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5 year old fear and anxiety about peanut allergy

My son is 5 and has a severe allergy to peanuts. He has recently become more aware of his allergy and the risks of peanuts which is good, but with that has come an increase in his anxiety around eating even foods that are safe, and his belief that he is having a reaction when he isn't.

Now he is afraid (screaming and crying) to go to pre-school out of fear for what the other kids will be eating around him at lunchtime, even when we know he is not near any foods containing nuts.

He has also had incidents, only recently, where he became convinced that he was having a reaction and got very upset about it. This has happened with a babysitter so now we're unlikely to be going anywhere without him until the fear is under control.

Does anyone have similar experiences or advice on how to handle this kind of fear and anxiety. We do not want to downplay the risks of his allergy but don’t want him living in fear all the time.

By peanutfreenana on Sat, 01-17-15, 17:40

I am a teacher as well as a nana. At our school, we have a counselor that is trained in coping and calming techniques. She takes my granddaughter and others with allergies and works together with them on these skills. You could talk to your school and see if they provide this service or go to a child psychologist to help the little one. It is scary but feeling prepared to handle reactions helps.

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By mkrcolo on Sun, 01-11-15, 18:35

Hi Dan,

I'm so sorry to hear your son is having anxiety. My son had the same issue at age 6. At that age, he began asking more questions about what an allergic reaction could mean for him, and became more and more aware and fearful of peanuts. I was extremely concerned because his anxiety seemed extreme to me. He was afraid to eat lunch with his friends (even if none of them had anything with peanuts), he was scared to go to school, he didn't want anyone touching him (such as friends giving him a hug, etc.), he was afraid to play at the playground...I can't remember all that his anxiety entailed, but it was all consuming. BUT, he eventually overcame his fears after many discussions reassuring him and having him engage in situations to overcome his fears (play dates at the park, having lunch with kids eating PB & J, etc.) He eventually came to realize that, although he needs to be aware and careful, he doesn't need to be terrified. My son's anxiety lasted about 8 months. I hope that helps. Just want you to know that other kids go through the same thing. Patience and reassurance will help.

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By JMcA on Sun, 01-11-15, 18:23

My son is 6 years old. We have been educating him since we discovered his severe peanut allergy at age 2. In his preschool, they had a peanut free table. Now that he's in public school, he sits at the allergy table at lunch. He knows who has Epi-Pens wherever he is. For K and 1st grade, he carries a pen in his backpack. The book suggestion is a great idea. Making sure he sees you talking to care givers about it will also help. We let him practice with the Epi-Pen trainer. Now that he's six, we also let him use the expired Epi-Pens on old oranges. Making him feel secure with the bracelet is also a great idea someone suggested. My son hasn't had great anxiety yet, but we are extra careful with him and try to give him confidence with the "knowledge is power" approach. I also try to not be emotional about it in front of him, even though I, myself, feel very anxious about it. Hopefully some of the comments will help!

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By jap on Sun, 01-11-15, 17:40

Forgive me for being bold and i do not know your Son
It could fit the bill of behavior attention issue and not wanting to go to school and him transferring this onto the peanut allergy. Maybe he has anxiety in general. On the other hand if the care plan or environment is not safe he might generally be scared , deciphering what came first is the tough part, children can manipulate things to suit their needs.if you see my posts there is a link to a safe school care plan and my daughter has always felt safe.
Good luck.

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By PeanutAllergy.com on Thu, 01-08-15, 22:37

Question of the Week: Answered!

Every week, PeanutAllergy.com answers one of the questions posted in our community.

Our Answer:

We are sorry to hear your son is having anxiety about his food allergy. It is definitely a scary and difficult situation to deal with, even for adults!

It might help to give him reassuring messages without seeming to chastise him. There are a few helpful books out there that make learning about a food allergy fun. A lot of these stories are lighthearted but deal with serious issues like going to school with a food allergy and knowing when an allergic reaction is occurring.

You can read these with your son and then bring up the stories when he starts to feel anxious or worried. You can see a list of these books here.

Does your son wear a medical bracelet right now? It might be something that can help ease his anxiety. It can offer information about your son’s allergy and how to administer epinephrine. If you explain this information to him, it could ease his worries. You can assure him that his school will know about his food allergy for gatherings and day-to-day activities. You can read more about medical braceletes here.

We also have plenty of peanut-free recipes -- for home, school or anywhere your son goes. You can see them here.

Allergies and anxiety are interconnected in different ways. While it might seem that the food allergy is the cause of your son’s anxiety, it’s also worth examining his behavior to other stressful factors. Talking to a doctor about his anxiety in general could be helpful. Read more about allergies and anxiety here.

We hope this information helps. Food allergies can be tough, but having a supportive parent makes the experience easier to overcome.

