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How to prepare for starting school when your child has eczema: A parent’s guide

Starting a new school is already a stressful time. While the new starters may seem excited, there will understandably be nerves surrounding being somewhere new, making new friends and fitting in. Unfortunately for children and parents alike, it is even more daunting starting school when your child is starting school with eczema.

Eczema is fairly common. One in five people have a form of eczema at some point during their life. Unfortunately, as it is relatively common and often the symptoms are mild, it is often a condition that is trivialised. For those suffering from severe eczema or flare-ups, it can be agony and severely impact normal life. For children who want to be involved, doing all the things the other kids are doing, eczema can sometimes feel incredibly restrictive.

It is natural for you as a parent to be apprehensive about your child starting school. Couple this with eczema and it can make for a very stressful time indeed! However, by managing the situation, you can help prepare your child for school and prepare the school for your child. Follow our guide to make sure starting school is as easy as possible.

It also helps to be aware that stress is a common eczema trigger. So it’s not uncommon child’s eczema to suddenly flare up as they start school. If this does happen for your child – don’t panic. In all probability it is just the stress of starting school rather than something at school triggering their eczema. As they settle in, the flare up will likely subside.

Inform the school

It is likely that the teaching staff and head of school are aware of eczema and have had pupils with eczema in the past. As the symptoms can differ from person to person, it is wise to organise a meeting with the relevant teachers. This will allow you discuss your concerns and make them aware of the situation, particularly if your child suffers from severe eczema. In our experience, it was the teaching assistants rather than the class teachers who dealt with pupil well-being issues in the classroom. At lunchtimes it was the dinner ladies – so, if possible, do make sure they are involved in these meetings too. The National Eczema Society has put together a great printable checklist of things to talk about in these parent-teacher meetings.

Little girl with funky purple glasses and a huge backpack. Her school uniform is crisp and new suggesting that she is just starting school.
School uniforms made from 100% cotton or Tencel can be more comfortable than regular uniform. The M&S SkinKind range is a good place to start. If you can, avoid polo shirts with scratchy embroidered logos. If necessary, talk to the school about swapping itchy acrylic jumpers for cotton sweaters.

Ten things to tell the school

  1. How often your child needs to apply lotions. The time taken away for treatment can impact their learning or their much-needed break times. To make sure your child is given to appropriate time to apply ointment, make sure the teacher knows the frequency, length of time and intervals.
  2. Tiredness. Eczema can cause many sleep issues, and it may be that your child is up all night with itchiness. Talk to the teacher about setting up a system to make them aware when your child has slept poorly. Your child may be exhausted and unable to function to the best of their ability and may need time off.
  3. Medicines. The teachers in the school need to be aware of all prescribed drugs with an explanation of use so that they can help your child when they need treating. For health and safety, teachers should be aware of side effects and any other important drug information.
  4. Reminders. To help control eczema, you may need to rely on the teacher noticing symptoms. Ask the teacher to keep an eye out if they see your child scratching. Children will often scratch absentmindedly and may not notice that they’re causing more harm. A reminder from the teacher for them to apply moisturiser can help control the situation.
  5. Time off. Medical appointments will often need regular time off. Ask for a copy of the class timetable so you can try and schedule appointments when you child won’t miss too much teaching. We aimed for games lessons. Make sure the teacher is aware of the amount of expected time off and when so that they plan ahead. Potentially the teacher may be able to give work to do at home when your child can’t be in class.
  6. Triggers. Every child is different and will have different triggers that will exacerbate eczema. It could be sweat in PE, sitting near a radiator, chemicals and art equipment or certain foods. Make sure the teacher knows of the triggers so they can make any necessary adjustments.
  7. Hand towels. Hand dryers can cause symptoms to flare up, and hand towels may be more preferable. If this is a trigger for your child make sure you they can bring their own hand towel. We used microfibre towels that we washed daily.
  8. Allergens. Pets and dust can be significant triggers for eczema. While it’s never easy to tell the school about dust without offence, ask if your child can sit on a chair rather than on the school floor during assembly and lessons. Similarly, if the school has a pet, make sure the pet isn’t kept in the same room as your child’s main classroom.
  9. Seasonal variations. It is common for symptoms to only come out during seasonal changes or during flare-ups, which may mean the teacher has forgotten about your child’s condition. Keep teachers informed of the severity so they can be understanding of the situation.
  10. Raise awareness. Children who do not know about eczema may single your child out which could lead to teasing and bullying. Ask the school to increase the awareness of eczema to other children and parents to make it a more accepting and happier environment. The National Eczema Society have some great classroom resources for this.

Inform your child

Almost 65% of eczema cases begin before the child is one and 90% of the time it starts before the age of five. With this in mind, often a child won’t understand what eczema is and that not all children have the same treatment. It is important you educate your child about eczema as early as you can. You can find some great books to help with this here.

Five things to tell your child

  1. Teasing. Explain to your child that some kids at school may not understand the condition and may say mean things because they don’t understand it. Ask your child to tell you if anyone makes them feel sad.
  2. Encouragement. Stress is a big trigger for eczema, and the academic and social pressures of school are likely to cause flare-ups. Make sure your child knows that school is exciting and something to look forward to. They will sense your fear too, so make sure you handle the situation positively.
  3. Feelings. Ensure your child has the space to talk about their feelings, they may feel left out, but by speaking about it, you can read the situation and help to conquer their concerns together.
  4. Difference. It is important that your child understands about difference and that every single child at the school has something about them which makes them different. With this, they should realise that they have nothing to feel embarrassed or ashamed about.
  5. Coping methods. Teach your child different coping mechanisms to help control the itching, such as tapping the itch or distractions such as fidget spinners, fiddly toys or tearing paper and managing the stress through breathing techniques.

Our article on building self-confidence in an eczema child has more ideas that can help your child deal with other people’s reactions to their skin.

Five top tips for managing eczema at school

  1. Lunches. If you have the option, choosing packed lunches over school dinners can make it easier to manage food allergy triggers. This minimises the risk of your child unwittingly ingesting food that will intensify the problem. However,  these days school kitchen staff are very aware of food allergies and will have procedures in place to identify allergens and avoid cross-contamination.
  2. Bath routine. Make sure you have a bath routine on school nights to soothe and seal the skin. Use this time to check on fingernails and if they need a trim to stop painful scratching.
  3. Uniforms. Opt for cotton and Tencel clothing rather than synthetic fibres and wool. You may need to ask the school to allow your child to wear variations on the uniform. Cotton jersey sweaters can be a lot more comfortable than acrylic knit jumpers and plain polo-shirts often irritate less than ones with scratchy embroidered logos. Marks and Spencers SkinKind range is a good place to start. Some schools can be very inflexible over school uniform. In these cases is worth reminding those in charge that severe eczema is classed as a disability. This means that the school is legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments.
  4. Make a school kit. Keep a school pack to hand containing: lotion, alcohol-free soap and sanitizer, antibiotics, bandages, gloves/protective clothing and a list of medication and triggers.
  5. Involvement. While you may want to protect your child from the dangers, it is important that they get involved in school as much as they can and want to. It is a great experience, and they need to feel welcomed not isolated.

By following these handy tips, you can make sure that you and your child are ready for school without any stress and minimal worry!

As well as sharing our experience of bringing up an eczema child (and favourite allergy-friendly recipes), ScratchSleeves also manufacture and sell our unique stay-on scratch mitts and PJs for itchy babies, toddlers and children. We now stock sizes from 0-adult in a range of colours. Visit our webshop for more information.

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Written by:

Coming from a family of eczema sufferers, Jae draws on years of practical, first hand experience living with eczema.

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