All parents must find a balance between keeping children safe, and supporting their increasing independence.
For the parents of kids with food allergies, finding this balance can be especially challenging.
It’s hard to let our children spread their wings knowing they might come in contact with a potentially dangerous food allergen. Yet, limiting our child’s experiences to avoid our own discomfort not only diminishes the child’s quality of life, it may make him or her more fearful as well.
To help alleviate parents’ fears Gina Clowes, a certified life coach specializing in the needs of families living with food allergies, offers these seven insights:
- Before saying no to an activity your child wants to participate in, do some creative thinking about it. There might be a way for your child to participate safely.
- Parental anxiety can naturally increase when food allergic kids go on class field trips or attend sleepovers—even if they’ve done it safely before. It helps to remember that feelings are not facts. Just because we feel scared for our child does not mean he or she is in danger. We can tolerate anxiety without giving into fearful imaginings.
- Parents who are extremely apprehensive about their child’s safety can start taming anxiety by taking small steps. For example, instead of trying to be okay with your child attending a sleepover, start by letting him spend an hour or two at their friend’s house. Instead of trusting a babysitter to come for the evening, start by having a trusted friend stay with your child for half an hour while you go for a walk.
- If a child does experience a severe food reaction parental anxiety is usually heightened for some time afterward—and the best antidote for high anxiety is action. All the safety procedures you had in place - a reaction plan, caregiver education, available auto-injectors - made a positive difference for your child. However, if something did not go well, such as a delay in epinephrine being administered, now is the time to reeducate caregivers, or revamp your child’s 504 plan.
- All or nothing precautions can be stifling for the whole family. Though never eating at restaurants, or never going to a relative’s house for Thanksgiving may feel safe, everyone will be happier by finding some middle ground. Maybe there’s one aunt or cousin who would be more than willing to accommodate your child’s needs at Thanksgiving, and there’s likely a couple restaurants nearby that can provide your family a safe dining experience.
- Though many of us subconsciously believe worrying about someone makes them safer, it doesn’t—it just generates needless stress. So, when frightening scenarios enter your mind, practice replacing them with thoughts of how much growth and enjoyment your child experiences when hanging-out with friends.
- Regularly remind yourself, and your food allergic child that life-threatening food reactions are not an everyday occurrence. They are unpredictable, and scary when they happen, but they are rare.
Everyone lives with uncertainty, but living with a food allergy can heighten our awareness of life’s uncertainties, and this provokes anxiety. The challenge is to not allow that anxiety to limit our lives unnecessarily.