Friday Q&A with Dr Rosina – Inspiring Eczema Kids through Building Self-Esteem & Resilience

Dr Rosina McAlpine

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. For this month’s Friday Q&A, I’m honored to introduce you to Dr Rosina McAlpine, who is a mother and an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney, with a masters and PhD in education. She has developed the Inspired Children Program and won numerous national and international awards for her teaching and research work.

Marcie Mom: Thank you Dr Rosina, I am so glad to have you. I’ve received numerous comments from dermatologists and parents that self-esteem is an issue for the older children and teenagers with eczema. I know that you are deeply passionate about giving life skills to our children, and I’d like to concentrate on one life skill each week for parents with eczema children to work on. So let’s get started!

Life Skill for our Children: Self-Esteem & Resilience

Before I go on further, I have to state that my eczema child is at toddler age. Therefore, I haven’t faced issues that eczema may bring to an older child or a teenager. I can only imagine, based on my understanding of eczema and from the feedback given to me from doctors and other parents of older children. So, I’m thinking of possible scenarios such as

  1. An older child/ teen being conscious of how he/she looks because of the rashes on the skin or face.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).

Marcie Mom: Dr Rosina, I’ve watched your video resource and learnt 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? An eczema toddler would have realized that he has eczema and needs to moisturize and clean bacteria off his skin (my toddler even knows the word ‘chlorhexidine’! An anti-septic effective in cleaning away staph bacteria).

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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

MarcieMom: Thank you Dr Rosina, I’m so grateful for your advice and inspired to be more aware of building self-esteem with my kid in everyday moments.

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