How Alopecia May Affect the Emotions of Children and Teens
Alopecia, and hair loss of any kind, can be an emotional experience and is especially intimidating and overwhelming for children. It's common for a child with alopecia to feel "different", become socially isolated, and withdraw as they adjust to the condition and the feelings associated with it1. Feelings of frustration, anger, and fear are also common for young children. If these feelings aren't acknowledged, understood, or managed, they can lead to worsening feelings and concerns such as anxiety, sadness, withdrawal from loved ones, or rebelliousness.
How to Help Your Child or Teen Cope with Hair Loss
There is no right or wrong way to help children and adolescents cope with Alopecia Areata. However, by appreciating how children of different ages understand what is happening and the behaviors that might result, it will be easier to talk and play with your child in ways that promote understanding and helpful coping2.
As a direct result of two studies conducted in 2013 and with the response of 97 Australian women (18+) and 8 Australian men suffering some form of alopecia areata, our friends at the Australia Alopecia Areata Foundation (AAAF) created a guide with coping strategies to consider throughout your experience2.
Be honest. Children and adolescents will often see through false information and wonder why you do not trust them with the truth. Lies do not help in developing effective coping strategies for the changes to appearance. When discussing information concerning hair loss, it can be difficult to offer insight into a disorder like alopecia that is both unpredictable and unexplainable. However, helping a child or adolescent to understand that this is the true nature of Alopecia Areata might make the grieving process a little less daunting2.
Allow children the opportunity to explain their own coping process. Provide enough information at the level that your child or adolescent can understand, and then let them have the opportunity to tell their own story. This can promote helpful coping2.
Be a good listener and encourage questions. Let children know that you really want to understand what they are feeling or what they need. Sometimes children are upset but they cannot tell you what will be helpful. Being patient and encouraging the sharing of feelings with you may help. Don’t worry about not knowing all the answers. If you don’t know something, say so, and explain that you will try to find the answer together2.
Children may need additional support networks. Try to develop alternative supports for children and adolescents outside of the family unit, such as peer group friendships2.
Coping with hair loss is hard work for children and hard work for adults as well. Be aware of your own needs. It is important to remember that you and others may need support too2.
Continue reading and learn more about coping with alopecia by downloading the AAAF Grief and Alopecia Areata Guide.
How Alopecia May Affect the Mental Health in Children and Teens
Just like adults, children experience mental health challenges, but because they are still young and developing, they may struggle to describe their feelings to their peers or adults. As a parent or guardian, family member, or teacher, it's important to understand how to identify and support stress, anxiety, and depression in your child1.
Understanding Anxiety in Children and Teens
It isn't hard to recognize anxiety in your child if they are panicking or in a frenzy, but it's not always this obvious. Anxiety may also appear as subtle symptoms in your child. According to Children's Health, if your child shows signs of irritability, anger, and oppositional behaviors (not wanting to do anything you ask), it may be a sign of anxiety. (4)
How To Support Your Child or Teen With Anxiety
Remind your child that anxiety is normal. Letting your child know that it's normal to have some anxiety is the first step in helping them cope. You can say, "I sense that you're feeling anxious, and that's okay."4
Remain calm. Your child will react to your actions, so it's important to remain calm. Our children feed off our anxieties, so if we portray that, it can make them more anxious. We want to make sure they can look to us as a safe place – someone who is consistent and calm4.
Teach relaxation skills. Teach your child how to breathe deeply when they feel anxious. With them, take a deep breath, hold it while you count to eight and then let it go slowly. You can also teach them to picture a peaceful place where they felt calm, such as a favorite family vacation spot or a cozy corner of their room4.
Choose a specific time of day to check in about mood. This can be around the breakfast or dinner table, or on the way home from school. This provides a space for children to be prepared to express their feelings3.
Model healthy behavior by practicing coping skills with your child. Take deep breaths together, take a long walk, color or paint while listening to relaxing music3.
Practice positive thinking. Try changing a negative thought to reflect truth and positivity3.
Acknowledge and praise your child's successes. Create a list of accomplishments to display on the fridge and add to this list frequently.
Notice when symptoms become unmanageable and ask for help from your pediatrician or licensed mental health professional3.
Speak to a professional if anxiety continues. If your child continues to have a lot of anxiety, or if anxiety interferes with their day-to-day routines and activities, talk with their health care provider about other ways to help your child4.
Understanding Depression in Children and Teens
Signs of Depression in Children5
Signs of depression in children age 12 and younger may include the following:
- Decreased interest in favorite activities
- Difficulty initiating and/or maintaining social relationships
- Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
- Frequent absences from school and/or a sudden decline in grades
- Physical symptoms with no medical cause
- Frequent sadness, tearfulness, or crying
- Low energy
- Low self-esteem
- Increased irritability
- Increased frequency or severity of tantrums (for younger children)
- A major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
- Obsessive fears or worries about death
- Social isolation
- Talking about or attempting to run away from home
- Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self-harming behavior
- Trouble concentrating
Signs of Depression in Teens5
Signs of depression in adolescents age 13 to 18 may include all of the above, and also:
- Increased interest in topics related to death
- Increased risk-taking behaviors
- Excessive or inappropriate feelings of guilt
- Feelings of worthlessness or self-hatred
- Substance use
- Short temper
- Trouble making decisions
How To Support Your Child or Teen With Depression
If you suspect that your child may be experiencing one or more of these symptoms or you don't feel that they are adjusting to changes in a positive way after several months and find that their emotions are affecting how they function at school or home, we encourage you to make an appointment with a pediatrician or mental health professional.