Body image is how children and teens view themselves or think that others see them. For teenagers, body image is a very important part of how they define who they are.
While your child/teen is at St. Jude, treatments may cause changes to his body. These changes can be stressful to you and your child/teen. It is important to remember that most changes are temporary, and there are things you can do to help your child/teen cope. Some of the most common changes that occur include the following:
- Hair loss can include all body hair – eyebrows, eyelashes, chest and pubic hair, and nose hair. The loss of nose hair can cause a heightened sense of smell. Try to avoid strong scents such as detergents, perfumes, and colognes that may bother patients.
- Some patients find it helpful to cut their hair short or shave their heads when it starts falling out. This gives patients a sense of control over the loss and helps with some of the itching that goes along with hair falling out.
- Some patients like to wear wigs, hats, scarves, and bandanas. These items can also help to identify the patient’s gender, since some patients are insecure about this issue when they lose their hair. Your social worker can help you find resources for wigs, hats, or scarves. You can purchase plain hats and bandanas for you and your child/teen to decorate. You can even have friends and family members sign the hats as a way of showing their support for the patient.
- Some patients like to dye their hair or get a silly haircut before their hair falls out. It can be a fun way of coping with this loss. Please check with the doctor before using any hair dye.
- Child life specialists offer resources and support for children/teens dealing with hair loss.
Weight loss and weight gain
- Some patients may refuse to take medicines because of the side effects. If the medicine causes weight gain or weight loss, try talking with your child/teen about why the medicine is needed. Your words may help him understand the changes that are happening to his body and that these changes are not permanent.
- Some patients find it helpful to make a calendar of how long they will have to take medicines that cause changes in weight.
- Encourage some physical activity when he is feeling up to it (such as walking or biking provided by physical therapy).
- Check with your nutritionist who can provide your child/teen with a helpful, healthy diet.
- Talk with your doctor about proper skin care and cleansing options.
- Try different types of make-up and concealers.
- Check with your child life specialist about the Look Good, Feel Good Program for teens.
Scars, surgery sites, ports, lines, loss of limbs, etc.
- Talk with your doctor before surgery to ask about possible scarring and changes in body function. Knowing what to expect will help you and your child/teen prepare for these changes. Try different types of make-up and concealers after the area is healed.
- Different styles of clothing may be used to cover areas that your child/teen does not want other people to see.
- Check with your child life specialist about possibly meeting other patients who have had similar experiences.
Body changes may make your child/teen feel odd or uncomfortable about the way he looks. Some patients may want to avoid their friends, school, public places, or having pictures taken. Within reason, try to respect your child/teen’s wishes while continuing to set appropriate limits.
Using the internet, phone, and writing and receiving letters are all ways your child/teen can have contact with peers and still have the privacy he desires. In time, most patients adjust to these changes and return to their normal activities.
Parents can support children/teens during this time by:
- Listening to them if and when they want to talk about these body image changes;
- Giving them outlets for expressing themselves (such as journals, art projects, etc.); and
- Letting them know that it is OK to feel sad or mad about these body changes.
Remember, your child life specialist is here to support you and your child/teen. This staff member can offer many ideas for coping with body image changes or refer you to other specialists. If you are away from the hospital and want to talk to a child life specialist, please call the Child Life department. Locally, dial 901-595-3020. If you are outside the Memphis area, call toll-free 1-866-2STJUDE (1-866-278-5833), extension 3020.
Also, check out these Web sites:
This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.
St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.
ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).
ATENCIÓN: si habla español, tiene a su disposición servicios gratuitos de asistencia lingüística. Llame al 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).
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