Dr Rosina McAlpine is a mother, CEO and creator of the Win Win Parenting Program, and holds a Masters of Higher Education and an education focused PhD from the University of New South Wales, Australia. At the time of this interview, she was also an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney.
Having eczema is not only stressful for the entire family, but is also related to lower self-esteem for children with severe eczema. The constant itch and scratching, lack of good sleep may also deter children from concentrating on certain activities they like. Would these affect our kids and how can parents inspire our kids to a fulfilling life, despite the eczema? This was originally a 4-week Friday Q&A, now combined into a single informative post.
Life Skill for our Children: Self-Esteem & Resilience
MarcieMom: I’m thinking of possible scenarios such as
- An older child/ teen being conscious of how he/she looks because of the rashes on the skin or face.
- Moisturizing often or cleaning off sweat after sports may lead to the child feeling self-conscious as his/her friends don’t need to take that extra time to freshen up and moisturize.
- A child may feel conscious that he/she is exempted from wearing jerseys or school uniform that is made with material (usually not cotton) that trigger his/her eczema rash (my toddler in pre-school is wearing Friday sports attire every day as the uniform is made with polyester, instead of cotton).
Self-Esteem vs Self-Confidence
Marcie Mom: Dr Rosina, I’ve learnt from you that self-esteem is how one judge himself/ herself versus self-confidence which is how one thinks how good he/she is at something. The former is related to ‘being’, while the latter is related to ‘doing’. The points I’ve listed above are related to how one feels about the external world appraisal of his/ her looks and behavior. My question is
What can a parent of a toddler age child say or do to build that self-esteem in the child so that when he is older, the child is able to feel secure despite being of an age where he is aware of people staring at his skin?
Should a parent say anything about how the rashes look?
If the child’s eczema is severe, he may know that people notice his skin rashes, should the parent say anything, and if yes, what to say, about the stares his child has been getting?
Dr Rosina: I’d like to start by saying that this is not an easy question to answer and that there is no ‘one’ universal way to parent so each parent must decide what will work best for their family. With that in mind, I would like to offer some suggestions that parents may find useful when faced with this dilemma.
The key to building self-esteem – which is a child’s judgment of themselves – is to give them the opportunity to learn, slowly over time, that they are valuable in their own right. Children need to come to understand that they have the right to have good self-esteem not because of anything they can or can’t do, or how they look, but just because they are human beings. To achieve this, it is important to create opportunities for children to esteem themselves as continual external praise is more likely to result in a child who looks outside themselves for esteem rather than develop self-esteem.
Thee key to building self-esteem – which is a child’s judgment of themselves – is to give them the opportunity to learn, slowly over time, that they are valuable in their own right.
For example, help children to ponder by asking questions like: how do you feel about yourself? Are you amazed about your life? Are you inspired by your ideas? Do you ever wonder how miraculous your body is that your heart can beat on its own without you thinking about it? Isn’t it incredible that you can experience the world through your eyes, ears, finger tips and nose? In this way your children can start to esteem themselves and see how miraculous it is to be a human being.
Let Your Eczema Child Discover that Everyone is Different
Next it is helpful to explore the diversity in humanity with your child and to wonder about it. People are so varied – different height, weight, skin/hair/eye colour, social class, experiences and of course as is the case with eczema medical conditions. Ask your children to think about questions like, “is one human being less than another because they have brown hair/ eczema/ are short?” “Can each person feel good about who they are and shine their individual brilliance no matter what?” Take the time to continue discussions like this and over time children will find their answers.
“Can each person feel good about who they are and shine their individual brilliance no matter what?”
Now to talk about rashes and skin makes some sense once a child knows how amazing they are as a part of the human race and that human beings come in some many different shapes and sizes, then eczema only becomes one of the many different challenges that children all around the world might experience. Each individual’s challenge offers the opportunity to grow in understanding and to grow in heart.
Honest and open communication about how your children feel about themselves and their eczema in light of the ideas above will help them to navigate the ‘stares’ and ‘comments’ that they may get from others.
