Starting School with Eczema
Settling into school can be daunting for your child if he or she has eczema. Margaret Cox, chief executive of the National Eczema Society, offers some practical tips.
Perhaps the biggest wrench for a parent or carer of a child with eczema is passing on the care of your child to someone else. For many of us that first happens when our children start at school. It is something we all have to cope with and this article is an attempt to make the transition as easy as possible.
Every case is different
One of the biggest problems with eczema is that it is such an individual condition. It can vary enormously in its severity, from person to person and from time to time.
Because it’s also such a common condition, it’s very likely that your child’s class teacher will have some previous experience of children who have eczema. But it is also quite likely that his or her experience will be of someone with quite mild eczema and that he or she will not have come across a child with severe eczema. The other problem is that we all find that our eczema is triggered (and responds) to different things. This is not a one-size-fits-all condition.
You, however, are about to pass on the care of your child so you need to be prepared.
First you need to build an understanding of what it means for your child to have severe eczema. The only way to do this is by talking to the class teacher and the head teacher. You will have cared for your child’s eczema and by now you probably know a good deal about it so you are the best person to explain what needs to be done. But you need to get yourself ready too. Before you meet the school make a list of everything you need to cover.
* Explain how much time is spent every day just treating the eczema, putting on the creams, taking emollient baths. This will give the teacher a perspective on how much time is lost every day because of the eczema.
* The impact on sleep. We all know that anyone with eczema itches unbearably and frequently this is worst at night. Poor sleep is a common consequence. A child who is up once during the night will be tired in school the next day. A child who wakes every half an hour scratching will be exhausted and may need to come into school late on some days so they have time to catch up on sleep. Performance is obviously affected by poor sleep.
It’s easy to get quite blasé about eczema treatments, but they are, in fact, complicated as well as time consuming. Make sure you have a list of everything prescribed for your child and it’s a good idea to take it along with you. Explain how each treatment is used.
These are often the bugbear of the child with eczema. Wool and synthetic fibres make the itch so much worse. Remember to explain that and that loose cotton is best.
Your child may need to have time off for medical treatment. Frequent visits to the GP practice, health visitors and in some cases consultant dermatologist go hand in hand with childhood eczema. Make sure the school understands this. Less commonly your child may have been admitted to hospital in the past and if the eczema is severe could be in future.
If this is the case, mention it as many teachers (and others) do not appreciate that children with eczema are admitted to hospital.
Highlight activities that may make your child’s eczema worse. These triggers will vary but common ones will include:
Getting too hot
This generally provokes a scratching frenzy (and not just in children) so if your child could not be asked to sit by a sunny window or the radiator it will help.
Games and PE
Our own sweat can be a trigger so it is necessary for a child with eczema to be able to wash using an emollient after games. (The same goes for swimming and chlorine.) Children with bad eczema may be sensitive about how they look so privacy for changing is something you need to mention.
Art and cookery
These can present challenges. If your child reacts to foods – by touch as well as when eaten – then make sure the school is aware of it. Paints, glues and clay can also be problematic. Gloves may be the answer, but make sure the school knows that PVC gloves are going to be better than rubber and consider using PVC ones with cotton gloves inside (less sweaty and irritating).
Try various options out at home as, if their hands sweat and get itchy, the gloves won’t help.
* Emphasise no soap or hot air hand dryers. Give your child a cotton towel to take to school to dry their hands on. (If the school has plastic chairs another towel to sit on is often a good idea.)
* Sitting on dusty floors and carpets can also cause unnecessary aggravation. But if you don’t mention this it’s unlikely the school will realise.
* Ask if there any pets corners or the like and if there are explain that house dust mites are a major trigger for many children with eczema. Explore ways in which your child can be kept away from the pets, hopefully without feeling excluded.
You will be listened to much more if you try to think of ways in which your child can take part, if not in all activities, in most of them. This will also be reassuring for your child. In practice most children with eczema can cope well in mainstream schools as long as common sense is applied and special attention is paid to their physical comfort.
Some sadly do get teased, although typically this doesn’t happen until they are a bit older. If this is happening, remember that by and large the other children aren’t being knowingly malicious. It is part of peer group pressure to ‘pick’ on someone who is or looks different.
Explain this to your child and work on some coping strategies. Above all make sure the class and head teacher know what’s happening.
As well as preparing your self and the school you will need to prepare your child for their entry into school. It is natural for you to worry, but essential your child remains unaware of those fears. It won’t be possible for a school to give your child the one-to-one attention you have given them up to now, but by working as a team with the teacher and classroom assistants, you should be able to make your child’s time at school a happy one so that they can fulfil their educational potential.
For more information call the National Eczema Society helpline 0870 241 3604, visit their website or order one of their free schools packs by phoning the schools pack order line 0870 240 7183