Psoriasis is a chronic condition that causes inflamed patches of skin. Experts don’t know exactly what causes psoriasis, but genetic and environmental factors play a role.
Most cases of psoriasis appear in adulthood, but the condition sometimes affects children.
If your child develops psoriasis, you can help them understand and manage the condition by:
- explaining it in simple terms
- answering their questions about it
- offering emotional support
Read on to learn more about psoriasis and get tips for talking with your child about it.
Psoriasis affects nearly 1 percent of children, reports the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF). It’s more common in older children than in younger children.
Plaque psoriasis is the most common type of psoriasis in children. It causes raised, scaly patches of skin known as plaques. These plaques may appear red, purple, or dark brown, depending on your child’s skin tone. The plaques may be itchy or uncomfortable.
Psoriasis is a visible and chronic illness that may affect not only your child’s physical health but also their emotional and social well-being.
“Children with psoriasis and chronic conditions are more likely to experience depressive and anxiety symptoms as well as painful, self-deprecating thoughts,” Leela Magavi, MD, a board certified child and adolescent psychiatrist and regional medical director of Community Psychiatry in Southern California, told Healthline.
“They often experience low self-esteem and body image concerns and may feel ostracized and alone. Some children avoid social interaction and isolate themselves,” she said.
There’s no cure for psoriasis, but getting treatment can help limit symptoms and improve quality of life.
Depending on the type and severity of psoriasis that your child has, their doctor may prescribe:
- topical treatments, such as medicated ointments or creams
- phototherapy, also known as light therapy
- oral or injected medications
You can help your child cope with the condition by explaining psoriasis in terms they can understand and providing a safe space for them to talk about their concerns and feelings.
Your child may also benefit from joining a support group for children with chronic illness or speaking with a mental health professional who has experience working with kids with chronic illness.
A psoriasis diagnosis may make a child feel confused or afraid. They may have questions or concerns about the condition and the treatments they will need.
Their diagnosis might also be overwhelming or upsetting to you as a caregiver.
Getting the facts about psoriasis can help you to manage the condition and ease fears.
“I advise parents and their children to learn about psoriasis together, as knowledge truly equates to power and helps them regain some sense of control,” said Magavi.
Here are some tips to help you explain psoriasis to your child while providing them with the emotional support they need to cope with the condition.
Be open and honest
Talking openly and honestly with your child about psoriasis can help them to:
- understand the condition
- learn what to expect from their treatment
- explore and express their feelings about it
“If we don’t talk about the illness and treat it like a taboo topic, we don’t establish the safety and security that children most desire so they can talk about their feelings. They may take your non-talking about it as a sign that something really bad is happening to them,” said Frank J. Sileo, PhD, a licensed psychologist in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and author of the book “When Your Child Has a Chronic Medical Illness: A Guide for the Parenting Journey.”
“And if we treat it like a taboo topic, they won’t have the words to discuss it when they may be responsible for handling the condition themselves,” he added.
Avoid setting up unrealistic expectations about psoriasis, including that psoriasis will go away. This may erode your child’s trust in you when they eventually learn the truth, suggests Magavi.
Instead, explain to your child that psoriasis is a lifelong condition that they can learn to manage with help from you and their healthcare team.
Keep it simple
Although it’s important to share the facts with your child, sharing everything at once may overwhelm them.
Start with the basics by focusing on information that helps your child understand their current experiences with psoriasis. When they ask a question, try to answer it without veering off topic.
“Small amounts of information allow your child to absorb what you’re saying to them and what they’re emotionally ready to hear,” Sileo told Healthline.
It’s also important to speak in simple age-appropriate terms that your child can understand.
Perhaps you could explain to your child that skin grows just like hair does. Because they have psoriasis, their skin grows much faster than other people’s skin. This can cause an itchy and uncomfortable build-up of skin in patches called plaques.
“Medical professionals often use jargon and words you’ve never heard of, which only increases anxiety,” said Sileo.
You can share more details about psoriasis with your child as they mature.
Use books and videos
A variety of kid-friendly media on psoriasis is available, including children’s books, comic books, and online videos. These resources may help you and your child explore psoriasis with words and pictures they can understand.
“Books and pictures can help explain psoriasis in an age-appropriate manner,” said Magavi.
