Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Managing Food Allergy Anxiety April 20, 2017

anxiety-2019928_1920 pixabay

 

According to a study out of the Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, children with food allergies are more likely to experience anxiety and depression than their non-allergic peers.  And, the more foods they are allergic to, the more likely they are to internalize those feelings of helplessness and vulnerability.

 

How does anxiety present itself in children?  What are the signs parents should look for?

Because children often lack the ability to identify the source of their stress and articulate their feelings clearly, anxiety tends to present in a number of different ways.  Some of these include:

  • stomach aches
  • headaches
  • clinging
  • avoidance: not wanting to go to events or school
  • changes in sleep and eating
  • tearfulness
  • daily persistent worries

 

Periods in a child’s development also make them more susceptible to anxious feelings; such as ages 7-10 when kids are old enough to understand serious health risks but are still too young to manage their fears efficiently.  Similarly, pre-adolescents (tweens ages 10-14) typically develop an awareness of germs, disasters and things that could possibly go wrong, making this age range primed for feelings of nervousness and worry.

 

What can parents do to help their children manage their anxiety?

  1. First and foremost, parents need to model calm. (More on that below…)
  2. When speaking about their food allergies, frame risk in a positive way.  For example, “reading ingredient labels, asking questions and carrying your epinephrine will help keep you safe;” “eating peanuts may make you feel sick;” “having regular cheese can make it hard for you to swallow and breathe…”.  DO NOT talk to kids about death, dying or their mortality.
  3. Give them words for their emotions so that they can express themselves and relieve some of that private, pent-up worry.
  4. Validate their feelings.  Anxiety about food allergies can spill over into more generalized anxiety.  Their fears and perspectives are real to them.
  5. Tell your child a story about a time you had anxiety.  And, if possible, maybe something you did to overcome it!
  6. Explain to your child that everyone experiences some level of anxiety.  It’s a normal part of being human.  But when it becomes overwhelming we need to talk about it to help let it go.
  7. Encourage your daughter or son to socialize with friends and family.  Being with others is a great distraction and reminds them of the support that surrounds them.
  8. Teach them skills to relieve stress, such as breathing techniques, getting out to exercise, or compartmentalizing the discussion of food allergy worries to 10 minutes a day and then moving on.  These are important techniques for life!
  9. Reassure your child that they are in good hands, both at home AND away, like at school, at grandma’s, etc.  Kids need to know they are secure and that those in charge know what they’re doing.
  10. Empower them!  Practice what to say to their friends, family, teachers, and restaurant staff about their food allergies.  Teach them what to do in case they suspect they’re having an allergic reaction.  Work together to read ingredient labels and manufacturing warnings.  Allow them to ask questions at the doctor’s office. The more capable they feel, the more in control they will be!

 

What about us?  

As food allergy parents, we – too – are familiar with the stress and anxiety related to the management and realities of food allergies.  It is as, OR MORE, important that we manage our own anxious feelings as parents so that we can be a model of calm and security for our kids.

 

Anxiety – in all forms – clouds good decision-making (it’s science!).  Keeping worries in check allows us to be more effective parents by approaching decisions and assessing situations with cautiousness and calm.

 

When adults feel out of control, they tend to overcompensate.  This primal need to protect our children kicks into overdrive, leaving parents spinning their wheels in a world they cannot sanitize or make safe enough.

 

Kids tend to absorb the perspective of their parents and they can become frightened if adults around them are very stressed or scared.  Therefore, it’s critical for parents to adopt a healthy attitude towards food, food allergies and the greater world to help their children manage their own food allergies.

 

What can we do to keep ourselves calm?

