It can be tricky for kids with eczema to feel confident going to school, camp or other activities. NEA partnered with Understand AD to develop a children’s book called “My Ecz-ellent Day at Camp” to help kids feel comfortable venturing into new environments. And for the parents in our community, we connected with Jennifer LeBovidge, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Peter Lio, assistant professor of dermatology and pediatrics at Northwestern University, to compile a list of five key tips for handling the unexpected challenges that come with managing your kids’ eczema outside your home.
Tip #1: Let your child know what to expect
When your kids wake up, they have an entire day ahead of them, often filled with many unknowns. Having a quick conversation about what lies ahead can help them feel more prepared.
It sounds simple and easy, and yet early childhood development experts generally agree that helping your child know what to expect can help them feel in control of their environment.
“It’s common for children with eczema to feel nervous about how they’ll navigate situations like camp, school, or other activities outside the home,” said Dr. LeBovidge. “Common concerns include how to handle it if they feel itchy, what to say if someone asks about their skin, or not wanting to make a ‘big deal’ about their eczema if they have to ask a coach or counselor for help.”
If your child is headed to camp, you can tell them about the environment there, how it might differ from where you live, and let them know if the weather there might impact their eczema differently. If it’s sports or another activity, you can remind them of all the things you’ve packed that they’ll need to manage their eczema on the road or after the game. This may include clothing, uniforms or gear related to a sport they don’t typically wear. It may also help comfort your child if they know who will be there with them, how many people will be there, whether their friends are coming, or whether there are new people to meet.
This “let’s get ready for the day” conversation also gives you a chance to point out some of the ways that sticking to their skincare routine might be different out of the house than when they’re at home.
Tip #2: Establish and prioritize a skincare routine – and stick to it everywhere you go
“Establishing a good regimen and sticking to it is one of the great secrets of keeping eczema in check,” said Dr. Lio. Because eczema is so different for every individual, every family has their own eczema skincare routine: moisturizers, creams, cleansers, topicals, alcohol-free sunscreen, you name it.
At home, you’ve probably got your routine down to a science. But what happens when it’s basketball season and you have an all-day weekend tournament in an overheated gym? Or what if your child is invited to a birthday party at a chlorinated swimming pool? Even the best routines can be hard to follow in unfamiliar settings.
Still, experts agree on several key tips to help make your child’s routine stick:
- be consistent;
- be patient;
- use verbal reminders throughout the day;
- and make a written list of everything in the daily routine.
To help your child remember their skincare routine, try creating an eczema journal with a daily checklist. Include the times when they need to moisturize. Include a list of their triggers. And if your child’s old enough to wear a watch or has their own phone, set an alarm that will notify your child when it’s time to take their medication. Consider reviewing your child’s eczema journal together every morning when you talk about their schedule of the day. Use positive reinforcement, stickers, praise, points towards a goal or reward, to help motivate your child to stick to their routine.
Tip #3: Help your child advocate for themselves
“Children will feel more confident when they know the “go-to” people that they can approach if they feel itchy or need help,” said Dr. LeBovidge. Whether that’s a counselor, a coach, or a teacher, it often helps if your child can meet their “go to” person ahead of time.
Making it a full team effort can help. “Involving children in developing and communicating their plan can be empowering,” said Dr. LeBovidge. “Older children might want to be involved (with parents) in talking with the teacher or nurse about eczema, and teens will likely start to take a lead role in communicating with coaches about steps they may need to take during a practice or game if they are flared.”
For some kids, having a “special signal” with their teacher can help improve their communication. “Some children use a signal or put a notecard on the teacher’s desk when they need to leave the classroom to go to the nurse and don’t want to make it a big deal,” said Dr. LeBovidge. “Talk with your child about what they feel most comfortable with, and then discuss that plan with the adult in charge.”
Dr. LeBovidge also suggested that it can help to “let your child know you will never be upset with them for speaking up about steps they need to take to help keep their skin in control. For example, if the teacher asks everyone to use hand sanitizer, it’s okay if your child says that will irritate their skin and they prefer to wash their hands.”
Tip #4: Give your child the vocabulary to talk about their eczema
Of course, children are naturally curious, and it’s inevitable that other children will ask questions about your child’s eczema. “Helping your child prepare for these situations will help them feel more confident,” said Dr. LeBovidge. “Give the condition its name and keep it simple. This gives the message that no one should be ashamed of eczema. For example, ‘It’s called eczema. It’s dry, itchy skin.’ Or ‘It’s like an allergy, you can’t catch it like you would a cold.’ Then your child can change the subject to something more interesting!”
In the children’s book developed in partnership with Understanding AD, the main character, Taylor, talks about her eczema clearly and concisely. When another camper asks, “What’s wrong, Taylor?” She responds with: “I have eczema and my skin gets itchy if I sweat or go swimming.” It’s a short, clear response to the question that quickly communicates Taylor’s reason for staying inside. Even if a child didn’t know about eczema, they would understand not wanting to feel itchy. We can help our kids communicate the same way: there’s no need to give lengthy, complicated explanations when a few short phrases will do the trick just fine.
Tip #5: It’s okay to ask for help!
Our last tip is about helping kids know that it’s okay to ask for help. “Make sure to check in with your child about how things are going and how your plans are working,” said Dr. LeBovidge. “Set expectations that if things are not perfect at first, you’ll continue to adapt the plan.”
It may also help to write down a list of situations where it’s best to get an adult to help. Every family will have a different set of criteria for their kids, though it may include:
- If your child knows that an activity will trigger their eczema
- If your child is teased or bullied in any way
- If your child is experiencing pain or discomfort
It’s also okay to let your kids know they can ask to talk to their teachers, coaches and counselors apart from the full group and ask what they need individually, without the whole group listening. Ask your child to come to you with any questions or worries,” said Dr. LeBovidge. “Kids should know they are part of a team when it comes to managing atopic dermatitis.”
For more information, check out Taylor’s adventures at camp in “My Ecz-ellent Day at Camp.” It’s a perfect opportunity to sit down with your child and talk through some of the situations they might recognize. And it might get your child excited about some of their own upcoming outdoor activities.
Understand AD is an awareness program supported by Sanofi and Regeneron in partnership with the National Eczema Association (NEA). The program aims to shine a light on the everyday burdens that people living with or caring for someone with AD face and provide resources and support as they navigate these struggles.