When you get the diagnosis of vitiligo for your child, there will be many questions you have about treatment and what the future looks like. There is no cure for vitiligo and many children; vitiligo can spread as they get older from just an initial spot on their hands or face to all over their body. Luckily, vitiligo is not a disease that puts children at risk for injury or health problems that could result in death; however, vitiligo is a life-changing condition that requires unique parenting for the emotional and mental health of children.
Your Child’s Reaction
There is no science to knowing how your child will react to a vitiligo diagnosis. Children deal with vitiligo differently depending on their age, social surrounding, and awareness of what vitiligo is. Children who develop vitiligo at younger ages, mostly before kindergarten do not seem to be aware of their depigmentation and do not dwell on name calling or other children calling attention to their skin color. School-aged children between the ages of five and ten tend to focus most on acceptance by their families; however, recognition by peers is starting to emerge as a concern as children get into their preteen and teenage years.
As children get older, the way they perceive themselves and their reactions to how others see them may change. Children who did not seem ever to be bothered by their depigmentation may have a change of heart as their peers start to be concerned with looks, fitting in and social circles. Preteens tend to have the most challenging time with bullying due to vitiligo; however, by teen years (14-18 years old) peer rejection and bullying do seem to lessen, especially in teens that are confident, positive, kind, and active within their social circles.
The most important thing that parents need to remember is that they must be flexible in their expectations of how their children will react to having vitiligo. One day, or for years, your child may seem to be unaffected by their vitiligo. Their mindset could change when new friends are made when a new school year starts, or if other life-changing events start to happen such as puberty. There are a few things that parents can do to help their children deal with their changing skin.
- Prepare Your Child- Let your child know that some people may not understand what vitiligo is and may ask questions. Help your child know how to answer these questions or how to respond if they are not comfortable answering questions or talking about their condition. Try to encourage your child to view questions as a curiosity rather than meanness so that the child won’t feel bullied. However, you also must teach your child how to recognize bullies and what to do if they ever feel in danger or harassed.
- Be Patient- Your child may start to develop anxiety in social situations or have trouble adapting to new places or groups of peers. If your child is resistant to new things or new people, be patient and attentive to what they are expressive to you. Your child may be emotionally exhausted, especially after school. Make sure to stress to your child that they can talk to you about their experiences and how they are feeling about their situation.
- Encouragement- One of the best things you can do for your child with vitiligo is to encourage them in their passions. If your child loves sports, try to involve them in a team or recreational facility. Children should also be encouraged to participate in anything they are interested without allowing their vitiligo to get in their way. Inspire your child to follow their dreams and live their life the same way they would be had they not developed vitiligo. When children have something to distract them, they often forget about their vitiligo.
- Teach Self-Worth- Teach your child that their worth or value is not determined by their skin color or their health conditions, but by who they are and what they contribute to society. When children can see the results of their hard work or passions, they start to see and understand that their value is not defined by what they look like. Vitiligo is not a disease that is debilitating and will not stop someone from doing everything they want in life.
- Teach Self-Care- Vitiligo does not directly affect your health; however, vitiligo is something that can put your child at risk for other skin conditions such as skin cancer. This is because the depigmentation and lack of melanin cause the skin to be more susceptible to sun and UV ray damage. Patches of skin with vitiligo burn easier than skin that is unaffected by vitiligo. You should teach your child how to protect their skin by applying sunblock daily. Most dermatologists recommend using at least SPF 30 daily; however, children with widespread vitiligo may need up to SPF 100.
Parenting a child with vitiligo can be difficult; however, showing your child unconditional love and helping them to know their worth and value to build their confidence is vital. Children who are confident in themselves and knowledgeable about vitiligo will have a much easier time mentally and emotionally. These values are easy to instill at home.