Alicia Woodward: Hi! I am Alicia Woodward, Editor of Living Without, the world's leading magazine for people with food allergies and sensitivities. Today I would like to talk about children and the emotional aspects of having food allergies. Youngsters typically experience a range of emotions associated with their allergy; fear, sadness, anger, a sense of loneliness and feeling different. But the two primary feelings are fear, which can lead to unhealthy anxiety, and sadness, which can lead to depression. A number of factors can heighten or diminish these emotional experiences. First, temperament; a child who is timid or anxious by nature is inherently more at risk and will need more coaching and reassuring to ward off anxiety. A child who is not naturally apprehensive may need parents to instill a sense of caution to ensure safety.
Second, experience with allergic reaction; a child who has lived through full-blown anaphylaxis is more likely to become anxious about his allergy. Third, age or developmental stage; parents often feel a need to accelerate a young child's maturity due to the life-threatening potential of their condition. Sharing too much information with a preschooler about her allergy will provoke unnecessary anxiety. Parents should frame the allergy in age appropriate ways, educating in the fundamentals of safety during early years and gradually allowing more responsibility as the child matures. Finally, parental attitude; parents should strive to know themselves and their own emotions in order to keep from passing negative feelings onto their child. Are you apologetic rather than matter of fact when explaining your child's allergy? Are you panicked rather than competent when your child's classroom has a party?
Children are always watching us for clues on how to act. If you are shaking inside, try to keep a calm exterior. Give your child the opportunity to accept their food allergies without apologies, without feelings of inferiority, and especially without fear. If parents model sensible caution, balanced with healthy confidence, then their child is apt to follow suit.