  1. Find support.  Connect with other food allergy parents or spend time with understanding friends.  Socializing reminds us that we’re not alone with our concerns.  Feel free to use Allergy Shmallergy’s Facebook page to post questions or connect with like-minded parents.
  2. Arm yourself with information.  Familiarize yourself with food labeling laws, causes and symptoms of a reaction, and your emergency action plan.  If you can, learn to cook!  In short, empower yourself!
  3. Adopt simple solutions for your food allergy hurdles.  Resist the pressure to be the perfect baker, for example, and focus on surrounding your child with LOVE.
  4. Trust in others who’ve shown understanding towards food allergies.  A lot of food allergy parents only feel their child is safe when he or she in in their total control.  It’s important to let go a little and let others help.  If you’re at a friend’s house, let the host find a safe snack  – you can still approve the ingredient list, but it will give you a window into their decision-making abilities.  Let your child’s teacher become his or her food allergy-ally while they’re at school.  Every child needs a village.  More importantly, every parent needs one too.
  5. Prepare and approach food-related situations with CAUTION without assuming CATASTROPHE.
  6. Get out and exercise.  Talk a nature walk.  Have a date night.  Be sure to find outlets and activities that bring you joy.

 

 

 

 

Take the Reins in the New Year: Food Allergy Goals and Resolutions January 4, 2017

Filed under: Holiday,Uncategorized — malawer @ 8:00 pm
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It’s a new year!  A time to look ahead and move ever forward with our lives.  And with the beginning of each new year comes hope and possibility.

 

We’re moving forward into this new year with food allergies, so let’s do it with intention.  Let’s set some goals to color our journey and enrich our lives!

 

Here are some of my personal food allergy resolutions this year:

 

– Continue to foster a strong sense of self in my son. Empower him to speak up and stand strong.

– Arm him with enough information to help him make good, sound decisions – even as he approaches those risky pre-teen and teenage years.

– Teach my son cooking skills and creative work-arounds.  Balance his love of adventurous eating with a sense of both ingredients and process used to create various cuisines.  Asian fare with a sesame seed allergy?  Yes!  Dairy-free baking?  Of course!

– Continue to advocate for food allergy families everywhere – to make life easier and less stressful for everyone, ourselves included.

– Move forward in helping at-risk families with food allergies.  Learn more about ways to improve the lives of low income families, food insecure families, as well as those affected by natural disaster or other extenuating circumstances.

-Focus on food allergy education in schools and the greater community as well as positive parenting for food allergic families.

 

What are your food allergy goals for this year?  Let us know what you have on your radar for the year ahead.

  • Traveling with food allergies
  • Recipes and party ideas
  • Advocacy efforts
  • Latest research and treatment options
  • Empowering your child
  • Food allergies at school

 

What do you want to learn more about?

 

Holiday Stress? 4 Tips for Celebrating with Less Than Supportive Family December 14, 2016

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I hear from so many readers this time of year who just need to vent.   Reports of disappointment and frustration frequently get voiced over extended family that isn’t supportive – or, in extreme cases, is totally defiant of – a family’s food allergy concerns.

 

These incidents often center around the holiday table – at a time of year when parent anxiety can be heightened and when all parents put extra pressure on themselves to make the holidays magical for their children.  Family gatherings are typically filled with unspoken expectations.  Which is why it can be doubly disappointing (and sometimes volatile) when things go wrong.

 

Here are a few tips and tricks to help you relax and have fun with your extended family and friends as you celebrate this season:

 

  1.  Educate:  Many adults did not grow up knowing a single person with food allergies.  What comes off as careless to those of us who live this reality, may simply be a matter of ignorance.  A little education may go a long way.  If you want to start that process before you arrive, suggest they watch the Discovery Channel documentary, “Emerging Epidemic: Food Allergies in America.”
  2. Distract and Enjoy:  Perhaps you have a history of issues surrounding meals with your food allergies. If you know your family and your food allergies will not mix, don’t forego the time spent together.  Maybe you can host or help cook the meal.  Maybe you skip the meal and instead all go ice skating or sledding or on the hunt for the best Christmas lights in town.  New traditions will forge new memories!
  3. Be Flexible:  When it comes to the meal, we know you cannot compromise on safety.  Nor should you.  But if you can compromise on other parts of your visit, that may help reduce stress for all.  Be flexible when you can.
  4. Focus on Family:  Just remember that family relationships are important.  Not just to you but to your children.  Try to strengthen that relationship by creating positive memories throughout the year.  Having strong family bonds will defuse the anxiety and expectations of the holidays.

 

For further information about how to navigate family dynamics, please read Food Allergies and Family: Disagreements Not Break-Ups.