Most parents of children with food allergies could probably tell you: aside from fear, the most common emotion associated with food allergies is anxiety. And I’m not just talking about the parents. Children with food allergies experience anxiety as bad as, if not worse than, their parents when it comes to dealing with their food allergies.
My oldest child is 10 years old. He was diagnosed with severe food allergies before he was 2 years old. Since then, I have been bringing food for him or making sure the food is safe for him wherever we go. And he will still come and ask if he can have something. Or, we may go somewhere that will be serving food, and chances are, I have known in advance and have planned ahead and have safe food for him. But he will still turn and look at me with those saucer eyes if food is mentioned. He doesn’t freak out: but you can see that moment of fear in his eyes. And in his case, it’s not so much the fear of being exposed to an allergen; it’s the fear of not having safe food to eat.
Now my daughter, on the other hand, could be the poster child for food allergy anxiety. Her allergy is a rare one; a mild contact allergy at that. It is still an allergy, nonetheless, and it is very real, especially to her. She is allergic to vinegar, and as I mentioned before, it’s a contact allergy with no anaphylactic threat yet. But I could be sitting beside her, eating a salad with a vinegar based dressing, or pickles, and reach out to touch her with the hand that I am NOT eating with and she will still flinch.
Back to my son. He has not always shown obvious signs of food allergy anxiety. However, there was an incident a little over a year ago. He had a spot that started off as an insect bite and later got infected. The spot was on his head. He would pick and scratch at it, but we really became aware of it when he began to pull his hair out. He pulled his hair out to the point that he had a bald spot. I truly believed that he was pulling his hair out because that spot on his head was itching so badly that he just pulled his hair out. We later met with a doctor who concurred that he may have been pulling his hair out due to stress. Talking with him further concluded that he was indeed pulling his hair out due to stress, and the stress was coming from being teased by his peers. The teasing was because of his grades, his weight and, last but not least, his food allergies.
How can we help our kids deal with the anxiety of having food allergies?
Talk to them.
It’s as easy as it sounds. Be as open and vocal as you can about their food allergies. The more open and involved you are, they should follow your lead and be the same way.
Try to be prepared for every situation. Always carry your epi and Benadryl. Always try to carry safe food. I know there will be surprises. A parent will bring an unsafe treat to school. You will go somewhere with your child and forget the safe food (I did, and it was recently). But as long as you TRY to be prepared in every situation, the less anxiety you will feel, and they are less likely to feel it once they see you’ve got the situation under control.
Don’t show fear.
This is probably the hardest one (out of two, I know), but definitely the most important. And please note that I did NOT say don’t be afraid. I said don’t SHOW fear. This can be applied to pretty much any parenting situation. But especially with food allergies. Your kids feed off of your emotions and they mimic your behavior. If you’re freaking out … guess what? They will be also. The more confident you are about it (even if you are freaking out on the inside, which, let’s face it, we all pretty much are) the more likely they are to be confident about it as well.
Food allergy reactions are preventable but can still happen out of the blue. Still, the anxiety that comes with them doesn’t have to rule your life. Comment below to share your own tips and tricks!