Are you a tomato? No, and it’s easy to see how silly someone calling you a tomato might be. Yet not everything everyone says about you can be taken so lightheartedly – even when the accusation is equally as untrue. And that’s why author and mother Lori Mitchell believes in the power of role playing, especially with children with vitiligo.
Author of the children’s book, “Different Just Like Me,” Lori has dedicated her career to writing and illustrating books and helping parents of children with vitiligo deal with the condition in schools. Her own daughter, April, got vitiligo when she was eight months old. Today Lori speaks at schools and shares lesson plans on how to decrease bullying by increasing conversations about diversity and sharing tips and exercises.
The Purpose of Role Playing
Unfortunately, bullying isn’t uncommon when you live with vitiligo. Despite increasing awareness and education within the past few decades, vitiligo is still widely unknown and therefore largely misunderstood. That’s why Lori turned to role playing to help her own daughter prepare for potential bullying – and found success.
“The point of role play is not to come up with the one and only perfect reply to any teasing,” explained Lori, whose daughter is now in her twenties and comfortable in her skin. “The point is to have the discussion with your child before the bully does.”
Different situations – whether bullying or just a curious observer – will require children with vitiligo to think on their feet. Practicing those conversations with children can give them the experience they need to be comfortable in that moment.
“The bully will zero in on any shame the child might be feeling,” said Lori. “If you can role play and have an open, honest discussion, that shame is diminished, if not totally dissolved.”
How to Role Play with a Child with Vitiligo
While’s there no one formula for role play, Lori tried a multi-prong approach with her daughter. First, the duo did role playing to act out how to respond. Sometimes Lori would be the bully but other times she would let April be the bully and Lori would pretend to be her. Trying to keep the mood light, Lori called her daughter a tomato one time – and April laughed. Asking April if she thought it was true, she responded that it wasn’t. The point, said Lori, was that anyone can say anything, but that doesn’t make it true.
“Only if you accept it and decide they are right, can it hurt you,” said Lori, who hoped that the lesson would teach April to question what people said to her and remember the tomato comment. “We had to practice so she would know that she wasn’t any of those things that anyone called her.”
The exercise gave April the chance to practice responding with simple, truthful answers. Ultimately, she came up with the response of, “I just have two colors of skin. I was born this way.” The mother and daughter also spent time talking about how much April’s friends and family love her just the way she is. They even discussed bullies themselves – and what might motivate them.
“We talked about the bully and some of the reasons they might be teasing her,” said Lori, who explained that the reason for bullying rarely has anything to do with the person they are teasing. “It could be that they were scared of catching vitiligo. It could be that they were being teased at home or they don’t feel good about themselves.”
Why the Conversations Needs to Start Now
The key, said Lori, is starting the conversation now, before the bullying starts. Lori began role playing with April when she about four years old, spending a few minutes doing the exercise before bed if she was struggling that day. And eventually, April did have to come to face-to-face with a bully.
In the first grade, April was on the playground when she was approached by another student and shoved. The seconder grader said she didn’t like April’s skin. April came home that day and told her mom, who asked April what she might want to tell the second grader. The next day, April went up to the other student and told her that she didn’t like it and didn’t want her to do it again. The student never caused any trouble after that.
“This doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a try” said Lori, who shared that April was also called names a few other times. “I think April had confidence when she went up to the student and didn’t feel shame about her skin. I think that helped.”
To find other advice for parents of children with vitiligo, visit the Different Just Like Me website, where Lori shares a list of the things she did with April as she was growing up.
Have you or will you try role playing with your child with vitiligo? Share your experience in the comments below.
Erika Page is the Founder and Editor of Living Dappled. After getting vitiligo at the age of seven, she lost 100% of her pigment to the condition and today lives with universal vitiligo.