When I was diagnosed with multiple severe food allergies as a teenager, I didn’t know anybody else like me. Times were different then. You could send a kid to school with a peanut butter sandwich without fear that a child nearby might have a severe reaction and require emergency care.
These days, awareness about allergies has vastly improved, but that doesn’t mean every parent of a child with a serious allergy automatically knows exactly how their child is feeling.
So as a mom with severe allergies, I’d like to offer other parents five things kids with food allergies wish their parents knew …
1. We don’t want to be the focus of your conversations.
As a mom, I often hear parents talking about their kid’s medical issues as if the child wasn’t even in the room. Parents assume that because they, themselves, are comfortable talking about it, that their child is okay with a conversation centered around their condition. But they might not be.
Of course, parents need to advocate for their kid’s health and safety. But if it’s a conversation you don’t need to have at that time, simply don’t. Just let the person know you’ll talk with them about it later, and change the subject.
Even better, ask your child how they’d like you to handle it. Simply say, “Sometimes other people are curious about your allergies. What would you like me to say when they ask?”
Offer a range of possibilities, but state that you will always need to make sure they are safe. Beyond that, your child can and should dictate how much you talk about them.
2. We don’t want to have food placed in front of us that we cannot eat.
When I was first diagnosed, my very well-intentioned mother bought me a regular ice cream cake for my birthday so I could blow out some candles. Back then, access to allergen-free food was extremely limited, and there were no cake mixes or cupcakes we could buy that were safe. She did the best she could, but I remember crying over being able to see and smell the cake, but not eat it.
Empower your child to decide for themselves how to solve a problem related to their allergy. If something isn’t available for them, ask what a good substitute might be, or how they would like to see the challenge resolved. Just please don’t put tempting foods in front of them and ask them to resist.
3. Emphasize your child’s abilities over their disabilities.
No doubt about it, some severe allergies can be disabling. But your child needs you to see past your fears and concerns so you can truly appreciate the child standing in front of you. This doesn’t mean pretending your kid isn’t allergic, but it means keeping conversations (both with your kids and with others) focused around what your child has accomplished.
When people ask how your child is, mention how hard he’s working in his gymnastics class, or that she just earned a new belt in karate. Talk about what good friends your kid has, or how she’s learning multiplication in school.
Praise your children regularly for being so awesome at all the things they work hard at, and make sure they know that you see them for who they really are. The allergies make them unique, but their accomplishments and personality are what make them special.
4. Don’t make your child relive trauma.
Parents of kids with food allergies have often had their fair share of scary situations: you know what it’s like to watch your child struggle to breathe or to rush them to the emergency room for dehydration.
But our kids are not the people with whom we should process our trauma. There are great support groups both online and off for parents who need to talk, and of course you can rely upon your own therapist or group of friends, too.
Your child may need some emotional support for the scary experiences they’ve had, and they need you to be the strong one with warm arms and an ear to listen. But if your kid thinks you’re too upset to talk about it or that the conversation is going to become about your experiences instead of their feelings, they might just keep it locked inside.
5. Have treats at the ready.
You probably already know this, but no kid wants to sit by and watch others enjoy a treat they can’t have. Prep your kid’s teacher with a box of sweet treats and salty snacks that are allergy-friendly. Ask the teacher to offer your child their special treat in a low-key way so your kid doesn’t feel like the odd one out.
And as often as possible, try to give your child a similar treat when you know special occasions are happening. Send an email to parents in your child’s class asking for a heads up before birthdays so you can plan accordingly. A special cupcake at a child’s birthday party or a yummy assortment of candies that are allergy-friendly during Halloween can not only help keep your child safe, but also make them feel like part of the gang.