Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Identifying and Recognizing Emotions May 2, 2017

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As parents, we’re reliant on our children to express themselves.  And as food allergy parents, knowing how they feel is our best barometer for understanding how our kids are handling their food allergies, what’s going on around them vis-a-vis food and friends and what’s on their mind.  And, in order to do that, kids must first be able to recognize and identify those emotions.

 

But how (and when) do we begin?

There’s no such thing as too young to start this conversation.  Whether your kids are 2 or 22, getting in touch with how you’re feeling at a given moment can clarify almost any situation, reduce stress and make way for better decision-making.

 

Here are a few ways to get started:

1.  Puts Words to Feelings:  Let your children know that their emotions have names.  Point out those feelings as you see them.  “It looks like doing art makes you feel calm;” “When your brother takes your toys without asking, that makes you angry;” “Wow, you are really excited about going to the zoo today!”

 

2.  I Second that Emotion:  My own daughter (now 4) gets upset and will say, “I am feeling so mad right now!”  This leads me to a second point: validate their feelings.  Praise your children when they express themselves verbally.  When my daughter tells me she’s mad I usually respond by saying, “I’m sorry you’re mad about something.  BUT, I’m really proud of you for letting me know how you’re feeling.”  This lets her know that being mad is okay.  And, it encourages her to keep talking to me about her emotions.

 

3.  Read, Discuss, Repeat:  Books are great tools for learning and describing emotions as well as helping your child identify the feelings of others.  Some great books to start with are:

Today I Feel Silly, by Jamie Lee Curtis

In My Heart: A Book of Feelings, by Jo Witek

The Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings, by Anna Llenas

The Way I Feel, by Janan Cain

 

But you don’t need a special book to talk about emotions.  Even when reading a child’s favorite, you can help him/her explore and identify how the characters are feeling.  Ask them, “How do you think Madeline felt when she fell from the bridge?”  “Is Trixie happy when she realizes she lost her lovey?” “What is Harry thinking and feeling when he’s living at the Dursley’s?” “How would you feel if you were a firefighter headed to a fire?”  With older kids, you can even pause a movie or TV show and chat about what a character might be experiencing psychologically.

 

4.  Touch Base:  Don’t ignore opportunities to check in with your child about their food allergies.  Parents often need to walk a fine line between acknowledging the pain, exclusion and frustration and keeping things *positive*.  We are quick to brush aside things that cause our kids pain and sadness and paint it over with positivity and sunshine.  But we need to recognize and call out those negative emotions too – because regardless of our rose-colored glasses, our kids are likely experiencing all of the emotions (good and bad) that come along with food allergies.

 

Recently, when my 12 year old son and I learned that his number one favorite treat, Krispy Kreme doughnuts would no longer be safe for him, we stopped to talk about it.  He acknowledged how insanely frustrated he felt and how disappointing this news was.  He felt depressed and disheartened – not over a doughnut exactly but rather over another example of food options that more-often-than-not shrink and exclude him.  After mockingly shaking our fists in rage and putting a name on everything he was feeling, my son was able to move on emotionally and focus on other special desserts he could look forward to.

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Thank You For Being a Friend – The Need for Food Allergy Education in Elementary School April 29, 2015

So we had a food allergy incident a couple of months ago.

There was a whole walnut rolling around the hall in my son’s school.  This, I can assure you, is a real anomaly.  So much so, that the kids didn’t know what it was. Having rolled underfoot, one of my son’s classmates bent down to inspect it.  “Hey!” he yelled to my tree nut allergic son, “come over here.  Is this a walnut?”

Feeling a little nervous, my son backed away about to explain that he, of all people, is not qualified to be a nut inspector when his friend, a food allergic girl in his class, stepped in to remind everyone that my son has an allergy to tree nuts.

The kids began to file into the classroom and somehow the nut followed them.  My son’s deskmate grabbed the walnut and teased him with it, waving the walnut close to his face saying, “Ooooo….a walnut.”  My son began to speak up, as practiced, when the same girl started yelling, “Are you crazy?!  He’s ALLERGIC to nuts!  He could go to the hospital!”

My son wasn’t harmed.  But he WAS upset when I picked him up from the bus.

“Mom,” he said.  “I know I seem really tough… Like my feelings are as thick as a wall. But inside, they’re like this [holding his palms facing one another, nearly touching]… they can be as thin as paper.”

We talked it through thoroughly: we discussed what he was feeling, things he would have liked to say, how thankful he was for a good friend like that awesome girl.  And, he was sure his classmates acted out of misunderstanding or miseducation rather than malice. The head of the school spoke to his grade and I came into his classroom to teach the kids about food allergies.  Both boys apologized to my son, explaining they had no idea about the severity of possible reactions.  Their regret was evident as was their interest in food allergy education (which I will discuss in a separate post).

This incident was innocent.  The first boy was curious.  The second was teasing, but truly didn’t understand the possible consequences of his actions.  In fact, he thought my son would join in the joke.  They were friends.  They’re all still friends.

I went into their class the following week and spoke about food allergies in general.  The students were attentive and engaged.  They had intelligent questions.  They were amazed at and very sympathetic about how complicated their food allergic classmates’ lives could be.  Interestingly, I think this incident brought my son and his classmates closer together.

While this is an example of a lack of education with no physical harm, it would have been very easy to imagine a similar case with a different outcome.  As my husband rightly pointed out, “Kids WANT to do the right thing.  Kind WANT to be supportive.  Sometimes they don’t have enough facts to know how to do so.”  Statistically, there are two kids in every classroom with food allergies.  We need to teach our kids the facts about this condition, so they can act appropriately.  And we need to teach all of our kids not only how to support their friends with food allergies, but how to support and look after each other in general.

— If your school (like ours) doesn’t include food allergy education in their health curriculum, volunteer your time to do it yourself.  I’ll post my 4th grade lesson plan shortly. Feel free to contact me should you need more information. —