Sometimes kids have days, or weeks, when they see everything in a negative light, including their food allergy.
We want them to keep a positive attitude about life and allergies, but all children go through phases where the world seems to be conspiring against them.
This negativity could spill over into complaints about dietary or social event restrictions, having to sit at the school’s nut-free lunch table, or always having to carry an auto-injector. It is, after all, not easy being a kid and putting up with allergen avoidance. Sometimes they will refuse to make the best of it—and purposely point out the worst of it.
As difficult as listening to this pessimism may be, expressing negativity is a normal part of growing up. It is most evident in toddlers and teens, but can color a child’s thoughts at any age. One way to cope is accepting its normalcy, and reminding ourselves it won’t last forever.
Another coping strategy is deciding to ignore a child’s negative comments instead of reacting to them. Allowing ourselves to get drawn into the negativity, or struggling against it, will only stir the stew of complaints. As long as a child is doing what is necessary to stay safe, we can tolerate their perspective.
Their perspective may seem over-the-top to us, but from their vantage point it makes sense. What may help both child and parent, and keep the doors of communication open, is offering empathy which lets kids know they’ve been heard, and that we care.
Statements such as, “I know it stinks to always be careful about what you eat,” or, “It’s not fair, but I appreciate that you always carry an auto-injector,” are more effective than the impossible task of trying to make children feel a certain way. However, being empathic takes energy, so parents need to show loving-kindness to themselves as well.
Self-kindness includes making time to enjoy personal interests, being with friends, engaging in relaxing activities, and participating in food allergy support groups where encouragement from people who know exactly what we are going through is abundant.
Being around a negative person, even one we love, is draining and exasperating. By taking care of ourselves we replenish the store of patience required to provide our children a loving space where they can explore both the light and shadows of life, and within themselves.