Talking to Our Kids About Vitiligo
As my children get older they’re becoming more aware of the interconnectedness of their physical health as related to their parents’ and other relatives.
During a routine doctor’s appointment when my son was 5, the physician seemed a little too excited to see a halo naevi (basically, it’s a mole with a white ring around it from the skin depigmenting) on my son’s chest because, as she exclaimed, “these are so uncommon.” She told us that it was nothing to worry about, so we didn’t. As a side note- and please don’t tell my son: I now know that halo naevis may be related to vitiligo. I’ve had vitiligo since my youngest son was about 2 years old, so my children have always been aware that I’ve had it, and lately they’ve become concerned with the risk of vitiligo making an appearance on their skin. So the question is, how do we ease their mind? Yesterday, my 20-year-old daughter very cautiously stated, “Mom, I think you’re beautiful. Does vitiligo really run in families?” A very tactful approach to asking me what I thought her chances are of getting vitiligo. My first thought? How dare she think that my vitiligo is so awful that she’s hoping to not get it. Does my sweet daughter look at me and ponder the possibility everyday? Then, of course, my sanity kicked back in and I realized that this moment wasn’t about me; it was about her, and it was the perfect opportunity to assuage this worry she must’ve been carrying around for quite some time.
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I took her by the hand and guided her to the couch. As we sat I placed my hand on her shoulder and let the words flow. “Sweetheart, first, I want you to know that my vitiligo doesn’t make me unhappy. I feel self-conscious sometimes, but there is so much love around me that it just doesn’t get me down. And, you don’t have to worry about getting vitiligo. Look at our family. No one else has it, so you see, just because it’s genetic doesn’t mean everyone with the gene will develop vitiligo. Now, let’s say you do find a little white patch. With all that I’ve learned about the benefits of early treatment, the chances of reversing the effects are very high, and we’d take care of it. Together.” She hugged me and said, “You know, mom, I never see the vitiligo on you. And I never worried about getting vitiligo, really. It’s just that we discussed DNA today in class, and I was wondering if vitiligo was genetic so I could write my paper on it.” Ok, so I went over the top with my assumption of the meaning behind her question, does vitiligo really run in families? Looks like I might have a little chip on my shoulder when it comes to vitiligo, so I’m going to have to figure out how to make peace with this. In case you might be interested, my daughter was on my podcast a couple of years ago, and we had a great chat about what it’s like to have a parent who has vitiligo. Let me know how you liked it.
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