Guest Interview

Friday Q&A with Sue Atkins – Discipline for Eczema Children

Parenting and Discipline for Eczema Children with expert Sue Atkins

Sue Atkins is The Parenting Expert , author of the best-selling book ‘Parenting Made Easy – How to Raise Happy Children’ and also regularly appears on ITV’s This Morning, Sky news & The BBC.

This was originally a Friday Q&A for 5 weeks which is now combined into one informative post. As parenting children with eczema brings unique challenges, such as scratching (till bloody) when being disciplined, MarcieMom invited Sue to help with some thorny parenting issues that parents may face with their eczema kids.

Do you still carry on with discipline if your eczema child starts to scratch?

When it comes to discipline, many moms feedback that once they try to do so, their toddlers will start scratching (I’ve even drawn a cartoon on tantrum scratching!). Then, we are faced with the decision – do we continue to follow through our intended discipline method or do we stop and persuade our child to stop scratching. What would be your advice on this and is there a particular discipline method that you’ve seen worked better for children with eczema?

Also, when children with eczema throw tantrums, they tend to scratch too! Given how fast blood can easily come from the already defective skin barrier, it’s difficult to leave our child alone to ‘finish’ throwing tantrum. How do you recommend parents to deal with this?

Sue Atkins: I do think that children with eczema have a tough time.  Of course having an itchy skin makes your little one irritable  However I am not sure which comes first the irritability, where they are crying and getting themselves hot and bothered which makes the eczema worse, or the eczema being extra itchy and making them irritable.

I always say that the toddler years are a bit like taming jelly – all wobbles and no rules, for all parents as all toddlers are striving for independence, which can lead to frustration and tantrums and tears but add in guilt from the parent, and you have a difficult mixture. But I think  knowing WHY you are being firm, fair and consistent also helps as your child will feel more secure, relaxed and safe which will also have a bearing on their eczema as they will be more at ease. 

Toddler years are a bit like taming jelly

I work with many parents who feel a tremendous sense of guilt around their child’s eczema and over compensate by giving in to their children’s tantrums and demands but really you are setting yourself up for a short term gain but a long term nightmare. Children, of all ages benefit from firm, fair, consistent boundaries. I also teach the parents I work with to “tap” out their feelings of guilt using the latest cutting edge Emotional Freedom Technique.

MarcieMom: Thank you Sue for sharing your advice; I’ve to check myself that I’m not over-compensating but some days, parenting an eczema child can be stressful!

Parenting Made Easy

MarcieMom: I read your interview with Reading Kingdom with interest – your 5 tips to raise happy children are (i) play with them, (ii) teach them to be organized, (iii) don’t shout, (iv) keep your patience and (v) respect each other’s privacy, possessions and personal space. My guess is in eczema families, not shouting and keeping patience would be more difficult. We sometimes end up shouting ‘Not Scratching!’ (which isn’t the best way to stop the scratching!) or lose patience with each other as both of us are tired and having to keep an eye (and an arm) out for scratching is really energy consuming!

Do you have any tips for stressed out parents to (miraculously) relax while parenting our child with eczema?

Sue Atkins: My Pause Button Technique is a really simple way to empower all parents no matter what situation they find themselves in, as it allows you to press your imaginary pause button, freeze time and consider the consequences of the actions you are about to take, before making a more informed, better choice.

My Pause Button Technique

MarcieMom: Thanks Sue, I’ve visited your article and the idea is to pause and ask ourselves questions such as:

  1. Now ask yourself: What do I want to happen next?
  2. Is what I am going to say bring me closer to or further away from my child in the long run?
  3. What do I need to say or do to bring this situation under my control?

This Pause Button Technique is in your Parenting Made Easy CDs.

Punishing Fingers

Sucking fingers or putting items into the mouth is obviously not hygienic. In particular, hand food mouth disease (HFMD) which Marcie has got twice, is at epidemic level in Singapore. Most parents urge me to STOP this bad habit, by either slapping my toddler’s hand, slapping her mouth, implementing naughty corner or even putting chilli on her fingers! I haven’t implemented any of these and frankly, sometimes I’m glad she’s doing something with her fingers instead of scratching!

How would you recommend a parent to get the toddler to stop this unhygienic habit? And is this something you think warrant ‘punishment’ or ‘discipline’?

