Earlier today, I got a call from an “allergy mom” as she referred to herself. Her 9 year-old son, Charlie, was sad over the weekend because he couldn’t eat all the cookies at a birthday party. Many children have mild allergies or sensitivities, but Charlie’s isn’t that --- he’s extremely allergic to eggs, nuts, and food coloring. If he eats them, he’ll break out in a full body of hives, start getting sick and even have trouble breathing. So his mom asked two questions: What can I say to Charlie? And how can Charlie talk to others about his serious food allergies?

First Question: What to Say to Charlie?

Annie, Charlie’s mom, had these questions because of an exchange she had with her son. She told Charlie that he “shouldn’t be upset, there are so many good things going on in his life” and Charlie got angrier. He said, “Mom, it’s okay for me to be sad about my allergies” and well, Charlie was correct. What I know to be true is that every child has a right to their feelings, and there are no bad feelings. Of course, it’s what your son or daughter does with their feelings that matter. Some suggestions I had for Annie were:

  • Name the Feeling – Helping Charlie name his feelings whether its sadness or frustration separates him from the feeling. He isn’t sad. He’s feeling sad, and now can learn how to express it constructively. The goal is to help him feel his feelings, and then move through them versus stay stuck in sadness, anger, or frustration. For example, Charlie lets off steam by shooting hoops in the backyard, and I’d encourage him to do so when he’s ready.  
  • Focus on What You Can Do – After Charlie has “bounced back” from feeling down in the dumps, help him focus on what he can do. For example, he can learn with mom’s help to make yummy recipes he can eat, and next time he can introduce party-goers to those cookies! He can read up about how the body works, and how important it is to feel good, which for him includes skipping certain foods. Another suggestion is to help Charlie make a friend who has similar food allergies so he has a "food buddy" and can find solace in a friend.
  • Reframe – At the root of Charlie’s “woo is me” attitude is his thinking that not having those cookies is the worst ever. The good news is Charlie doesn’t know what a real catastrophe is, thankfully. Helping him gain a wider perspective, and learn how to move into gratitude for living in a time when someone with food allergies can live a long and healthy life is helpful! It wasn’t that long ago that many food allergies would often be fatal. Or learning about what children in other countries are challenged with can change Charlie’s perspective and help him “see” that despite the allergies, things are actually going well.   

Second Question: What Charlie Can Say to Others?

Giving Charlie scripts on how to explain his serious food allergies will help him feel confident and capable to handle any situation. Of course, he’s also equipped with a medical bracelet and epi-pen, but he needs the words to tell adults (some of them less aware than others) and his friends that some of his food allergies are serious. I suggested he use this language:

  • My body has a food allergy and it’s serious. I can’t eat eggs, nuts or food dye.
  • Are you 100% sure there are no eggs in this? I can get very sick and might need the hospital if there are eggs in there.
  • I love eating food, but I need to be sure it’s good for my body. My body has some allergies and I need to be good to it, so it’s good to me.

Of course, my language doesn’t need to be Charlie’s or your child’s but it’s a starting point. Using scripts, role-playing, packing the right foods beforehand, anticipating “triggers” for upset regarding potential food-related situations and helping educate other parents as to the seriousness of your child’s allergy is an essential part of helping him or her stay healthy and happier. The more I work with highly sensitive children, the more I’m convinced that emotional sensitivity goes hand-and-hand with physical sensitivity and food allergies is a big part of that puzzle.

Maureen Healy is an award-winning author, popular speaker and leader in the field of children’s emotional health. Her popular mentoring program has helped thousands of highly sensitive children and their parents globally. Learn more: www.growinghappykids.com or @mdhealy

Sidenote

Today, 1 in 13 children has a food allergy, which is up 100% from fifteen years ago per Kids with Food Allergies. At any time nearly 1 or 2 children in a group may have a mild to severe allergy, which suggests the more you as a parent or professional are equipped to handle such a situation, the more likely the outcome is positive. In 2013, Congress passed the “School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act” giving incentives to schools who stock this life-saving device. Of course, the biggest challenge is that many times we don’t know a child is allergic to something until they have a reaction so it benefits all of us to adhere by the old Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.”

 

References

kidswithfoodallergies.com

Food Allergy Emergency Plan http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/school-foodallergy.html

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