When a child is diagnosed with peanut allergy, the implications ripple past the parents to rattle the rest of us - older siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and close friends - and it’s natural we should want to help.
If we help by imposing our own perceptions, beliefs, and ideas on the child’s parents the result may be frustration and resentment on their part.
We can instead make ourselves welcome supporters by becoming the parent’s ally and, if we choose to, a trusted caregiver for the child. This requires us to stand behind the parent’s allergy management choices.
To become an ally:
- Make it clear you intend to follow the parent’s lead. Ask them to share their allergy education materials with you, and learn their chosen food safety protocols. For instance, are they banning the unsafe food from the home? Is everyone expected to wash their hands when entering the house? Is each family member using their own eating utensils and cups?
- Guarantee you will follow the parent’s food rules and safety directives to the letter both in and outside their home. This is important since a common cause of children’s allergic reactions is food being prepared or provided by well-intentioned relatives who do not understand the nuances of allergen avoidance.
- Educate yourself about label reading, cross-contamination, anaphylaxis, and the use of epinephrine auto-injectors. Read the child’s allergy safety plan, you might even ask for a copy, and be able to verbalize how you will respond in an allergy emergency. Doing this is optional, but if you ever hope to be entrusted with the child’s care—it’s essential.
- Be tolerant of what you consider over-the-top safety precautions or an unnecessary avoidance of social events. A family’s anxiety level is often sky-high following a peanut allergy diagnosis, or after a child’s allergic reaction. Turning down an invitation to a pot-luck picnic might be more important for the family’s emotional well-being than attending. Plus, some of those “ridiculous” safety precautions may look reasonable once you become more knowledgeable about allergy risks.
- Unless you sincerely believe an allergic child is in danger, respect the parent’s treatment decisions including which health care professionals they’ve decided to trust. The last thing nervous parents need is unasked for “cure” or treatment suggestions from family and friends who have been surfing the Internet. Though we might decide differently, these choices are not ours to make.
It’s understandably difficult for the parents of a severely allergic child to trust that others, even loving family members, will watch over their child as carefully as they do. However, that trust can be earned by listening to their concerns, and following the guidelines they’ve put into place.
Photo credit: Leo Grubler