Strategies for children with food allergies.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Is your child anxious about the food they eat?  Does your child have food allergies? Has your child has had an anaphylactic reaction before?

I have read recently about parents being concerned about their children’s fears and their child’s growing anxieties about food.  This article looks at how to support your child during these periods.  

Anxiety can appear at any age. Anxiety can be acute or chronic.  Anxiety can be momentary or last for a long period of time.  If your child is experiencing anxiety that prevents them from taking part in their usual routine. Or if the anxiety is ongoing and consumes their thoughts and they will not or cannot listen to you (when you try to calm their anxiety) then it may be time to see a professional.  

For acute or once in a while anxiety you could try some of the methods outlined below.

Realise that the fear is real for them.  They may have experienced an anaphylactic reaction before.  They may have noticed your reaction when you have seen them touch or eat an ‘unsafe’ food and this sticks with them.  

Fear for children with an allergy is a good thing. A ‘healthy’ fear may protect them and also helps them to be cautious. 

The key is that the feeling of fear which can lead to anxiety doesn’t control them.  They should be able to take part in activities and want to do things with their friends.    

Most children when feeling anxious will respond to acknowledgement of their feelings.  

The fear or anxiety is real for them and they need to have this feeling for them to be safe.  It is not helpful to say to them - “it’s ok, just eat it. I’ve checked it’s ok”, “that’s silly - you know you can eat that - just stop it, stop thinking about it and just eat”, just get over it. Don’t even think about it”. 

Acknowledge their fear. 
The more you are able to talk about their feeling, the closer you may get to understanding the real reason behind their fear.  
If this is the ninth time your child is raising the same thing then it may be because they haven’t had their feelings acknowledged.  Or the real issue still hasn’t been discovered or properly resolved. It isn’t always convenient to have a chat about the fear but then simply agree, don’t argue - try to come to a compromise that suits at the time.  So if your child has a fear or anxiety reaction you may want to just let them know you have noticed.  ‘I see/hear that you are afraid to eat that.’ ‘I know you are being careful and that is good.’

Always try to give options. Even with younger children, give a choice so they feel in control of the situation.  ‘Would you prefer to go home? Or …..’ This helps them to problem solve and be more resilient. 

My 13 year old, before going out the other night to a friend’s house, said to me “I’m really nervous, I don’t want to eat anything ‘bad’ at the barbecue, I don’t know I’m just scared that I will have chicken (his allergic to) or something.”  
This chat started to scare me! He hasn’t ever raised this sort of thing before so strongly. And I could have said “Oh well just don’t go then, stay home (where you’re safe), Oh don’t be stupid, you’ve been to his house before” -  but I remained calm.  I checked with him, You have your epipen (he hasn’t had to use it and he is afraid of needles) I will give you some Anitihistamine to take with you as well, if you are having the start of a reaction drink the whole bottle, (it is a 20ml bottle). You have your phone you can phone me if you think you’ve eaten something that is starting to give you a reaction it isn’t far for me to come and get you.  Then I added after giving him his bag, “You have been to this boy’s house before and eaten there”.  He replied “yes, but that was just for pizza now it’s meat”.  I said “that’s okay if there is meat there will probably be rolls so you can just have a roll and salad or a plain roll”. 

By giving options your child learns they have control of what they eat. Even if it’s limited.  I also said to him “Would you like to take something safe from home that you can eat instead?” The more your child feels in control of what they can eat, the more self confident they will be. It is not helpful to let them have a  pity party every time they haven’t been catered for. Sure acknowledge that it doesn’t feel great but remind them that there is food at home. 

My son was just fine when I picked him up 3 hours later.  He was so excited and explained all the food he ate and that it was good.

Kids with allergies need to trust their instincts.  It is unhelpful to fob them off and tell them their feelings are unjustified. They need to believe in themselves and be resilient. Try to build up their self esteem by listening to them and acknowledging their feelings or fears.  

My son has mentioned to me before that sometimes if food is put in front of him and he doesn’t know if it is safe or not he can sometimes feel his throat itching just by smelling it.  I told him to trust that.

I have also found it useful to take my teenage son out to eat.  He is afraid of asian food due to his ANA reaction if he eats cashews and pistachios, I took him out once and he just kept saying ‘what if they put it in the dish’.  I showed him some safe options and types of things he can order on the menu.  I got him to order them and he clearly said to them ‘make sure there is no nuts or chicken in the dish as I am allergic’. 

Kids with food allergies need to be confident.  They build up confidence when they are taken seriously and believed. There is no reason for a child with food allergies to be ashamed.  We are responsible for them while they are young but we need to give them the skills to be responsible for themselves too.  My son doesn’t feel left out or singled out but he has had to learn to speak up for himself and say I really can’t have that ‘……’

If you have a specific question related to your child’s anxieties and food allergies or you want to find out more strategies to build their self confidence please email me. 

I would like to know what has helped your child with their food anxieties. Leave your comments below. 

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