With ‘back to school’ fast approaching, parents of children with food allergies might be getting a little bit anxious about how their kids will fare on their own – this is particularly true for kids who are just about to start prep. Beth from Little Fusspot breaks down what it actually means to have a food allergy, and how to manage it.
There may be no phrase more dreaded in modern parenting than “my child has a food allergy”. What does that mean? Does it mean if Lawrence gets a whiff of peanuts he will be going into a life-threatening anaphylactic shock?
Not all food allergies are created equal
Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that not all food allergies or food sensitivities are created equal. While Lawrence may, indeed, have a life-threatening reaction to the scent of peanuts, it’s also possible that he may only have a mild stomach upset when eating peanuts.
Therefore, it’s vital that before you begin managing a child’s allergies, you keep things in perspective. If you properly understand the risks, you will not pass on unnecessary worries to your child while you try to help them with their condition.
Educate your child, don’t make them panic
Once you have your understanding of their allergy, you can begin to talk to your child about the allergy they have and what they should do about it. It is essential that you communicate what your child needs to know without inducing them into a sense of panic.
Keep things simple. Talk about the food, what it might do to them, how to avoid eating that food and what they should do if they consume the food by accident.
Don’t be afraid to conduct some practical exercises here. You do not need to expose your child to any substance they are allergic to as part of this process. You can use imaginary ingredients (a bit of play acting is always fun).
The objective is to see that your child understands what they have learned and that he or she can make real use of it in the world at large. Praise their successes and don’t scold them for mistakes. Instead, walk them through the process again until they are confident with it.
You probably don’t enjoy being scolded when you make a mistake at work, so, make sure that you give your child the support they need to achieve their learning.
If you handle this right, your child will not develop any aversions to foods. Parents who are overly anxious in communicating allergies and the procedures necessary have been known to cause “neophobia” (a fear of new foods) in their child.
Don’t be afraid to get professional help if you are not confident that you can teach your kids about their allergies.
If allergies get complicated
Some children aren’t just allergic to a single food product. They are allergic to a host of different foods. This can be confusing for both the child and parents alike.
If you suspect your child has issues across a spectrum of food products, don’t be afraid to employ a team of professional health workers to get to the bottom of things. You may need an immunologist, a psychologist, an occupational/feeding therapist, a dietician and/or a combination of all of them to work out what’s going on.
This is normal. Diet is complicated. In fact, in many cases, diet isn’t completely understood by the medical profession. It takes a bunch of tests and explorative work to try and produce answers, and sometimes those answers aren’t definitive.
And if the answers aren’t definitive, that’s OK. You can only do the best you can do (as can your child’s health professionals). The important thing is to get as much information as possible to make the most informed decisions. Your child’s health will be better for it.
Child advocates need support, too.
As the advocate for your child’s health, you need to stay focused, calm and in good health. No one is going to fight for your child the way you do. If you are feeling overwhelmed when it comes to treating your child’s food allergies, then make sure you seek support for yourself, too.
For more from Beth, head to www.littlefusspot.com.