Friday, October 19, 2012

Food Allergy News: Helping Kids and Teens Accept Their Food Allergies

Kenton Duty of Disney's "Shake It Up" (if you have tweens in the house, you probably know this show) is a teen ambassador for FAAN who helped create a video that talks to kids about coping with food allergies.

Click the image above and be sure to show this to your kids! Kenton does a great job of being matter-of-fact about food allergies and in discussing the ways he must cope with them. He talks about medication, communication with others, LISTENING TO YOUR PARENTS...woot! and more. He is so articulate and your kids probably already know him, so they can relate to him as a peer. At 17 years old, he is much cooler to listen to than we parents can be, at times. I know -- painful but true.

One reason that I wanted to post this Kenton Duty video (incidentally, sent to me by Eleanor Garrow of FAAN, so thanks to her and FAAN for their outreach efforts) is because I know how many of us struggle with the emotional aspects of allergies as our kids come to terms with them.

I was reminded of how painful it can be when a mom e-mailed me and asked for advice regarding her 8-year-old daughter who was struggling socially and feeling left out due to her food allergies. I'm sure all of our kids have had this experience at one time or another and it stinks. Sometimes people might feel like our kids are too fragile or too much trouble to have around. This hurts. We can't change our approach to food allergy safety because someone else might not like it, so occasionally a "friendship" might fizzle. I can tell you that the true friends stick around and I've been amazed at the level of compassion some children can have.

I am not a psychologist, but I am an amateur one since I am parent. Just kidding, but you know that we get called upon to counsel our kids about so many things, including food allergies. I've found that it helps when we, the parent, don't get all excited and agitated with each incidence of unsafe food or a perception of being passed over for a party or activity. At least not in front of your child. In private, vent all you want!

It also helps to commiserate with your child about the unfairness of not being able to eat a piece of birthday cake or having to turn in their Halloween candy, but try not to dwell on this with your kids. Validate them but be sure to show them how something else in their life is positive. Every child has something positive about themselves to celebrate. Are they a good dancer? A great soccer goalie? Do they tell funny jokes? Are they a good and loyal friend? Do they look out for their younger brother or sister? Do they have a great smile?

I always told my daughter that food allergies are just one thing that make up who a person is, like having brown eyes. It's not everything. And the other thing that has helped is to tell her that everyone has some challenge in life. Even if you don't see it, it's there.

Here was the advice I gave to the mother of the 8-year-old girl. Maybe it will help you, too:

"I spoke to my daughter (who is 12) about how she coped at your daughter's age and she gave me some insights. She told me that usually she had the "better" birthday treats and things whenever I sent her with her own food, so kids usually told her they wished they could have what she was having! That helped soften the blow of not getting to have the cake or whatever she couldn't eat.

As you rightly point out, kids can have some struggles socially if they feel like they are being excluded because of allergies, so one way I helped to combat this was to make sure I offered my house as a play date haven whenever possible. This way, my daughter didn't feel left out as much and I could make sure things were safe. I also sent food to all of the school parties and the kids eventually got excited because they knew I would send something good! It is a lot of work on our end, no question, but I found that this did help my daughter in social situations.

Our family has found that involving kids in managing their allergies will help make them more independent so that they can go to that party of sleepover because you know you can trust them to look out for themselves. My daughter told me that she found her confidence grew the more she learned that she had a role in managing her allergies and that she could live safely in her environment if she knew what to do.

It is definitely not easy and I'm sure we missed a few parties because the conditions just weren't safe for my daughter. But as she has gotten older, my daughter has done so many things, even going with her friends to a restaurant (pre-approved, of course) without us. (That was a scary one for me, but she was fine).

One other thing my daughter enjoyed is the FAAN newsletter for kids. If you are a member of FAAN, you can sign your daughter up for this awesome newsletter, featuring kids of all ages talking about how they deal positively with their allergies. will show you more about that, and I suggest it as it really shows kids they are not alone in this."
I can't say enough about this FAAN kids' newsletter. You have to be a member to gain access, so if you aren't a member, yet another reason to become one!
The newsletter made my daughter feel so much less alone and she loved to see what other kids with food allergies had to say. My daughter even appeared on the cover of the print version when she was 7 years old--in her Mulan Halloween costume. :)
If you can find a support group with kids' activities, that is great too! A lot of the local support groups have family activities. FAAN's web site has a link with a list of support groups to help you find one. MOCHA is another good source of support group info.
My e-book has some ideas for helping kids with food allergies cope. Click the link to learn more about how to get it.

What has helped ease the burden for your child? What has helped, you, the parent?

No comments: