Guiding Your Child’s Attitude About Food Allergies
Whether it’s a holiday meal or a class party, children with food allergies will sooner or later encounter scenarios where they cannot participate. These children would love to grab a cookie from the cookie jar or polish off a chunk of birthday cake, but they dare not because of food allergies. The psychological aspect of ‘fear of food’ reaches far beyond their physical health. A food allergic child’s emotional well-being is equally important and often not given adequate consideration. Parents, caregivers, teachers must understand the need to nurture the hearts and souls of these special children, as well as their physical bodies.
The worry of anaphylaxis among food allergic children and their parents is very real and much a part of the life of the entire family. In order to be well adjusted and grow emotionally, children must understand how to cope on a day to day basis with their food allergies. It is up to parents to guide their children in a healthy, responsible way and help them develop no fear of food.
A Child’s Perspective
Children typically experience a range of emotions associated with their food allergy —fear, sadness, anger, a sense of loneliness and feeling different. These children are also often a target of bullying. These feeling can result in anxiety and depression if not met with understanding and confidence.
Consider these factors in how to best manage the child’s emotional well-being:
- Disposition. A child who is shy or timid will need more reassuring to deal with anxiety. A child who is more outgoing may need more cautioning.
- Experience with allergic reaction. It’s understandable that a child who has experienced anaphylaxis is more likely to become anxious about his allergy.
- Age and Level of Development. Food allergy should always be approached in an age-appropriate manner, educating the child in the basics of safety (avoidance) during early years and allowing more responsibility as they mature.
- Parent’s attitude. Parents must be confident and competent to keep from showing negative feelings about food allergies, as children will easily mirror this attitude. Avoid being apologetic rather than matter-of-fact when explaining your child’s allergy. Don’t be panicked, but rather self-assured when your child’s classroom has a party. Your child will be apt to follow your lead.
Children watch parents and other adults for clues on how to act. Being a good role model is not just a catch-phrase, especially when it comes to helping your child manage their attitudes about their own food allergies as well as those of others.
A Parent’s Responsibility
In addition to being a positive role model, be empathetic listeners with resolute support. A child’s feelings of fear or sadness, isolation or anger should be validated with kindness and understanding. Encourage a positive perspective and a can-do attitude. FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) has developed a wealth of helpful information and dialog for families who want to better understand the emotional and social issues of managing food allergies.