Our job as parents is to protect our children, but our goal is to raise a responsible adult. When a child has a serious health issue, it's natural that we hold on a little tighter and often for a little longer. When the stakes are very high, as they are with life threatening food allergies and asthma, we do not have the luxury of allowing our children to "learn a lesson" with the wrong food or missing medication. Yet, if we continue to assume the majority of responsibility for our children's medical condition as they grow up, they will stay dependent on us and ultimately come to resent us. Worse yet, they can become angry and rebellious in their teen years, a particularly vulnerable time for those with food allergies.
The good news is that there are things that we can do to help our children learn to care for themselves physically and emotionally.
Be a "Good Enough" Mom
Some allergy moms really go above and beyond to make sure that their child is safe and included. These "super moms" who work extra hard at smoothing over the bumps for their child (ah, that would be me), often have kids who are entitled and angry over their allergies. No matter how many cartwheels they (I) turn, it's not enough to make the kid happy. Alternatively, it's often the moms who do a "good enough" job but aren't going overboard who have the kids who seem to be thriving.
These "good enough" moms don't think it's the end-of-the-world that their kids can't have a piece of birthday cake, because they know that their kids can deal with it. And the kids do!
Don't Be Sorry
It's hard to see our kids in any kind of pain. I remember when my son was in preschool. One of the moms forgot to tell me that she was bringing a birthday treat for the class. I peeked in to the classroom and saw 15 kids laughing and eating cupcakes piled high with icing and sprinkles and my son looked so sad eating his wheat-free pretzels.
After that incident, I went overboard to prevent anything like that from ever happening again. But it didn't work. Because the truth is that my son has multiple food allergies and there are going to be multiple occasions every week of his life where he will not be able to eat what someone else is eating. And I've seen time after time that the more I take things in stride and act like he can handle things, the more he does.
Teach Them to be Mr. and Miss Fix it
There are creative solutions to every problem, so encourage your child to do her own problem solving. If she's invited to a birthday party and won't be able to eat the pizza or cake, ask her how she'd like to handle it. You can offer suggestions if needed: eat lunch before you go, bring a different lunch, say "No thank you" to cake or lunch etc. The key is to put some of the power into the child's hands. You may be surprised that she comes up with some clever ideas than you could have.
Tell Them Nothing But the Truth
Tell your child the age appropriate truth about food allergies. While I personally would not go into the life-threatening aspect of food allergies with a preschooler, my son did ask me about this when he was in kindergarten. I told him what he already knew -- that a child could die from food allergies. I explained that this can also happen from car accidents, or poisonings or lightning strikes and that all of these accidents were very, very rare. He seemed reassured by this and I think it was helpful to put it into perspective for him.
Remember That They're Kids First
Our food allergic children, like all children with special medical needs, do need more protection and advocacy from their parents than the average child. However, when we over-care and overprotect, our child gets the message that they are incapable of caring for themselves. When we model good self care and encourage our child to care for himself and solve problems, we give him the message that he is capable and responsible for himself and soon enough, he will be.
Published On: June 19, 2009