Sun, Sand and Scars: How to Empower Your Child This Summer

Published on in Health Tip of the Week

Boy with scar on his chest The transition into warmer months can be a source of excitement filled with fun activities for children and their families: barbecues, pool parties, trips to the beach, and much more! But for children living with chronic illness or those who look different from their peers, this time of year can also create stress. It is important to help your child feel proud about their scars or physical difference.

Erin Prendergast, MA, CCLS, a child life specialist with the Cardiac Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), shares some ways to help your child understand their medical experiences, answer questions from peers, and feel comfortable and confident in their own skin!

Discuss your child’s medical history using clear, honest language. There are many children’s books highlighting various medical diagnoses that can help your child learn more about their condition in a developmentally appropriate way. Check out our Child Life Resources page for a list of recommendations from CHOP’s child life specialists!

Develop a plan or script for your child to rely on when another child asks about their physical differences. This will help your child feel more confident telling their story in the way that feels most comfortable. It can also be empowering to help your child focus on the positive aspects of their medical experiences. For example, the scar on her chest can be seen as a symbol of the courage she showed when faced with open heart surgery, his g-tube is a special way for him to get the energy he needs to run and play, and her cochlear implants help her to hear her friends laugh better. Focusing on the positive can help your child share their story with friends in a healthy way.

Questions to ask your child that can help start the conversation:

  1. What does your scar/physical difference mean to you?
  2. Have you ever felt curious about something you noticed about another person?
  3. What questions might your friends have about your scar/physical difference?
  4. How do you explain your scar to your friends? How would you like to explain it to someone new?

Emphasize that everyone is different in some way — and that some people’s differences can be seen on the outside and some cannot. Our differences are what make each of us special. Scars and differences are nothing to be ashamed of — they show that a person experienced something that made them braver and stronger. We’re Different, We’re the Same is a Sesame Street book that focuses on how differences make each person special while also recognizing the fundamental similarities among people. This can help children to understand that everyone learns and plays in their own special way. While we may all look different, the power of kindness, compassion, laughter and play are universal. Focusing on this can help your child build resilience and pride.

For additional help and resources, visit the Child Life, Education & Creative Arts Therapy webpage.

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