If you and your kids don’t have food allergies, you probably didn’t think twice about the peanut butter you slathered onto your PB&J sandwich the other day, or the milk you poured over your cereal this morning. But for some families, such foods can be a much more serious matter.
Today in The Motherhood, Lori Sandler of Divvies was joined by psychologist Dr. Jules Spotts and a panel of food allergy-aware co-hosts to discuss how we can manage our own (and our children’s) anxieties around their food allergies.
From an early age, you can teach kids to be vigilant about food allergies – but allergies do not need to define them or consume their life. “We have taught our son, Benjamin, that having food allergies is one piece of the puzzle of self, and the puzzle of your family. Our children are regular people, who happen to have food allergies,” said Lori Sandler of Divvies.
“Here are some things that have helped me as a parent,” added Jenny of Nut-Free Mom. “Teach your child to be confident. Praise all the wonderful things about them. They are not just the sum of their allergies even though we sometimes have to discuss allergies more than we would like (in restaurants, etc.) Try to find fun non-food activities that you do regularly as a family. Food is part of the social fabric but it doesn’t have to be the main focus to have a good time.”
Take Reasonable Precautions
Especially when your kids are young, the idea of going to a restaurant or picking up a snack on the go can be terrifying. “The anxiety is natural and it will pass as your children get older and you become more comfortable dealing with the food allergies,” said Carmen of Mom to the Screaming Masses. In the meantime, Lori Sandler suggested packing snacks and speaking with restaurants ahead of time to make accommodations for kids with food allergies.
When your child is old enough to attend school, that can present another challenge. Psychologist Dr. Jules Spotts recommends patience in dealing with school administration as you work with them to ensure your child’s safety. “Stay even in your approach to the school, while you communicate the need to have a safe environment for him, and also one that does not isolate him from social contact and interfere with belongingness in the group,” he said. “Present yourself as quietly firm, decisive, and knowledgeable, and avoid a stance of argumentative leading to litigious.”
Read this comment thread for more ideas on helping kids deal with food allergies at school.
Don’t Let Food Allergies Isolate You
It’s easy to feel isolated by food allergies, especially when you’re afraid to eat outside of the home. To help avoid those feelings, “Get to know some local places, their owners, and build established trust relationships regarding your daughter and her food needs. Also, do your best to build a network of friends where everyone feels safe in participating in food related activities,” said Dr. Spotts.
Eleanor of Food Allergy Initiative and Mamaleibo recommended Chipotle as an allergy-friendly chain Mexican restaurant, with no nuts, fish or eggs. They also offer corn shells for people with gluten intolerance. Chris S. added, “I love how Jamba Juice will not only make my son’s smoothie in a clean, dairy free blender but also that ‘Dairy Allergy’ is clearly marked on the orders they pass on and on my receipt.”
“You also may want to check out www.allergyeats.com – a website that allows food allergy families to post their ratings of restaurants around the country. They have a mobile app too!” said Barbara of Food Allergy Initiative.
For more strategies on eating out safely, you can check Sloane Miller’s blog, Allergic Girl, or her book of the same name. And for more advice on avoiding feelings of isolation related to food allergies, read the comment thread here.
Help Educate About Food Allergies
Some of the most difficult interactions can take place within your own family, when relatives don’t accept the reality and danger of food allergies. “All you can do is provide as much information to educate them on it. And sadly, if they still choose to not follow the rules, then you simply can’t allow them to have unsupervised contact with a child who has food allergies,” said Christina of A Mommy Story. “At least until the child is old enough to understand allergies enough to say no to them.” For more thoughts on this issue, read the comment threads here or here.
You can also “try sharing this post with them. I am a pediatric allergist and have children with food allergies,” said Sarah of The Allergist Mom. “This post seemed to help many families in your situation. There is actual known science behind allergic reactions.”
The bottom line is, “eventually you will need to learn to trust others – at some point you just won’t be able to do it all by yourself. The trick is to figure out who you CAN trust, make sure they have the right information, and always have an emergency plan (meds, etc.),” said Colette Martin.
Find Recovery Options
After experiencing an incident like anaphylaxis, both kids and parents can experience fears around food moving forward. Dr. Spotts acknowledged that getting over such fears “will take some time,” but “as your [child] logs in more successful experiences of checking out labels and having nothing happen, their confidence will build.” Dr. Spotts also recommended “seeing a therapist for the PTSD” if necessary, “thus empowering him and yourselves by actively addressing the allergy and the associated anxiety.”
Chris S. shared a series of photos she took in the hospital after her son suffered anaphylaxis from accidentally ingesting a bit of cheese. Sarah of The Allergist Mom agreed with Chris S. that images are powerful: “Some of my most powerful lectures have included images of my children during allergic reactions. One person even told me that they didn’t really believe it until they saw it.”
Be Willing to Let Go of Anxiety
“I think as parents of kids with food allergies, we will always have anxiety…but all parents have anxiety. I have gone out of my comfort zone (after extensive means of making sure my child will be cared for/food allergies are understood) and I’ve been glad I did. For example, summer day camp is something we tried and it worked out,” said Jenny of Nut-Free Mom.
Dr. Jules Spotts website
The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network website
Food Allergy Initiative website
Lori Sandler’s The Divvies Bakery Cookbook
Kelly Rudnicki’s The Food Allergy Mama Baking Book
Sloane Miller’s book, Allergic Girl
Other Topics of Interest
Read about maintaining a positive outlook on food allergies in this comment thread.
On helping kids with extreme food allergy anxieties, check out this comment thread.
For thoughts on outgrowing food allergies, read this comment thread.
Thinking about homeschooling kids with severe food allergies? Read this comment thread.