Here are a few resources to get you started:
- I’m Just Like You: Children with Psoriasis, a YouTube video by the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF)
- “Soria loves winter: For children with psoriasis,” a children’s book by Lyndie Michelle Dempsey
- “Joey’s Psoriasis: Explaining Psoriasis to Children,” a children’s book by William G. Bentrim
- School Resources, a resource by the NPF featuring free downloadable children’s e-books, a PowerPoint presentation explaining psoriasis to kids, and a parent’s guide to psoriasis in kids
- PsoTeen, a website for older children and teens by the Psoriasis Association
Show your child pictures of mentors or aspirational leaders who have psoriasis to normalize their experience. Or share books and documentaries created by children who also have psoriasis, Magavi suggests.
Sileo encourages caregivers to talk with children about the characters they encounter in books and videos on psoriasis. This may help kids reflect on their own experiences.
“When you read books with kids, it opens up a dialogue between you and them. They feel safe to talk about whatever is on their mind,” Sileo said.
Encourage your child to share questions that they have about psoriasis.
If you don’t know the answer to a question, be honest. You can let your child know that you will do more research or ask their doctor the next time you see them.
As your child gets older, you may invite them to join you in researching the answers to their questions. Older children and adolescents can also take a more active role in their medical appointments and treatments.
“Children and adolescents feel more in control when they are engaged in their treatment,” said Magavi.
For example, you can suggest that your child ask questions during appointments, recommends Magavi. Help them write down these questions ahead of time, so they don’t forget to ask any when they’re on the spot. You might also try to see if your child can apply creams and ointments independently.
Gradually shifting responsibility for psoriasis treatments and medical appointments to your child will help them learn how to manage this condition throughout life.
Provide emotional support
In addition to sharing information and answering questions about psoriasis, offer your child comfort and reassurance.
“Our job as parents isn’t to take away the pain and prevent it from ever happening. Instead, it’s to be available to our children to provide emotional support, as well as keeping the door open for communication,” said Sileo. “We have to help our kids navigate the thoughts and emotions that occur when they learn that they have a chronic medical illness.”
Let your child know that they can speak with you about their feelings. You might want to make an emotions wheel together to help your child identify their feelings. Acknowledge their emotions and offer to help them brainstorm strategies to manage stressful situations or feelings.
Pay attention to not only their words but also their tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. This may help you recognize when they’re feeling upset or worried.
Along with other emotions, some kids feel guilty or ashamed when they learn they have psoriasis. “I advise parents to remind their children that it is not their fault, as many children blame themselves,” said Magavi.
Reach out for help
“When they receive a diagnosis, people will go and get the best medical care. What often gets neglected is the mental health needs,” said Sileo.
To find more information and support to help your child cope with psoriasis:
- Visit the National Psoriasis Foundation’s website and explore their resources for parents and youth.
- Reach out to your child’s doctor or other members of their healthcare team with questions about psoriasis. Ask them if they can recommend some children’s books or other educational resources.
- Consider making an appointment with a mental health professional who has experience supporting children and families coping with chronic illnesses.
A mental health specialist can help you or your child:
- work through difficult emotions, self-esteem concerns, or other psychological issues associated with a psoriasis diagnosis
- role-play through challenging situations or feelings
- problem-solve difficulties
- develop strategies for limiting stress.
Unacknowledged psychological stress can make psoriasis worse.
“Stress can exacerbate chronic conditions,” said Sileo. “Caregivers really need to look at the mental health aspects for kids and families.”
Mind your emotional needs, too
If you feel upset about your child’s psoriasis diagnosis, they may pick up on those feelings. For your sake and theirs, it’s important to address your own emotional needs.
“Children sense our feelings through our tone of voice and our body language, so we need to be really mindful of that and make sure that we engage in self-care,” said Sileo.
Try to take time for self-care, including stress-relieving activities that you enjoy.
If you feel frequently stressed, anxious, angry, or sad, let your doctor know. They may refer you to a mental health professional for counseling or other treatment.
Also be mindful of how you and your partner approach the topic with your child.
“We also need to be good co-pilots. If you’re in a relationship, whether you’re divorced or together, this is your child, and you need to work together collaboratively as a parental unit,” suggested Sileo.
Talking with your child about psoriasis can help them learn more about the condition, understand their experiences, and prepare for treatments.
It can also help them develop the words and skills they need to explain the condition to other people, navigate stressful situations, and express their own emotions.
Consider reaching out to your child’s doctor, a mental health professional, or a patient organization for guidance and support. They can help you and your child find resources and develop strategies to manage your family’s needs.