I’m a mother of three boys, the youngest of whom has multiple food allergies. My older boys, who don’t have food allergies, have grown increasingly resentful of the attention we have to pay to their younger brother’s safety and how his allergies have changed things for the family, like eating out, traveling, the foods we no longer keep in the house, etc., and they’ve started teasing and taunting their little brother. They’ve also been giving me and their father a hard time almost daily and are acting out at school. Can you give us any advice to change these behaviors?
Have you tried asking the older boys for help? Making them responsible for some aspect of their brother’s safety might help them feel like part of the group and help open their eyes to the severity of food allergies. Right now it sounds like they feel excluded in multiple ways, so including them as much as possible would be a great start.
I’d also like to encourage you to find a way to let your older boys enjoy different foods away from home. I understand that it might be difficult to eat out as a family without at least one of your boys feeling a little grumpy about what is (or is not) on the menu. Can you take them out to eat separately every now and then? Are they ever driven to activities that do not involve their younger brother? If so, this would be a great time to make a pit-stop to get a treat. Just make sure they wash their hands before coming home if your youngest is sensitive to any type of contact with allergens. Or have them all work together to make an allergen-friendly dessert they all enjoy. And by all means, if you find an allergen-friendly restaurant, go there often!
You could also try good ol’ fashioned bribery. Tell them it’s possible for them to eat certain foods at home, but these cannot be in the house at all until they show some maturity and responsibility. If they are teasing their little brother about his food allergies, they could do something very dangerous if the allergen was at hand, like rub it in his face. Until you can trust them to understand exactly how severe food allergies are and to follow cross-contamination rules, they cannot have snacks at home. See how quickly they perk up about taking his safety seriously and looking out for him.
It’s hard to tell from your question whether their acting out at home or at school is directly related to the food allergies or perhaps the feeling of not getting enough attention. Try to focus on family time and activities that don’t involve food, or that certainly don’t involve allergens. Play board games, play outside, watch movies … And for the times you do go out and about, become a whiz at packing snacks so tasty or creative that your boys won’t even realize there’s other food for sale at places like the zoo or amusement parks.
Best of luck,
Cathy is just like you: She worries about food choices, where to eat and whether friends and family will be as careful about food allergens and cross contamination as you are. She is diligent, and she is also a food allergy warrior. If you would like to ask Cathy a question for a future column, please submit here: http://mykidsfoodallergies.com/ask-cathy-food-allergy-advice-column-submission/