Social Interaction for Older Child with Eczema
MarcieMom: For an older child, what can a parent do to help the child not feel conscious about herself but instead be able to help her friends understand eczema (do we need to equip the child to educate her friends?) or help her to not feel inadequate or inferior to others?
Dr Rosina: The important thing to help older children understand is that they have control of how they react internally but do not have any control over how other people will react. Sure it is fine to help others understand more about eczema and explain why children with eczema need to take care of their skin in a certain way, but at the end of the day, the key thing to remember is that it is not their job to control or influence how others will react to their eczema. A child’s focus needs to remain on what she/he can control – their own thoughts, feelings and actions.
The important thing to help older children understand is that they have control of how they react internally but do not have any control over how other people will react.
MarcieMom: Dr Rosina, I may not even be asking the right questions – but you get the picture that eczema requires management and can be very apparent for those with rashes on the face or visible body parts like hands and neck.
Any advice on how the parent can lay a solid foundation for the child to have that self-esteem is appreciated!
Dr Rosina: I really appreciate what you are asking about and you make a good point about laying a foundation. The key for parents is to know that children don’t need to know everything right now and to take a long-term approach to child development. Children have a lifetime to experience, to learn, to make mistakes, to try again and to grow. A parent’s role is to help their children on this journey supporting them to find the answers within through good questioning and exploration together. Over time they will have positive and negative experiences in relation to their eczema and over time they will understand more about the condition, how it impacts them socially, personally and psychologically and how to navigate the world in a life-giving way with the support of parents, family and good friends.
Life Skill for our Children: Creativity
Do you have any advice for parents to engage and motivate the child to be committed to a project, despite the daily battle with eczema?
The backdrop is that eczema parents and child typically have higher stress level, poorer sleep, (I hope not crankier) and moms are usually stressed about the child’s eczema and constant scratching.
In such a context, what can a parent do for himself/ herself and for the child so that mind and body are there for creativity?
Dr Rosina: I can’t imagine how hard it would be to take your mind off a body that is constantly itchy. This must be very difficult for eczema sufferers. You have raised many ideas and there are a few points to look at here.
First, resilience is a key factor in life success, and looking at eczema from a positive point of view in this regard, means that we can see eczema as providing children with the opportunity to build resilience. If children can stay committed to a project despite the obstacles that eczema presents then this will be a valuable life skill!
Second creativity might be just the thing an eczema child might need to take their mind off their body and immerse themselves in something they love. Creativity can come in so many forms including art, music and language … encouraging creativity might support eczema children to shine!
Creativity can come in so many forms including art, music and language … encouraging creativity might support eczema children to shine!
Third achieving goals is a process. Key areas to consider are helping children set realistic but inspiring and meaningful goals, helping them plan how they will achieve their goals, time management and using a diary or calendar and importantly recognizing, counting and rewarding achievements is highly motivating!
Motivating an Eczema Child to take on a project despite the Constant Itch
Is there an approach the parent can take to motivate the child to be passionate about a project/ hobby or discovering his/ her area of interest?
Dr Rosina: It is not easy to be disciplined for kids or adults! A better way to think about it is to form healthy habits. For example, most people don’t mind brushing their teeth, or showering each day or putting on sleepwear before bed… these are all good habits – we just do these things without too much fuss. Perhaps parents of children with eczema could help their children develop their skin care as part of their daily routines and until it becomes a healthy habit.
It is true that a good habit or discipline in one area of life can be repeated in other areas, but not always! Some people are tidy in the office and messy at home for example! The key is to focus on routines and habits that would have the most benefit to children. For very young children, making up a fun song or game about skin care would help the development of a habit that has a ‘good feeling’ about it. Forcing or demanding will leave a bad feeling about the skin care routine which means children are less likely to want to do it.
Parents can be creative… sing a little tune and add words like:
Wash, wash, wash the itch away
Mois-tur-ise and go out to play
I love feeling clean and fresh I say
Soft, clean skin feels great all day!
