Vitiligo doesn’t just impact the individual with the condition; it can impact those closest to them such as parents, carers and family members.
Raising a child with vitiligo is likely to be one of the toughest jobs you’ll find yourself having to face and during the early stages of diagnosis, it is possible that you’ll be feeling confused, anxious and concerned as you start to understand what having a visible difference could mean for your child.
It is likely that you’ll have several questions you’ll be seeking answers to; how do I support my child during difficult times? Will they be ostracised because they look different to the other children in their school? Will their skin get any worse than it already is?
Teaching children to be confident is a tough job for any parent and so for parents of children with vitiligo, it may feel like your job is even tougher….but instilling them with confidence is definitely possible. I’m a firm believer that education starts in the home and with the right guidance and support, you can raise your child to feel comfortable in their skin and teach them how to navigate through school and manage potentially difficult situations that may arise. Of course, as parents you can’t be by their side during every moment, but you can equip them and teach them to be confident which can have a lasting effect on who they are.
So lets take a look at what you can do to support them! Here are my top tips on how you can help your child to feel confident in their unique skin:
Explain what vitiligo is and keep it simple
Vitiligo is a complex condition because for some it could mean they have another autoimmune condition. There is also the psychological impact of vitiligo in addition to the physical. I would always say in the first instance, when explaining to your child what vitiligo is, keep it simple and try to be upbeat. Young children are likely to ask you what it is (this could be because they are curious about their own skin or because someone has asked them), so be ready with an answer when the question arises.
Describing in a simple way in which they can understand means explaining that they have white patches on their skin and that it isn’t something for them to worry about because it doesn’t hurt, it just simply makes them look different. They are capable of doing all the things their friends can do; it’s just a physical difference.
I know some parents have gone one step further and creatively explained that they have super powers because of their patches! It’s a great way to take away the serious element whilst making things more light hearted, and besides that, which child doesn’t like the idea of having there very own super power!
At a later stage, when they are older and want to understand the more complex side of the condition, then you can explain that it’s an autoimmune condition where white patches form on the skin due to a lack of melanin, but until that point keep it simple.
Show them the difference vitiligo is making
Given the platform vitiligo has been given in recent years and how social media has brought together an incredible community, showing them what they are part of will automatically make them feel included. Being part of a community hasn’t always been possible, so now that we have come together collectively to support each other and openly offer advice, it should make living with the condition that little bit easier. Aside from connecting with others, show them books that now feature characters with vitiligo so they can see they are represented in the stories they love, show them that there is a Barbie Doll that has patches like they do and show them who the positive influencers are who are sharing their stories and paving the way for the younger generation in terms of education. Children with vitiligo need to see they are being represented and by doing this it helps to normalise the condition.
If you’re positive, they’re positive
As parents you are likely to be the ones that your child looks up to and will come to during low moments and high moments. It is completely acceptable for you as parents to worry about how your child may be affected in later life, after all they are innocent and you will naturally be trying to envision there future with the condition. This may sound hard, but not passing your worries and concerns onto your child is so important. Children are very receptive to how you might be feeling and if they tune into your worry, it’s a feeling they can instantly pick up on.
My parents were very concerned about my skin when I was growing up. I understood because of the endless hospital appointments I attended as we discussed all the options that we hoped would slow the patches down. But, the one thing I can say is, I never picked up on their personal worry. They were always upbeat, telling me that I was beautiful and never heavily focused on discussing it. From the age of 3 up until I was 11, vitiligo for me wasn’t an issue because it wasn’t a ‘hot topic’ and I wasn’t aware I was different.
It’s important that, if you are worried, that you try to get the support you need from a medical professional or support groups so that you can discuss your concerns, because the chances are, there are plenty of other parents feeling exactly the same way you do and you are there to support each other. It’s important that you remain positive for your child so that they don’t feel concerned too.
Encourage them not to hide their patches
To avoid the potential stares and inquisitive questions, some parents may prefer to cover their child’s skin because they worry about how people will respond. This is completely natural, however, if you encourage your child to wear shorts in the summer and allow them to wear swimsuits by the pool, this will show them that they don’t have anything to hide. As a child, I have so many photos of me with my legs and arms out for other kids to see my patches and as much as my skin looks very noticeable, I love that my parents set that foundation during my early years, encouraging me to become a confident child. People will unfortunately stare because they are curious, but it’s better to accept that this might happen rather than feeling as though you need to hide your child away in order to avoid it. Your child has just as much right to enjoy the summer months like all other kids so encourage them to feel free and to share who they are with vitiligo!
Follow Natalie’s own personal journey with vitiligo on Instagram @being_just_us