My oldest daughter will be 10 years old tomorrow (omg...that's the double digits as she likes to say) and it's given me time to reflect about our journey with nut allergies up till now.
I know that I've discussed our big and small triumphs here in the past (most recently with my post "Thriving with a Nut Allergy"). However, something about this "double digit" birthday makes me really grateful for how far we've come since our family first learned of Alex's life-threatening allergy to nuts.
A lot of you are reading this blog because you've recently discovered your own child's allergy. I find out when my child was 4 years old and I know that many of you learned sooner. When you first get this diagnosis, it's so scary and can seem really disheartening once you realize how much it affects daily life. I still have my good days and bad days.
However, as my daughter reaches her 10th birthday, I'm very proud of how much she's been able to do and how confident she has become about handling her allergy issues.
For those of you new to this, here is some of my advice, some of it learned the hard way. :)
- Never let your child feel like they can't do something just because of their allergy. In fact, we've sometimes given our daughter a gentle nudge out into the world to prove that she can handle certain situations. Now that she's older, she initiates independence. That's really important to us since she is the one who will be caring for her allergy in the future.
- Be cautious, but keep things as normal as possible. Caution is key but so is a normal childhood in terms of things like birthday parties, camp and extracurricular activities. If you take all the proper precautions things will generally go well. Volunteering to help out at these activities when your kids are younger will help both of you feel more secure. Most important, don't focus too much on your child being the "allergy kid" beyond making certain an activity is safe for them.
- On the other hand, don't beat yourself up for the things you can't do. Trying every new restaurant is just not on our family agenda; likewise, sleepovers are off-limits except for very close friends of the family who we trust. Some things just aren't worth it and we stick to firm rules about them. Instead of focusing on what we can't do safely, we celebrate the things that we can.
- Realize that as your child gets older, your role as a parent must adapt to their growing independence. My daughter often reminds me these days that she knows what to do about her allergy and not too hover over her too much. In fact, there have been several situations where she exercised caution all on her own. She's still too young to be completely free of parental involvement, but I try to show her that I trust her to handle things when appropriate. It's been a real confidence-booster for her as well as a lesson in taking charge of her own allergy.
Now the flip side: Vigilance around high-risk foods can never let up. Until there is a cure for nut allergies, the risk of reaction must never be discounted. Sometimes we let our guard down if we've gone a long time without a reaction. This is a mistake--you can never plan when a reaction will occur. Stay vigilant with regard to foods and situations and keep teaching your child to stay vigilant while still encouraging their independence.
Just so everyone knows, I'm hosting next week's "Living with Food Allergies Blog Carnival" so if you're an allergy blogger, please submit an article. I need them in by March 3rd (next Wednesday). Thanks!