I just wrote this one quickly – in the hope this gives parents an idea and some inspiration to be creative and make this routine fun! Perhaps parents can post their ideas on your blog site so everyone can share words and tunes! After all your blog is called eczema blues!
With respect to helping parents find what their children are passionate about – it’s best to start by asking the children what they might be interested in. If they don’t know, it’s try to expose children to a wide range of activities and parents and children will easily see which activities bring a twinkle in their eye and which they have an aptitude for.
Life Skills for our Children: Building Relationships
What the parent can do, despite the expansive efforts needed to manage eczema, to create a less stressful home environment?
Dr Rosina: I imagine that stress is not helpful for children who suffer eczema and that it might even aggravate their skin condition. There are many things parents can do to create a less stressful home environment but the most important is to S-L-O-W down. Hurrying yourself and your kids only adds to the stress and puts kids into fight or flight response where you are not able to reason with them.
I also think it is so important to take time out to play and relax. When parents or children are stressed they are much more reactionary and easy to anger. Proactively helping children learn to relax and to play would be a great support both physically and emotionally and reduce stress and anger in the home. It doesn’t take long – 10-15 mins a day. If you can’t manage that take 5 mins!
Is there an exercise that you think is suitable for eczema families to practice so that they can manage their anger and temper better and engage in more relaxing and loving communications with each other?
Dr Rosina: There are two aspects here: 1 is being able to play and relax which we talked about previously – don’t under estimate how important that is in relation to managing anger. If parents and children are relaxed and enjoying themselves they are less likely to anger in the first place. The second is then managing the anger – because it is a normal part of life to get angry form time to time! The key is whether we manage our anger in a way that is harmful to others and ourselves or whether we manage it in a positive way.
Life Skills for our Children: Career
What is the approach parents ought to take when helping (if we can!) our children figure out what to do in life?
Do parents need to identify the child’s interest or talent? Or do parents need to inculcate skill to learn and persevere in the child? Or should parents lower or increase their expectation of what one is even supposed to achieve in life?
Dr Rosina: In an ideal world … what is life for, if not to live, breathe and share your passion? And how wonderful to make a living from what one loves to do? Imagine if everyone looked deep into their heart and shared with the world their unique brilliance and earned their income from doing just that! The world would be a happier and more productive place.
Children have many years to explore and discover their life’s passion. Parents can play a part in this by asking lots of questions and encouraging their children to share their ideas and dreams.
Here are some ideas:
Ask your children to share with you what they love to do; what they would really like to try doing; what or who inspires them and any dreams they have for their life. Ask lots of questions and get them to tell you why they love those things/ dreams. If they are having difficulty thinking of something, tell them some of your dreams and why they make you happy. Help your children understand that you really want to know about their dreams and desires so you can support them, and where possible, do some of the things they love with them. Again, the twinkle in their eye and the smile on their face will let you know if they are tapping into their true heart’s desire.
Ask lots of questions and get your children to tell you why they love those things/ dreams.
It is also helpful to consider that people can pursue their passions as a hobby and not necessarily make money from them. This takes some of the pressure off. Having a full time career in something you are happy to do and earn money from and pursing your passion in your spare time might be just the work/life balance one needs to live a happy and fulfilled life!
The relationships that parents establish with their children from the time they are born will influence how they will interact and relate throughout their lives together.
MarcieMom: Dr Rosina, this statement you just made “relationships that parents establish with their children from the time they are born will influence how they will interact and relate throughout their lives together” brought tears to me – taking care of Marcie hasn’t been easy, eczema and without live-in maid/helper that is common in Singapore. Someone told me it’d all be worth it because the bond between us would be unbreakable, I do hope it’s true, right now, every night before we read stories at bedtime, my girl would just blurt out ‘I LOVE YOU MOMMY’ and give me a big kiss or a rub.
And I love you too, Dr Rosina, you are sincere, serious about inspiring kids, your passion has already spread to Singapore!