How To Respond To Insensitive Comments About Food Allergies

Responding to insensitive comments about your, or your child’s food allergy is difficult for at least two reasons. First, the comments can cut deeply. When hurt and angry we may want emotional revenge - which only furthers the discord - or frustratingly find our self at a loss for words.

Second, not every insensitive comment is alike. They can be unintentional, stem from ignorance, fear, or be purposely cruel—and reasonable response to one comment type may not suit the others.

One thing is certain, no matter how experienced you are at communicating, there will be times you later feel good about your responses, and occasions of regret for what you did or did not say. That’s life.

Managing Rude Remarks

Though you no doubt have your own ways of handling difficult people, here are a few thoughts and suggestions that may help with fielding inconsiderate or crude comments.

Teachable Moments, or Not. If a person’s comments seem to come from ignorance, misunderstanding, or fear you might use plain language - without too much detail - to educate them.

No one understands a situation unless they experience it, or hear about it. People can imagine what it is like to scrutinize every food label for allergens only after realizing some people actually have to do that, and what happens if they don’t. Educating others about food allergy allows those who are willing to put themselves in your shoes.

Yet, no matter how adept you are at informing, there will be those who refuse to listen or learn. There was an anonymous quote on Facebook this morning, “Arguing with idiots is like playing chess with a pigeon... No matter how good you are, the bird is going to poop on the board and strut around as it won anyway.” Sometimes it’s best to just walk away.

Counter With Strengths. You can counter comments that imply your child’s allergy is a weakness or problem by using the comments to champion your child’s strengths. For instance, you might say, “It’s true Matt is uncomfortable going to birthday parties because of his allergy, but he is making so many new friends on his soccer team, and last week he scored two goals!”

Ready Response. It’s always advantageous to prepare and rehearse at least one all-purpose rude comment comeback.

You can brainstorm comebacks by writing down whatever response ideas come to mind, no matter how boring, silly, sappy, or outrageous. You are bound to come up with a few generic, acerbic, compassionate, or funny retorts that will serve you well.

Examples of ready replies are, “Oh, I appreciate your remembering my child is allergic to tree nuts. Maybe we can talk more about it sometime.” Or, “I’m sorry my allergy offends/bothers/upset you. Is there anything you want to ask me about it?”

Grrrr Factor. Sometimes people’s comments are so offensive, intrusive, or hurtful we need to stand up for ourself, or our child.

It is more effective to express anger calmly and clearly than to shout and point a finger since shouting and finger-pointing causes people to wax defensive and stop listening. A simple, “Please keep your hurtful comments about Sarah’s food allergy to yourself,” should put a cork in an offending person’s mouth. Saying, “Thanks for your concern, but Aaron is our son and we are managing his allergy very well,” can keep a well-meaning but annoying advice-giver at bay.

Final Thought

It’s not easy managing a food allergy and putting up with insensitive comments, but your efforts to remain patient and educate others to make a difference. Most people are caring and compassionate when informed because we all understand the desire to keep those we care about safe.

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