Eczema and Kids: Coping Strategies for Parents to Help
The constant itching and scratching can take a toll. Here are 10 tips on how to support your child, from distractions and 'spa days' to relaxation techniques and simply listening
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Eczema is a chronic skin condition that affects 20 percent of kids in the U.S., according to the National Eczema Association. For millions of children, that means dealing with incessantly itchy, dry and scaly skin. Beyond impacting concentration, sleep, self-esteem and even what they can wear, the process of managing eczema also takes a toll on their patience – from the relentless urge to scratch to the time-consuming, goopy process of bathing and moisturizing.
That's where parents can play a strong positive role. In a presentation at the 2012 NEA Patient Conference, Jennifer LeBovidge, PhD, a psychologist at Boston Children's Hospital Atopic Dermatitis Center, and a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School specializing in pediatric psychology, offered these tips to make the journey a little easier – and sometimes even fun.
1. Team approach to itching
Take a non-blaming, "we're-in-this-together" stance. Even language can make a difference. Instead of saying, "Don't scratch," which makes it about the person with eczema, try, "Your eczema's bothering you; what can we do?" Subtle shifts can help. Focusing on what kids can do boosts their sense of control and self-esteem.
2. Trigger awareness
Help your child be a scratching "detective" or "scientist," looking for data and clues. Beyond environment and foods, stressful situations can be a trigger, as can mindless activities or sedentary activities when hands are free (watching TV, talking on phones – even bedtime). What about exposed skin? For babies, it might be diaper changes. For older kids, it could be when they're in the bath or right after the bath.
3. Block scratching
There are simple ways to cover and protect the skin, like wearing longer clothing or tights. Some kids wear cotton wristbands (without latex elastic). At night, try sleep suits, gloves or arm sleeves designed for eczema. Wet wrap treatments can help, too; in addition to moisturizing the skin, they can provide a barrier.
4. Get distracted
It works! Being engaged in an activity lessens scratching. Try special toys at diaper changes for babies. Ditto bath toys: Some parents rotate them, or play tic-tac-toe with bath crayons on the side of the tub. Think "hands-on," too. Handheld video games are great for long car rides or doctor's office waits. Or get creative with drawing, painting, collage, blocks, pop-up books or singing songs with hand gestures. Sometimes a change of scenery helps, as well.
Another way to distract is to engage in a game. Some families play a game when the child gets out of the bath, using a timer to beat their best time. How fast can they apply creams and get their clothes on?
Try "competing responses," too – i.e., engaging those hands with something else. During sedentary activities like watching TV, when the urge to scratch pops up, keep a "coping bucket" nearby with, say, a stress ball or a smooth stone to rub. Making friendship bracelets or knitting are other great options.