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I have also worked in schools and have seen the anxiety and distress that managing food allergies causes children and adolescents. I have heard story upon story of the physical symptoms that occur when a child and their parents are getting ready for vacation, a time to de stress, a time that is supposed to be a period of relaxation. What does vacation mean to a person managing food allergies? It means navigating in a place you don’t have control of, one that you aren’t familiar with regarding food, laundry detergent, anything. Who would have thought vacation, going to school, going to the grocery store would become a situation of navigating through potential life threatening landmines? Ok, so I hope those statements did not heighten anxiety too much. I wanted to let you, the reader know that I have been there personally and I have helped people over the years decrease their anxiety about food allergies for themselves or their children. You can navigate through this world without feeling anxious at every life transition. As a parent, you can decrease your anxiety thereby helping your child to manage their emotions related to food allergies.
Negative and scary things happen in life and we do not always have control. What we do have control over is our awareness. As a mother, let me ask you what do you have control over when it comes to your child’s allergies? You can begin teaching your child from the beginning that things they eat may make them uncomfortable or very sick but that hey have control over that. Teach them the right questions and teach them about bringing their own food. Teach them to speak up for themselves when it comes to what they can eat or be around. Teach them AWARENESS. What are my allergies? What does cross contamination mean? Be assertive and ask what the ingredients are and if there is a shadow of doubt bring out one of your pre-planned safe snacks or meals.
For the newly diagnosed families – this is scary, this is new, but I promise you will get the hang of this and food allergies can be managed well! You can teach your children regardless of their personalities, they will get it one day. For example, my 3 year-old started to know what made him itchy and sick to his stomach at the age of 2. He was able to tell people at a very young age. My middle child doesn’t worry me as much, he advocates for himself and has a good level of awareness, now my third which I lovingly call my “wrecking ball” goes through life without a care in the world, even to personal space! He will need more guidance, I need to teach the adults around him to the best of my ability. I need to make him aware of his safe snacks, and to teach him will take a bit more than my other child. I tell you about these two opposite boys to let you know that every child is different, the method to create awareness may be longer or a bit more involved but the most important thing we can do is TEACH. Our children will grow up and they need to be able to independently manage their food allergies! I recommend continuing to educate, scheduling “brush-up” lessons on how to be aware and protect themselves regularly. This will help alleviate anxieties.
Another useful tool that a therapist can help with if needed is challenging distorted or highly negative ways of thinking. Sometimes we think everyone is against us. They are not, I promise. I had a terrible experience on an airline carrier and was home taking my children to a local waterpark. I was already in a bad state of mind so I walked up expecting them to say I couldn’t bring my child’s safe snacks in. I had an attitude and the young man was great, no problem he said. I walked away and needed to look in the mirror and tell myself to calm down. Not everyone will fight me. For example as you navigate through food allergies, you may start to engage in “should” statements or thinking. “I should have” been better prepared. “They should” do this. This will increase anxiety. “Musts,” “oughts” and “have to’s” are similar anxiety provoking things. Another big one for us allergy parents is “catastrophic thinking.” Understandably, we need to be aware. My reference to landmines at the beginning is somewhat catastrophic. Did you catch the feeling that phrase illicits? I can replace that statement – “situations.” Totally neutral but true word to replace that negative thought. Catastrophic thinking sneaks up on us. I do it sometimes and have to look in that mirror again and tell myself, we will manage these food allergies, we will educate people, and generally most people want my child to be safe. They just don’t understand something that hasn’t been taught to them!
Learn from each step of managing food allergies, do a little research to increase awareness and most importantly speak with your doctor about you Emergency Action Plan and really what he suggests you do to navigate this new world. See free worksheet.
Write down some thoughts you would like to decrease that are negative or demonstrate catastrophic thinking.
“My child will have a bad experience”
“His teacher should know better”
“Something bad will happen….”
“We are prepared with safe snacks and he/she will have a great time!”
“His teacher wants to understand more, we need to schedule a time to talk.”
“I protect my child. He/she will be safe, we went over awareness again.”