Whether it’s your own disease or your kid’s condition, talking to your children about psoriasis can be challenging. You want to make sure you’re using the right words but in a language they will understand. With back-to-school right around the corner, it’s an appropriate time to educate your kids about psoriasis. Here are some tips and tricks on how to explain the condition in a way they understand. Hopefully, this will give them a better understanding of your condition or the confidence to open up about psoriasis with others and befriend someone who might look different than they do.
1. Use analogies and images for psoriasis that they can understand.
“It looks like cottage cheese.” That’s what my then three-year-old nephew said when he first saw the plaques on my elbows. Most kids have a wild and crazy imagination. And I absolutely love it. The cottage cheese comparison is when I realized kids look at the world differently than we do, and partly why I wanted to write this post. It is important that you use analogies and images that they can relate to. This might require getting inside their heads a little and thinking like a four-year-old. Try to be a kid again and explain the condition from that perspective.
2. Have them pronounce psoriasis out loud and explain in simple language.
Ask them to pronounce the word with you. They are more inclined to listen when it’s about a topic they can say themselves.
Then explain to them what is psoriasis in the simplest way possible — that it is a disease that shows itself on people’s skin like plaques on your elbows [insert where your plaques are]. Show them pictures of plaques. You can compare it to when they get a scratch or hurt themselves. You can say that psoriasis can look different on everyone. The National Psoriasis Foundation is a great resource to get ideas on language in which you can explain the condition.
Use this opportunity to talk about how members of your family are different in all kinds of ways. They each look different, have different likes, dislikes, and interests. But you are all a part of an accepting family.
3. Encourage your child to ask questions and foster good communication.
Encourage your children to ask questions about psoriasis—whether that be how you manage it as a parent or how they can better cope with it. Questions open up communication between the parent and child.
If you’re in the position where your child has the disease, it’s important to talk to your child about how they’re feeling when they experience a flare-up. If the child feels anger, frustration, or confusion when talking about having psoriasis, the National Psoriasis Foundation suggests the following to say to him or her:
"Having psoriasis is not your fault, it’s part of who you are as a person."
"You are not doing anything wrong."
"The plaques are just part of the disease."
"It’s not clear what some people have it and others don’t."
You might explain the condition in the context of different eyes colors. Someone’s eyes might be blue, and someone else’s might be green. It’s part of being human and it is not anyone's fault.
4. Help your child be his or her own advocate.
Help your child be his or her own advocate – bringing awareness of psoriasis to peers, in general, or sharing his or her own story. Make sure he or she uses language that’s familiar and easy for him or her. Maybe that’s using phrases like “it looks like cottage cheese.” Or that it might make them feel icky. Or the itching feels like a bee sting. If your child has psoriasis and is asked about it at school, using his or her own language will make it easier for him or her to explain. They may even want to tell others about it.
You can reinforce that if someone looks different than your child does, that’s OK. This is your chance to befriend that person and make him or her feel comfortable.
5. Take advantage of interactive activities where they can learn by Imitation.
Kids learn by imitation and are more likely to retain information if they are shown how to do it. They will have an easier time understanding psoriasis and talking to others about it if they see that modeled for them. Here is an interactive activity you can do with your child to help him or her understand how others can be different but still appreciate their differences.
6. Get the school involved.
Children pick up a lot of information at school. Be proactive, then, about educating other parents, teachers, and kids at your child’s school. Does your child’s school have a Health Day? Or Parents' Day? Use this as an opportunity to provide information about living with psoriasis, how it affects your child, and even you as a parent.
Children living with psoriasis, psoriatic disease, or any other visible, chronic condition can make them an easy target for bullying because of how they look. Often, teasing and bullying among kids comes from misinformation. Providing your school with pamphlets and brochures on psoriasis can help others better understand the disease and help ward off bullying.
7. Talk to your child about doctor appointments.
If your child has psoriasis, it is a good idea to talk to him or her about doctor appointments. This experience can be overwhelming and stressful for children, and any anxiety can make psoriasis worse. Communicating clearly to your child about doctor appointments is a vital part of managing your child’s psoriasis.
Make the appointments together. Make treatment decisions together. If your child is five or under, talk up the doctor appointments. What really works for my three-year-old son is, “The doctor is going to make you feel so much better. He is going to give you a special medicine to help with your [insert where your child’s psoriasis spots are].”
Once children realize the outcome will be positive, they will be more prone to going without throwing a tantrum. They might even provide the doctor with more information that you might have forgotten.
8. Just be there.
The most important thing about communicating psoriasis to our children is to actively listen, and to be there for them – no matter if it’s a symptom of ours that they don’t understand, or a hurtful comment by someone at school about their own condition. Children see the world completely different than we do. That can truly be an enlightening thing, especially when your child is living with psoriasis.