Back-to-school season can be exciting, but stressful, for the more than 1 million school-age children living with severe eczema in the U.S.
Chronic itch and sleep issues can make it tough for kids to concentrate in class. Exposure to everyday substances from cleaning supplies to cafeteria food can trigger eczema flare-ups or allergic reactions. Stressful scenarios like taking a pop quiz or being bullied on the playground are also common triggers.
According to a 2016 NEA survey, more than 20 percent of parents and caregivers polled said their children experienced bullying at school because of their eczema, resulting in self-esteem issues in at least two-thirds of those kids.
More than half of parents polled said their child had trouble treating their eczema outside of the home and missed at least one day of school due to their disease. About 17 percent said their children missed five or more days of school.
NEA to the Rescue!
Looking for handy tips to help your child rise to these challenges? We urge you to download our “Eczema: Tools for School” kit, which includes two sets of guidelines to help parents and educators foster a positive experience for students with eczema. Then, follow these five simple steps to a stress-free school year.
Step 1: Coach your child
The best way to help your child manage their eczema is to teach them how to be self-sufficient. Explain the fundamentals of eczema in terms they’ll understand so they can accurately relay this information to adults or other children. Remind your child that it’s natural for people be curious and ask questions, and why it’s important to inform others about this disease.
Demonstrate to your child early on how to keep their skin clean, moisturized and medicated so they’ll know how to properly manage symptoms when they’re away from home. Communicate with them often to help identify and avoid triggers that aggravate symptoms. If they experience bullying or other troubles at school, encourage them to share these experiences and feelings with you so you can help.
Younger children may struggle to put their emotions into words. Experiment with different approaches, such as drawing pictures or acting events out with their dolls or other toys, to help them express their feelings and establish healthy coping mechanisms. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask a qualified counselor or therapist for assistance.
Step 2: Set up a 504 plan
For children with severe eczema, you may want to set up a 504 plan for children. A 504 plan is a provision of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination based upon disability and can be used to address special needs. It is mandatory for all schools to comply with a 504 plan.
Parents meet with teachers and other school administrators and staff to map out details regarding a child’s disability. You might discuss certain accommodations for recess, physical education or eating in the cafeteria. One example would be if a student has severe hand eczema that makes it difficult to hold a pencil, a 504 plan would allow parents to make arrangements for the child to use a laptop instead.
Setting up a 504 plan can make a world of difference for children struggling in school due to severe eczema. Laurie Pilkington discussed her experiences with setting up a 504 plan for her daughter, Angelina, in a previous article. If you have questions or concerns about setting up a 504 plan for your child, contact the National Eczema Association.
Step 3: Educate school staff about eczema
Pass out fact sheets to teachers, school personnel such as nurses, counselors, physical education staff and bus drivers; and other parents. Provide the school with a written list of your child’s eczema triggers and allergies. Offer suggestions to help your child avoid exposure to these triggers, such being seated away from windows, radiators and heating ducts if heat makes their eczema worse.
When a child fidgets in their seat due to pain or itch, teachers may misinterpret their behavior as symptoms of other conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Tell them if your child struggles with itch and make suggestions for soothing itch and distracting them from scratching. Let the teacher know in advance if the child has sleep issues that may contribute to tardiness, absences or sleepiness in class.
Be vocal with the school if you have concerns about bullying. Encourage teachers to hold eczema discussions in the classroom so students will understand why some of their classmate’s scratch, break out in a rash, or can’t do certain things other children can do. If bullying does occur, stand your ground and hold all parties involved accountable until the situation is resolved.
Step 4: Pack an eczema relief kit
Put together a kit with gloves, moisturizing cream or lotion, antibiotic ointment, mild cleanser, alcohol-free hand sanitizer, adhesive bandages, gauze pads, sunscreen, spare bandages, protective clothing or an extra change of clothes. Include detailed instructions for administering medications. It’s helpful for parents to put together multiple eczema relief kits for their child—for the school, one for babysitters or sleepovers, and one to use when traveling.
Step 5: Raise awareness
Awareness and acceptance is an important part of making school a comfortable place for children living with eczema. Hold an Eczema Awareness Day at your child’s school to promote awareness among the student body and faculty. If they’re comfortable with the idea, ask your child to share their personal struggles with classmates and teachers to help foster a greater sense of understanding and acceptance at the school.
Fundraise for the National Eczema Association by organizing a bake sale or craft fair. Get involved with the National Eczema Association by becoming a virtual walker for the Itching for a Cure walk or hosting a Fun Walk in your community. Contact the National Eczema Association for more information on organizing a support group or attending a walk.