Sue Atkins: We are our children’s first role model and of course we all love our children so my views on smacking are well known on British Television as I ask parents to ponder what sort of message they are sending to their children if they hit them I wonder…..?   ……that’s OK to get physical when you feel annoyed, frustrated or angry? And because you are a role model in everything that you do…. guess what your kids will do when they get annoyed, frustrated or angry……. lash out too.

I know lots of parents feel a little “tap” never hurt them …… but times change, we evolve and a little smack can escalate……. I think a mum who came on one of my workshops put it really well when she said, “I didn’t smack my 13 year old son, but I did smack my 10 year old daughter because she was so strong willed. One day when I smacked her, she said, “That didn’t hurt!” I knew then that I mustn’t smack her again because of what might happen.” Read more at ‘Is it Ok to smack your child?

Clearly it’s very important to prevent the spread of the virus so

  1. Wash your hands frequently and properly with soap and running water, especially after changing nappies/diapers and after using the toilet.
  2. Teach your child good hygiene and to wash their hands frequently using soap substitutes after having their nappy changed or after using the toilet or playing outside or sharing eating and drinking utensils.

I encourage all the parents that have toddlers to use my Easy Button Technique where your toddler gets rewarded for the positive behaviour you do want to see more of by running over and pressing their Easy Button – as this using positive psychology instead of negative association which lots of fun and brilliant for your child’s self esteem.

Co-Sleeping & How to Wean your Child off it

Many moms who have children with eczema do co-sleep part of the night with their baby or toddler. I co-sleep with Marcie but aware that there’re pros and cons; related to eczema, co-sleeping may help the parent to check on the child’s scratching at night but also possible to increase dead skin cells and overheat (both dust mites and heat can trigger eczema flares). What I commonly hear from other moms (without eczema children) is that babies should be taught independence from young and sleep in their own cots. There is of course little couple time with a toddler in our bed and we’ve tried to wean her off co-sleeping so many times, but once we’re on holiday and sleep together, or if she had chickenpox/ HFMD and her skin was really affected, we would switch back to co-sleeping.

Is there any technique to get a child to sleep on her own?

Sue Atkins: It helps to think about the message you are sending to you child if you co sleep indefinitely – so this issue is usually around the clarity and confidence of the parent when they decide to change the co sleeping habit. Here is an article I wrote when I was coaching a mum on my ITV Parenting Power slot on “This Morning

The simple secret is routine and consistency and not giving in too soon! Think long term and keep the bigger picture of success in your mind at all time and don’t send out mixed messages.

TV for Scratching Distraction?

We know the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend TV before the age of two. I’ve tried my best to limit TV to Barney, Signing Time (which distracted her from scratching when she was a baby!) and 2 to 3 other kids’ DVDs series. I wouldn’t let her watch TV or iPad if I can help it, but it really gives me some breathing time when she’s entertained by TV and forgets about her itchiness.

The strange thing is that my friends who let their toddler watch cable TV such as BabyTV, Disney or Nick Junior, actually swear by these cable programs improving their toddler’s language skills. The even stranger observation is that their children indeed can talk much better than mine!

What age to let baby/toddler watch TV, what kind of programs are preferred and whether cable TV with lots of programs are indeed better than selected DVD series or no TV at all?

Sue Atkins: I am not a fan of tooooo much –  TV The “electric babysitter!

  • What is a reasonable, balanced amount of time for you?
  • What programmes and games are suitable for your children?
  • What boundaries do you set for your kids and are they flexible as they get older?
  • What’s your gut reaction and instinct to this whole topic?
  • What do you do if you and your partner disagree?
  • Are you able to stand firm and say “no” to your kids…. if not why not?

Just spend a few minutes making up your mind, setting your limits that feel right for you and doing your kids a great service by standing by your limits, consistently – no matter what!

MarcieMom: Thanks Sue for the post above; I’ve also read the Daily Mail article mentioned in your post and it’s mentioned that ‘Researchers in France found that watching television impacted on the development of children under three‘, leading to delayed language learning, encouraged passivity, reduced concentration, increased agitation and caused sleep disorders. TV channel in France has been banned from promoting educational benefits on shows aimed at under 3 year old and largely seen as a move against foreign baby channels such as BabyFirstTV and BabyTV.

Thanks again Sue, for joining with me for July’s Friday Q&A.

Your sharing will help others!