Experiences of having had a burn in childhood

This section covers:

  • Taking time off school
  • Support from schools and classmates
  • Growing up with a burn injury

Babies and children are more likely to sustain a burn injury than working-age adults. In the UK, a third of all burn injuries seen each day in A&E are for children (about 110 children under the age of 18 per day). Of the 36 people we spoke to, 13 had been burnt as a child.

Children’s experiences of having had a burn can vary greatly depending on their age at the time of the injury, and the severity, location and type of their burn. Whilst not every child with a burn will have these experiences, some of the people we spoke to felt that various areas of their lives had been affected by having burns as a child. These included experiences at school and how their feelings changed as they grew older.

At her schools, Tara found there was initial interest in her burn scars. She experienced some staring and nasty comments but had a close group of friends and learnt to mostly block it out.

For Justyn, there wasn’t much impact of his burns at school, and they didn’t affect anything like writing or sport/PE (physical education).

Taking time off school

For the people we spoke to who were burnt as children, the length of time they had needed off school whilst recovering varied greatly. Some had only missed school briefly whilst they attended outpatient appointments. Sabrina’s burn happened during a school holiday, so she missed only two days of school. Others missed a lot of school because of stays in hospital, frequent surgeries, and follow-up appointments, for example, for physiotherapy.

Niamh missed a few days of school whilst she attended hospital outpatient appointments to have her dressings changed. Raiche, on the other hand, said she felt like she wasn’t at school much during her childhood and was kept back a year so that she had chance to catch up. Similarly, Saffron was also offered the chance to redo a year at school. However, she turned this down because she didn’t want to “be any more different than I already was”.

Saffron feels that having a burn and taking time off school for treatment has stalled her ability to focus on her education.

Raiche was held back a year at school to help her catch up.

Support from schools and classmates

A few of the people we spoke to shared how their schools tried to support them during their recovery. The staff at Saffron’s schools were “very supportive in trying to accommodate me”, and she remembered doing a lot of her schoolwork from her hospital bed. India said her primary school teachers were “understanding” and would send her work to catch up on whilst she was in hospital. Although Sabrina’s school didn’t allow water bottles during lessons, she was allowed because “medically, I needed to rehydrate more”.

Raiche had a supportive primary school teacher who helped her with her handwriting which she struggled with due to the burn on her hand.

A couple of people said they found it useful for the other children at their school to be told about what had happened. Charlotte told us about her primary school teacher visiting her in hospital and sending ‘get well’ wishes from the rest of her class.

Telling the other children about what had happened could also help them understood why the person with a burn looked or behaved differently when they came back to school. India’s teacher told the class “India’s coming back, she looks very different. This is what’s happened to her”. William thought that the other pupils at his school were nicer to him after his accident and “it meant that my lunchbox wasn’t stolen every now and again”. His parents, Amy and Chris Y, thought “the bullying stopped” because the other children could see “there was enough going on” as William recovered from his burns.

Some people we spoke to also felt it was important to share what had happened to them with their peers. Saffron chose to tell her school about her burns in an assembly where she explained her experience of attending burns camps. Niamh, aged 12 at the time of our interview, told us that she felt “brave” having a scar and liked to be able to talk to people about it.

Saffron found it useful to tell her school about her burns in an assembly.

Some of the people we spoke to told us about negative experiences they had at school. A few people experienced bullying from other children because of their burns. Natasha went to a private school, which was important to her mum “because she was concerned that if I went to a public school that there was more of a chance of me being bullied because of my scars”.

India said that overall, her schooling experience was “positive”, but she wasn’t immune from name calling.

Raiche felt like bullying at school “held her back”.

Getting changed for sports could sometimes be challenging because people would stare or make comments. Raiche told us that having a burn and looking different sometimes meant that she felt she was the centre of attention in her class, without meaning to. Some of the people we spoke with felt like they also missed out on ‘normal’ opportunities, such as playing outside with friends, because they had a burn.

Growing up with a burn injury

Some of the people we talked to were the parents of young children who had been burnt, and their children were still very young. A few shared concerns about how their child would feel about their burns as they grew up. For some, like Abi and Simon, their children’s burn had healed well, and they did not expect there to be any significant impacts as they grew up.

Adolescence and going through puberty can be a difficult period of transition for many young people. Having a burn injury can sometimes make this a more challenging time. Some people remembered feeling more insecure as they got older. Charlotte described her teenage years as “bumpy” because she experienced some mental health difficulties relating to her burns.

As a teenager, some people said they felt more body and appearance conscious. Saffron told us that she began to notice that she “looked different to everyone else” during her teenage years. Having burn scars in intimate places could be an additional concern.

Tara sometimes felt “uncomfortable” as a teenage girl when her doctors were male.

A few people told us that they started to worry about romantic relationships and dating more or for the first time as teenagers. Saffron found that “positive experiences” and “not having anyone being critical in them moments” of dating and relationships had made her worry less about this.

Claire said she worried about her boyfriend at the time seeing her scars when she was a teenager.

Natasha was initially worried about starting dating as a teenager.

As a teenager, Kate wondered if she would meet someone who was “actually tolerant” of her burns.

Some people told us that, although they had struggled with being a teenager with a burn, over time they were able to worry less and begin to enjoy that period of their lives. Saffron explained to us how she had “faced different challenges at different stages in my life and I think with each challenge it becomes easier to accept”. Raiche explained how she eventually adopted a mindset where she dresses for herself instead of dressing for the approval of others. This helped her to live her life like any other teenager or young person.

Raiche’s friends helped her to adopt a more positive mindset and enjoy being a teenager more.

We also spoke to 12 people who were the parents of children with burns, and some shared with us their experiences and thoughts on how a burn injury might affect their child as they grow up. You can also read about the experiences of parents whose children had burns here.

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