Alopecia Areata and Emotional Wellness in Children

As a parent, we want to protect our child from harm and hardship. That’s why a diagnosis of alopecia area can be just as, or perhaps even more, upsetting for the parents as it is for the child.

Parents of children with alopecia areata say they feel guilty that they may have contributed to their child’s disease by passing on the “wrong” genes. They also report feeling helpless that they cannot stop the progression of hair loss or ease their child’s emotional pain. Siblings and other family members may feel shame and anger at how the disease has affected their lives.  

For anyone parenting a child with a chronic disease, the American Psychological Association says it’s important keep the following in mind

  • Try not to be overprotective or overly permissive with your child

  • Build a support network to manage your own stress and sadness

  • Speak to your child directly and frankly about his or her alopecia areata

  • Encourage your child to talk to you about his or her feelings living with alopecia areata

Remember, the best thing you can do as a parent with a child with alopecia areata is be informed and help your child be informed, too. This means learning all you can about alopecia areata, its impact on emotional health, how chronic disease affects a family and what tools and support are available to your child and as well as yourself.


How Alopecia Areata May Affect Children’s Emotions 

Children with alopecia areata may feel “different” and become socially isolated and overprotected. They may experience fear and frustration related to their condition. Or they may be angry or upset that they “got” alopecia areata. If these feelings are not managed, they can lead to anxiety, sadness, withdrawal from loved ones or rebelliousness.

Children experience many of the same mental health issues as adults do. However, children are often not able to fully describe what they are feeling – therefore identifying depression and/or anxiety in children may be difficult.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) symptoms of depression in children include

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or irritable a lot of the time

  • Not wanting to do or enjoy doing fun things

  • Changes in eating patterns – eating a lot more or a lot less than usual

  • Changes in sleep patterns – sleeping a lot more or a lot less than normal

  • Changes in energy – being tired and sluggish or tense and restless a lot of the time

  • Having a hard time paying attention

  • Feeling worthless, useless, or guilty

  • Self-injury and self-destructive behavior

Also per the CDC, symptoms of anxiety in children include

  • Excessive fear or worry

  • Irrational anger

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches and stomach aches

If you suspect your child may be experiencing one or more of these symptoms, make an appointment with your pediatrician. It’s important to check with your doctor to determine if your child is experiencing depression or anxiety or another related issue. 

Your child’s emotional wellness is just as important as his or her physical wellness and contributes to success in school, work and society in general.  It is also an opportunity for you to teach your child how to cope with challenges in life. By providing information to your child, when they need it and how they need, you also protect your child. It is part of giving them roots to make them safe, and skills to develop wings.


Bullying and Alopecia Areata

Your grade schooler's hat is yanked off her head and tossed around the bus, while she frantically tries to grab it. Is that bullying? One of your child’s middle-school classmates calls her “gross” and tells everyone that they might “catch” what your child “has.” Is that bullying? Your high schooler is spending weekends alone because someone found out she’s wearing a wig and told others. Is that bullying?

Yes. These are all examples of bullying. The U.S. Department of Health and Human services on its StopBullying.gov site defines bullying as, “unwanted aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” According to StopBullying.gov, children who bully repeatedly use their “power” – whether it’s through physical, emotional or social means – to control or harm others.

Bullying behaviors can be obvious such as kicking, hitting, tripping and punching another child or taking his or her things. Other more obvious forms of bullying include name calling, taunting or threats. More insidious forms of bullying include spreading rumors, leaving someone out on purpose, telling others not to be friends with a particular child, or embarrassing someone publically. Bullying behaviors are not limited to the classroom or the neighborhood, they also can happen online.     

NAAF is on the forefront of bullying prevention efforts.  This article is well worth reading as 30% of interviewed students said they were bullied because of the way they looked.

If you suspect your child is being bullied, there are ways you can help

  • Work with your child to understand and identify bullying behaviors

  • Keep communication with your child open by checking in with them often and listening closely to them

  • Encourage your child to participate in activities that he or she enjoys. This will help build friendships foster confidence

  • Be the change by modeling how to treat others with kindness and respect

  • Be aware that your child wants you to help them with ideas on how to manage themselves in a bullying situation

  • Actively talk with school and youth group leaders about alopecia areata so that they may intervene on behalf of your child

For more information on preventing, responding to or getting help for your child if he or she is experiencing bullying, go to StopBullying.gov.


Building a Resilient Child

“Alopecia areata is a pain-causing problem,” says Richard M. Long, Ed.D., an expert on alopecia areata and mental health and a long-time advisor to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation. “It’s one of the many pain-causing problems your child will face over his or her lifetime. Use this opportunity to help build resilience in your child by teaching them how to adapt to adversity, deal with trauma and manage stress.”

The ability to thrive in adulthood rests in part by how resilient we are to stress and adversity. Parents have a central role in building resiliency in their children by helping them develop the seven “C”s as defined by pediatrician Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D., of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

  • Competence – providing children with the knowledge that they can handle a situation effectively

  • Confidence – helping children to believe in their own abilities

  • Connection – encouraging children to develop close ties to family and community

  • Character – working with children to develop a strong set of morals so that they can tell right from wrong

  • Contribution – letting children know that the world is a better place because they are in it

  • Coping – teaching children to effectively deal with stress

  • Control – helping children to understand that they can control the outcomes of their decisions

Learn more about fostering these seven qualities in your child. 


Resources for Parents

As a parent of a child with a chronic disease, there are many resources available to you and your family to help cope with your child’s diagnosis.

Talk with other parents of children with alopecia areata

Other resources for parents