We asked our Facebook fans to offer their advice on your situation, and you can read their responses here.

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By Shemueller on Tue, 01-13-15, 00:02

I know exactly what you're going through! My son is 11. He is very good about not eating anything that he shouldn't, to the point that he is overly cautious and often has much anxiety. At the beginning of each school year, it is a different classroom and different teacher, it usually takes him the first two months to settle in. I explain everything to the teacher and they are all really accommodating. The kids in his class are very good with him as well. During these times of anxiety, we talk through the situation backward and forward, but what I found that helped this year was to give him a 'calming' rock. He keeps this in his pants pocket and when he feels he is losing control, he holds his rock in his pocket. This way, nobody has to know. It did help him this year, and when issues come up, he usually tells me he is taking his rock. When we go to birthday parties, it is hard as well, I just make sure that we take our own 'treat' for him instead of the birthday cake. I hope this helps.....I know you can feel so helpless as a mom some times!

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By glitterjulia2 on Sun, 01-04-15, 02:44

I have had a peanut allergy my entire life. I can tell you it is very scary if you think you are having a reaction (even if it is 100% false). I can say this used to happen more as a child, and hasnt happened for atleast 5 years. I would instantly get all my throat warm and swear my throat was tightening. Maybe it was, but only from stress. Make sure you calm your son down and make him do deep breaths. He might say "I cant" but he is most likely just scared. Perhaps give him some water and have him sit down, away from others and any food (so he doesnt think hes being affected anymore). Treat these like you would a panic attack, and be very gentle.

By Mrsdocrse on Sun, 09-14-14, 21:12

Hi There, I am a mom of a 14 year old with a peanut/shellfish allergy. My son has gone through these stages.... and frankly at times he still does. I also go through the same sort of fears. I agree with the previous poster.. Definitely have a conversation with your allergist about what is safe and what is not... He is young and it is up to you to give him the confidence that he can go to school and YOU CAN leave him for a few hours to go out and he will be safe. You can remind him how many times he has gone to pre school and out and about safely. Even if you are nervous ( and i am sure you are) you have to re assure him that he will be safe. That will give him the security that he needs.

Good Luck

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By kmn24 on Sun, 06-29-14, 22:22

I feel for you. My son is now 11 and has a class 6 peanut allergy with a history of anaphylaxis. He had his first reaction at 4 years old and went into shock after I missed peanut oil on a label when he was 5. He is also tested during his initial blood work to all tree nuts with the highest being hazelnut (class 5) and walnut (class 3).

It is a delicate balance of keeping them safe but managing their fear of food and food situations. When he was in elementary school he did sit at a separate table at lunch with a selected friend (whose lunch was screened). But he struggled with fear in food situations and when we were in the store and would pass peanuts he would be glued to my side. Once he was in Sunday school and the teacher, not realizing he had an allergy, had him smell peanut butter as part of an object lesson. I had to talk him down and actually give him some Benadryl to get him to calm down.

I actually enlisted the help of our allergist to have a frank discussion with him during our annual visit. We talked about what would possibly cause a reaction - would smelling it...what would touching peanuts do to him…is it OK to be around people eating peanut butter, etc. We went through the potential scenarios with the doctor and he patiently coached my son. He reiterated that my son should not ever eat or touch another person's food.

As he has gotten older, my son knows that he can keep himself safe by following the rules that we have set and by being vigilant around food. He still sits at a peanut free table at school but other kids who have self-policed peanut free lunches can sit there as well and I was happy that a boisterous group of his friends would join him daily. He has not isolated himself as much as he has gotten more confident. We still struggle sometimes but with frustration now more than fear.

As for growing out of it, I think that it depends on the kid. He was a class 6 at 5 and just got retested last year at 10 and is still a class 6. We have never done a skin test with tree nuts or peanuts because of his history so it is all blood work. I am not hopeful that he will outgrow it but perhaps there will be a therapy down the road that will make him less allergic.

Best of luck to you and your DS!

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By Hagginz on Fri, 03-28-14, 10:32

im 25 and ive been fatally allergic to peanuts/all tree nuts my whole life, and im gonna tell u right now, its a serious fear which can be heightened or lowered at different times. i still have anxieties about it and ive been in serious training since i could remember i neeeded to behave this way about food, around the age of your son. the only thing u can do is prepare the little fella without trying to scare him too much. some paranoia is going to come with the territory, but that is also a good thing. my parents were very great raising me, they talked to all my teachers and principals at the beginning of the year, met my friends parents and scoped the food situation and left snacks for me in case i didnt feel safe eating other places, teaching me what to stay away from, it's all in how you present the information, how he takes it is out of your hands. sorry i rant but i am very passionate about this as u can tell, it's serious. if you have any questions you can message me at any time

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