishes in motion

I want to thank you
Yeah, I want to thank you
Every step that you take shows me the way

You are water on a hot summer day
For a thirsty daughter who’s finding her way
You are water
I found my oasis
I’m drinking from the fountain of dreams
You are water