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Explaining childhood eczema to peers

Every parent knows the heartache of watching their child struggle with rejection. It’s part of growing up and being human, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult for them to navigate and for you to watch. 

When it comes to eczema there are lots of misconceptions, especially among young children. You may already have seen the piece co-written with our own kids – Explaining Eczema to Kids: Eczema Book Reviews – we thought it would be useful to build on this by giving your child some tips on how to explain their itchy eczema skin to their peers. 

Keep it simple

Depending on how old your child is, the explanation will need to be clear, simple to understand and use minimal “medical speak” which as an eczema family may be part of your everyday conversation but is like a foreign language for kids who have no experience of eczema.  For example, my ten-year-old son has no idea what an emollient is but he knows all about naso-gastric tubes and different types of asthma inhaler!

The main thing young children will do is ask bluntly “what’s wrong with your skin?” and worry about it being infectious. It’s important to teach your child from the moment they are aware of their eczema that it is nothing to be ashamed about. It’s not their fault or something they chose to have any more than their hair colour or birth month. Resilience can be built with your help, but having wobbles is only natural. 

Having a simple explanation on hand and rehearsing how to answer questions about their eczema skin can be hugely reassuring for young children. If you are able to show them that it’s nothing to be upset by and that curiosity about any differences is completely normal they won’t be caught off guard. 

Nursery age

From the time they can speak, kids ask questions. Often quite embarrassing and inappropriate ones. My son went through a stage of asking everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) if they are going to die soon. 

Most likely question: “What’s wrong with your skin?”

Best answer: “I have eczema. It is really itchy and sore. I have had it since I was a baby.”

Also likely question: “Is it catching?”

Explaining childhood eczema to peers

Having a simple explanation on hand and rehearsing how to answer questions about their skin can be hugely reassuring for young children.

Best answer: “No, you can’t catch it, it’s part of me.”

Pre-school and early school days

Kids at this stage are more likely to persevere with questions, by this point they have fully embraced the dreaded “why?” response so your child may need a bit more information at their disposal to keep their answers friendly and factual. If they don’t respond emotionally they are more likely to be able to have a rational conversation. 

Children of this age are much better able to grasp cause and effect and also have the ability to remember their own experiences and relate to them, even if they can’t yet fully relate to others and empathise with them. This is just because that part of their brain hasn’t finished developing and it’s completely normal. 

The questions are likely to be the same as before but the explanation can be more varied now. 

Here at ScratchSleeves HQ we really liked the idea of explaining eczema like an insect bite. 

  • It isn’t because of something I’ve done, and I also can’t stop it.
  • It is really itchy and it’s very hard not to scratch it. The scratching is what makes it red and sore. 
  • Like an insect bite on someone else, you can’t catch it. 
  • Some special medicines make it a bit better – my parents could tell your parents about them if you like?
  • I don’t know why I have it, it makes me sad sometimes.

Parents may find this article on starting school helpful. 

Middle school

Middel scool kids can be mean. Sometimes they do it deliberately but more often than not it’s just down to not yet having the empathy to understand how their behaviour can impact those around them. Because they still have relatively little control over their own lives they don’t necessarily understand the power they wield with their words. 

At this stage sometimes the best response is the shortest response. When my son was getting frustrated with being ribbed in class we found that keeping his reactions as low key as possible worked best. So if the explanations above aren’t enough then having a stock response to teasing like “good to know” or “whatever” with a cheery shrug can sometimes be enough to diffuse the situation. 

Make sure your child knows they can ask for help with explanations if they need to – whether that’s talking to the teacher and asking them to intervene or suggesting (non passive aggressively!) that mum/dad/grandparents would be happy to explain it a bit more clearly if they have further questions. It’s a good way of remaining calm and collected whilst reminding the other child that grown-ups can be easily appealed to for information. 

This article on coping with teasing gives some great pointers on how to deal with teasing. 

What about those who are old enough to know better (but often apparently don’t)?

As far as explaining eczema to other adults or much older children goes, we’re sure you’ve got it covered. But for those days when you’ve just had enough of the commentary – why not pull a few ideas from Wisecracks and Comebacks!???

Remember, your child is looking to you for cues on how to handle everything that goes with having eczema. Sympathise with them but help them be proud of who they are. Showing them that you have listened and you understand helps them not feel dismissed. “I can see that you feel sad about this” or “I understand you are upset by this, how can we make this better together?” are sometimes all that they need and want to hear. Too much “poor you” or “let’s use your SPECIAL creams” is going to set a very different tone to a big cuddle and telling them how much you love every single bit of them, itchy eczema skin included. 

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