As parents to two children who had eczema in their younger years, we know only too well how stressful it can be to watch little ones suffer with scratchy, inflamed skin. Like all of our readers, we suspect, we worked tirelessly to reduce the symptoms, applying swathes of emollient day and night; being careful over our choice of clothing, bed linen, washing powder and trying our hardest to identify any foods which could be triggering flare-ups.
Fortunately for our children, the eczema was mostly isolated to elbow joints, fingers and behind the knees, so it wasn’t immediately obvious to other people (until they started scratching, of course). However, for children with eczema on their faces and necks, the impact may be much worse, especially as they reach school age and become more self-conscious about their appearance.
That’s why we were particularly interested to read the National Eczema Society’s recent article about the impact of stress on eczema. While the article relates to adult, long-term stress, it does highlight the potential damage to self-esteem which sufferers of childhood eczema may carry through to their later years if not properly managed.
This gives pause for thought on two levels:
- What can you do to reduce the impact of eczema on your child’s self-esteem, now and in the future?
- If stress is a trigger for adults, might it also be a trigger for children? If so, what can you do to reduce anxiety in general, and about eczema in particular?
On the first point, reducing the impact of eczema on your child’s self-esteem, we would suggest trying not to let this horrible skin condition dominate family life. By getting out and about, going on holiday and doing fun things like swimming in spite of eczema, you show your child that eczema doesn’t make the rules about what you can and can’t do. As they get older, there are things you can do to help your child manage eczema themselves, this is a really important factor as they grow more independent from you. Check out our article on encouraging your child to take control.
The other aspect is around teaching your child to deal with any possible teasing from others about the look of their skin. Everyone’s approach will be different of course, but it’s important to talk to your child openly about their eczema, and encourage other care givers to do the same with other children around them so that there is no mystery as to what causes it or misconceptions about catching it. We did some research into the best books for explaining eczema to different age groups for parents to either buy for or recommend to their school or nursery. We also found it helpful (with eczema and other playground issues) to role play the sort of situations they could find themselves in, so that they could explore different ways of responding.
The second point regarding what you can do to reduce anxiety in your child may seem like a challenging issue, but the right approach will benefit them enormously.
According to the National Eczema Society’s article, the link between eczema and stress is to do with the brain’s connection to the skin through cutaneous nerves. Stress causes nerve endings to promote inflammation in the skin through blood vessels and the immune system. Stress causes your brain to release hormones including cortisol and adrenaline. If you consistently have too much cortisol, over time it can dampen your immune system, reducing the inflammatory response in the skin.
Starting school, moving house or changes in family structure can all affect children. Trying to be as calm and relaxed as you can be as adults sets a positive example and atmosphere for them. Showing children that adverse situations are part and parcel of life but that they can be handled and will pass, we are sure has a positive impact on reducing anxiety.
Building their self esteem is important – the greater their sense of self worth the happier and more relaxed they will be. Along the exact same lines, building their self-confidence around their eczema will give them extra resilience.
With the increasing popularity of apps and tablets, both Headspace and Calm do a series specifically aimed at children. Listening as they fall asleep can help them settle down peacefully to sleep.
If you would like more information on reducing childhood stress, the NHS has an excellent ‘Moodzone’ https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/anxiety-in-children/ which offers lots of information and advice. We would also love to hear about your experiences, please visit our Facebook page to share your questions or advice with other parents of eczema children.