At a recent school Parents Night, the teachers passed out a child development fact sheet for kids ages 8-10 years old. For the 9-year-olds, one of the common developments was "increased anxiety about the world." Add life-threatening food allergies to the mix and you can have a recipe for one stressed-out kid.
It makes sense that as kids get older, they get more concerned about things going on in the world. After all, their understanding of the world's machinations only increases each year. I find that as my daughter has gotten older, she has gotten more anxious (at times) about her severe nut allergy. A recent hives and facial swelling scare just from being around PB&J at school as well as a restaurant "near miss" this summer has contributed to her overall concern. Hey, who can blame her?
Some of you with school age kids may be going through this too. What can we do as parents to help alleviate some of the food allergy anxiety? It's not like we can tell them that it will always be OK and nothing will happen. We don't want them to over-think their condition, but we definitely want them to take responsibility for their serious allergy. It's a tricky business. Here are some strategies that have worked for us:
- Have your child be responsible for carrying medication. This gives my daughter a sense of power, because she knows she always has it with her rather than relying on the adults around her. It's also good practice for the future and it seems to make her less anxious. Obviously a 3-year-old can't carry the epinephrine but as kids get a little older you can ask them: What else do I need to bring with us today? Early reinforcement of this will help them to be responsible later on.
- Let kids take the lead. This past weekend, we went to a new candy store in town that models itself after the old-fashioned ones. You know, candy in barrels, all the candy we liked as kids, etc. Since it is all tightly wrapped and there are many safe options for us, we allow her to visit there once in awhile. Recently, however, peanut butter-filled pretzels were lying in an open container near the cash register/counter. My daughter hates to see stuff like that, but because her foods were wrapped and didn't get anywhere near the pretzels, we deemed it safe for her. It took her a couple of hours to agree with us, however. After explaining the low risk to her, I let it go. It hurt me to see her not be able to enjoy her candy right away, like her sister did--until I saw her later that day, reading a favorite book and enjoying her new candy. Lesson learned? Let your kids determine what they feel is safe enough. Don't press them. It is their allergy, after all, not ours. They need to do what they think is right.
- Reinforce safe dining out experiences. It's tempting to want to avoid restaurants due to food allergy concerns, but it's good to occasionally go to them if only to show your child that you can. Thoroughly research the restaurant and then have your child order a simple menu item. We've become regulars at a few restaurants and it really boosts my daughter's morale (well, all of ours, really) to enjoy a restaurant meal successfully and safely. Plus, becoming adept at these situations will be a lifelong skill.