“Mum….these are my favourites. Can I wear them to playgroup today”? I pleaded, as I gripped onto the tiny pair of pink shorts with both hands, preying I’d get the chance to wear what I wanted, as opposed to Mum choosing, like she normally did.
It was a warm day in July; we were comfortably into the six weeks holidays and the local playgroup centre that arranged kids activities for the community that lived on the estate, were organising a picnic on the green. All the kids were likely to be there.
…So here I was wanting to wear my much loved shorts which of course revealed my bare legs that bore the evidence of Vitiligo…
The best thing my parents ever done was openly showed that I wasn’t different to anyone else. Developing Vitiligo at such a young age meant it was my parent’s responsibility to explain to me why my skin wasn’t quite the same as everyone else’s, and until that conversation came, they would be speaking on my behalf. Explaining to those who were curious, pre-warning the teachers in my school and most importantly, laying the foundations in terms of teaching me how to love my skin.
Growing up, I didn’t ask many questions about my skin, as it was never made a topic within our household. Naturally, my parents were well aware of the implications that could potentially arise at school, especially as I was the only one out of 600 students in my primary school, that had multi-coloured skin.
On my first day at school, my Mum showed up at my classroom, 10 minutes ahead of the bell. It was an opportunity for her to explain what Vitiligo was and pre warn ‘Miss Lock’ that the other kids may ask questions and how she should respond. My parents were very specific with how their words, in terms of how they explained to others and most importantly, how they explained to me….
Explain to your child as soon as they’re old enough, what Vitiligo is….
Only when I started questioning my skin, did my parents explain to me what it was. Prior to that, they didn’t feel the need to sit me down and officially explain the science behind Vitiligo! They kept it simple by explaining the basics behind the condition whilst reassuring me there was nothing wrong with having Vitiligo. They were clear in that it didn’t change me as a person nor did it affect my ability to do anything, such as go swimming or play sport in shorts! They often reinforced the fact I was a pretty little girl and that looking different didn’t change who I was.
Instil a strong sense of identity and self-esteem….
My parent’s biggest priority was making sure I was comfortable and confident with who I was even though they knew realistically, I wasn’t going to be seen as ‘normal’ by everyone. They were effectively up against anyone I would come into contact with, and who may question why I looked different. They wanted me to be able to handle questions confidently and not retreat or shy away in embarrassment if someone was curious. Sometimes they’d ask me to explain what Vitiligo was, just so they could see how I’d react and how I might answer! Of course my parents would tell me how lovely and pretty I looked prior to a school friends birthday party or when they dressed me identical to my sister, but they didn’t over do it. These days, with the world’s obsession with beauty, it’s important for children to understand the importance of embracing their indifferences. Explaining and ensuring they understand its okay to be imperfect and that those with ‘flaws’ will discover the same love as everyone else.
Encourage your child to step outside their comfort zone
My parents were well aware of the situations I found comfortable. Sticking to my small circle of friends, not going anywhere that meant having to be around large groups of unknown people and sitting quietly in school and remaining unnoticed as much as possible were the environments where I felt most the most relaxed and myself.
Like most parents, mine wanted me to move between zones, without too much pressure. However, this is something very hard to do, as children don’t always understand your logic and will often refuse without much reasoning if something out of the ordinary is presented to them. My parents would encourage me to attend the playgroup centre or after school activities, by arranging a friend or my sister to come along. That way I didn’t feel so alone and always had someone to turn to if I felt anxious. Eventually, once I was familiar with the environment, I was able to go alone.
Help your child to accept Vitiligo…
As parents, it may be that you feel helpless because you feel as though your child is going through the ‘challenges’ alone. Whilst this is ultimately the case, especially as they get older, the support you provide is imperative and is everything they need during the difficult times. Instil that their appearance is only a small part of who they are. Voice statements such as;
“My skin is normal, it just isn’t the same as everyone else’s”
“We’re all different and unique”
“My Vitiligo is part of who I am and it’s a part of me I love and accept”
The early years are informative and memorable years. Make sure you teach and guide them towards understanding that being different is very much a part of the world we live in….
How do you talk or explain Vitiligo to your child? Please feel free to share!