Teaching Children about alopecia may seem daunting. Children are naturally curious, and will have lots of questions about things that aren’t familiar to them! In this blog, Ariel talks about teaching her children about alopecia. She answers their common questions, and gives tips to parents going through hair loss.
Going from a head full of hair to being completely bald happened over a few months. During that time many things crossed my mind. Insecurities raced through my thoughts. They consumed me for a few days at a time, then would wander away only to return again. The overwhelming feeling through these months was a complete lack of control. For most of the time I didn’t know what was causing it and why it was happening. This led to even more self-degradation. The most overwhelming thoughts, and ones that would always make me cry, were about my children. I had a three-year-old daughter and one-year-old boy.
The ricocheting thoughts and questions that bounced around in my mind were, “Will my daughter ever know what a butterfly kiss is? Will my son ever remember me with hair? Will my daughter remember me with hair? Will my children struggle with their image because I am so different?”
As painful as it was to experience the loss of my hair, time has been the best healer. I didn’t always have answers to my questions (many were hypothetical anyways) but I did realize that my kids didn’t care what I looked like. I was still their mom. Still the one they came to for comfort and love. Still the one they came to if they wanted to play Barbies or build a blanket fort. The pieces of our relationships that mattered most were still there on the other side of hair loss, the bald side.
However, when I was going through the hair loss and was newly bald there were some difficult conversations. Our children trust us more than anyone else on the planet. Even though some of these talks were hard to have, I was so grateful we were having them and my children felt safe enough to share their concerns and fears. My first bit of advice when talking to your kids about your hair loss would be to have thick skin. Do not take anything they say too personally.
There was a time when my daughter was really processing my hair loss. She would say things that would hurt me a little. She was older and really noticed the changes. Before I was fully bald, I cut my hair really short and bleached it. This helped me hide my thinning hair that was so obvious to me and not so obvious to my daughter, she was not a fan. The first few days she would repeatedly tell me how she didn’t like my hair. I would take time to explain to her that my hair was falling out, but it was hard to explain something I really didn’t understand myself. When I shaved my head she had a hard time loving the change at first. She often said, “I like you better with hair, mom.” I had to understand that she was processing the change just like me.
Back when the pain was still fresh I was given a bald Barbie from the Alopecia Foundation. The barbie came equipped with a couple wigs, head scarfs and other fun accessories. When I saw my daughter choose this Barbie over the others; and when I saw my son asking for a specific wig for her, my confidence grew! These kids loved Bald Barbie. She was, and still is their favourite Barbie. This was a testament to their acceptance of my hair loss.
This year as I was browsing Target for some Christmas toys I was pleasantly surprised to find the Barbie section filled with diverse bodies. Barbies of all different shapes, sizes and colours. Barbies in wheelchairs, and best of all Barbies with no hair! Female Barbies, who looked healthy and happy, who had no hair!!! This made me so happy! Look how far Barbies have come since I was a child over 20 years ago. Naturally I got us another bald Barbie to play with and I challenge you to do the same. Even if nobody in your family is going through hair loss it is good for our children to understand and see the differences that exist in the world we live in.
Now that I am almost a year bald, both my kids find my lack of hair completely normal. It is not all that sad to me now that they might never know me with my own hair. I have learned more about my value in this tumultuous world. My kids love me and find comfort in me because of who I am, I am their mother no matter what I look like. They love me because of how I hold them. How they feel in my arms. Their love for me extends far beyond how I look.
Nowadays the word wig is part of their everyday vocabulary. When I wear a different wig, my kids are hardly fazed. The other day I found an old red and black wig I used back in college for an art project. I put it on thinking it would surprise my kids. They were not fazed in the least! In fact, they commented about how they liked my new wig! Something I thought would startle them and be a big deal was hardly something to think twice about. Kids are so resilient. I just had to give them a little bit of time to process the change, just like me.
When my hair loss was new to me I had a few opportunities to talk to other children about my hair loss. While I didn’t love the extra attention, I did love the innocence and non-judgmental place these kids came from. I have heard of wonderful conversations my friends have had with their children because of my hair loss. It has brought up topics about differences that we may have and given them a better understanding of those differences.
Parents have had the opportunity to teach their children about how Alopecia can be very challenging, but you are beautiful not because of your hair but because of who you are, and the kind of person you are. I have seen kids who had never seen me bald before quietly walk to their mom and whisper things to her. Just trying to understand why I no longer had hair. When hair loss was new to me, I was overly sensitive about any comments concerning hair. However, it was easy for me to see the beautiful place of understanding and compassion these children were coming from. I have been lucky to be around kids whose parents have taught them love and understanding. Their confusion and questions come from a genuine place.
I specifically remember a brave child who asked me why I no longer had hair. It was the first time I went swimming with nothing on my head. It was a great opportunity to show her and those around me that I welcome those innocent questions. This question gave me a sigh of relief to actually embrace the elephant I felt was in the room. I simply explained how my body just decided it didn’t want to grow hair any more, but I am okay. I am healthy and strong. I am the same person as before, just a little less hairy. There was another sweet moment when I was spending time with my nieces this past summer. I wore my wig around most of the time, but I took it off to lay down for a few minutes. My sweet 3 year old niece whispered to my daughter, “Your mom took her hair off.” My daughter didn’t even think twice about the comment and they continued playing as normal. It was a sweet moment of acknowledgement. It wasn’t a big deal and I loved that.
I have had parents reach out to me after their children saw me bald for the first time, to tell me how they were able to have meaningful conversations about alopecia with their children. I love hearing these stories. One friend overheard her daughters talking about hair loss. They talked about how eyelashes don’t fall out and everyone has eyelashes. This mother was able to share some of my story with her daughters. There was an opportunity to share about where beauty comes from and how it is sometimes hard to be different. This mother told me her daughters were thrilled to know I could choose whatever hair I wanted to wear each day!
After opening a dialogue on my social media about questions anyone might have concerning talking to their children about hair loss, I had a few questions asked and would like to talk about them here.
Q. What is the best way to react when your kid points out someone else’s hair loss? I know this can go for a lot of physical differences, but how would YOU want to overhear a parent talk to their child if you were around?
A. I think these questions are wonderful. However, when asked in public in front of the person they can be uncomfortable. I would love to hear a parent tell their child that there are all different kinds of people who all look different. Sometimes we choose to look that way and sometimes we have no choice, but it is okay to be different. You could even point out some things that make your child unique. Maybe the colour of their hair, or a birthmark to help them understand.
Q. Does it hurt?
A. It didn’t hurt me to lose hair, but once I lost all my hair I was much colder! Our hair is like a big blanket that protects our bodies from the cold and in the summer from sunburns. I just have to be a little more careful in the sun and I have collected lots of beanies to keep my head warm.
Q. Will it last forever?
A. Sometimes it lasts forever and sometimes it grows back. I like to focus on what I do know though. I know that I have a healthy body, and I can still do all the things I could do with hair. I do my best to keep my body healthy and strong so if one day it decides to grow hair again it will have the best tools available.
Q. What happened to your hair and why did it happen?
A. My body got confused and thought hair was bad so it created something called antibodies that attacked all my hair. The good thing is my body doesn’t hurt and I am still healthy and strong!
Q. Is it a genetic condition?
A. I have learned that both my parents had to give me the genetic trait in order for me to develop Alopecia. However, not everyone who carries both traits develops hair loss. It depends on your diet, stress and other life experiences.
I know from personal experience how painful it can be to go through hair loss as a woman and a mother. I do know that our value lies much deeper than our physical appearance and with time we can all heal and become stronger.