Talking to Parents or Caregivers Who Don’t Understand Your Child’s Allergy

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The danger some children face having a peanut or other food allergy is one that many people do not realize unless it touches someone they are close to.

Though food allergy awareness is growing, it is human nature to focus on and care about issues that affect our self or those we love, whether it be diabetes, autism, or an allergy. Fortunately, nearly all parents and caregivers understand doing whatever it takes to keep the children they love safe.

When facing parents or caregivers who minimize the seriousness of your child’s food allergy, or resent their child, or the school having to accommodate it, understanding can be generated by touching on the parental instinct to love and protect the children in our care.

Most people, when they understand the threat an allergy poses to your child’s well-being will realize they would want the same protection for their children. This realization can melt the resistance of people who feel their right to eat what they want, where they want, is being trampled on.

However, some individuals may never understand, no matter how much you educate them or appeal to their heart. Unless they pose a threat to your child it is usually best to get on the high road, walk away, and maybe try again another day.

Five Suggestions for Creating Understanding

Our feelings let us know what is important to us. To communicate this to others requires our feelings be tempered by wisdom, and guided by the result we hope to achieve.

  1. Though rehearsing what we want to say puts a damper on communication spontaneity, in certain situations it can help to have practiced ahead of time what to say, and how to say it. Then, in the heat of any moment we can express concern for our child and provide just enough educational information about their allergy to make an effective statement.
  2. All human beings want to be heard and understood. Sometimes the best way to get others to hear us is to first make it clear we’ve heard them. This is not always easy when communicating with someone who seems disinterested or resentful, but it can be effective. So, you might resist the impulse to tell someone they are being small-minded and say something like, “I can understand why you think having peanut-free class treats is going overboard. It sounds like your experience with food allergies has been the appearance of a skin rash or hives. But, for some people, like my daughter, exposure to peanuts causes . . ." Or, you might say, “So, what you feel is that your son’s right to enjoy peanut butter is being infringed on by having no peanuts allowed at the school. I can understand that and realize this is an inconvenience for your family, but you see, my son’s life depends on avoiding even crumbs of peanut-laced foods.”
  3. When talking to people who disagree with you it is best to avoid using the word “you.” Saying things like, “You’re not hearing me,” or “How can you be so uncaring,” or “You are so selfish” will only cause the other person to become more defensive and argumentative. If the goal is to create awareness and understanding, now or at a future time, then the lines of communication need to remain unblocked by blame and rancor - no matter how justified rancor seems.
  4. Remember, most parents and caregivers understand the desire to protect their children from harm. It is our common emotional experience that allows people to have empathy for each other. Parents can relate to words such as, “I wouldn’t expect the classroom party to serve peanut free treats if my daughter’s life were not at stake. Just the tiniest amount of peanut causes her throat to swell shut, and then her life depends on getting an emergency shot of epinephrine. This is why I'm so concerned, I love her and want to protect her.”
  5. Simple and to the point is usually best. “The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.” ~ Joseph Priestley

Photo by Laurie Sullivan

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