Food allergies can be rough on children and their families. Children, especially if they are older, may feel depressed or angry about having foods taken away from them. Younger children may feel frustrated about not being able to eat the things their friends are eating, and may not fully understand why they have been put on special diets.
Parents and family members of children with food allergies deal with a full range of emotions, as well. They often feel worried about how their child will feel and be accepted by others. Some feel sad or guilty about taking foods, especially those the child enjoys, away. Others experience varying degrees of stress or anxiety. If you have a child with a food allergy, consider these tips to help your child and other family members cope with some of the challenges:
• Education is the key. Sit down with family members, teachers, friends, coaches and other people important in your child’s life. Explain the allergy and why it is so important that your child stay away from his or her suspected allergens.
• Be an advocate for your child at school, church, sports or any activity they may be involved in.
• Join a support group, online forum or talk with someone going through the same situation.
• Seek out reliable resources such as apfed.org, foodallergy.org and kidswithfoodallergies.org.
• If your child is on a “formula only” diet, make the formula as cold as possible to minimize its strong odor and taste. Consider making it a smoothie with ice in the blender.
• Change family outings to things that are not food- related. Consider arts and crafts, hiking, swimming, music and games.
• When preparing meals for the rest of your family, try to stay away from making your child’s favorite dishes that contain his or her allergens.
• Remove, from the house, treats and snacks that contain your child’s allergens so that they are not reminded of them. Encourage siblings and family members not to eat foods containing the allergens as well – at least not in front of your child.
• Children with extreme allergies may have all foods removed from their diets and may struggle with the idea of celebrating their birthdays without cake. Make the child a “cake” out of something that isn’t edible. This way they can still blow out the candles. Encourage your child’s siblings to select birthday party themes and the like that do not center around food.
The most important thing a family can do to help a child with food allergies is to stay united and supportive. By being careful about what is eaten in front of the child and changing the way the entire family relates to food—as nutrition, instead of a means of celebration or emotional support—life with allergies will be a little easier for both your child and the family.