Dealing with the Emotional Impact of Food Allergies!


The first birthday party I attended with Arjun was when he was less than 2 years old. I was just not prepared for the heart-wrenching moment when he was the only one in the room who could not eat either the slice of pizza or the cake. Tears flowed down my cheeks unbidden and I ran out into the play area with my son lest the hosts mistook my tears as those of someone who could not share in their joy. That day, I made a bizzare vow to myself – ‘I would never partake of a birthday cake till my little one could eat it too.’ A tad dramatic?!? Yes, but I am willing to bet that most moms of food-allergic kids have done similar things. However, my son has way too many food allergies so, it was impossible for a foodie like me to stop eating everything 😀

 That’s when I consciously started working on myself and the way I talked to my son about food allergies to ensure that he is an emotionally well-adjusted child despite his food allergies. Here is a link to an informative article I read about the emotional impact of food allergy on children – http://www.foodallergy.org/page/survey-reveals-emotional-impact-of-food-allergy-on-children.

 He is just 6 years now and seems to accept the restrictions imposed by food allergies as a way of life rather than an impediment.  I don’t know how he will turn out to be in the long-term but as of now he just wishes that he was allergic to peas because he dislikes them with a vengeance 😉 Sharing some of my thoughts on helping our children accept their food allergies gracefully (some pointers may be inapplicable for those with severe air-borne food allergies.): 

1. Food is not ‘that’ important: So counter-intuitive coming from someone whose life is all about food. However, my motto is ‘enjoying what we can eat is more important than fretting or making a big deal about what we can’t eat’. I am a vegetarian by choice and I could not care less how much the person next to me is enjoying his succulent piece of steak.  This is the spirit in which I have talked to my little one from the day he could understand.  As a result – very rarely have I had to deal with a situation where my little one feels deprived because he can’t partake of the food on the table.  He has understood that food is not such a big deal but being safe is.

2. Yoohoo Parents – ‘train your mind and heart’: Children are very resilient and accept and appreciate boundaries effortlessly.  It is we adults who feel the extreme pain of seeing our child denied the greasy slice of unhealthy pizza, the insanely high sugar and bad fat content of a slice of birthday cake and more. At the risk of sounding like a shrink – consciously talk to yourself and pull yourself back from feeling sad. Our children will not feel bad if we don’t feel bad because they don’t know any better.  

3. Focus on activity instead of food:  When I am caught in a bad social situation, I try to refocus my son’s energies on a non-food activity.  

4. Don’t hesitate to state your child’s needs: By nature – I feel guilty demanding anything of my host even if it is a close family member or friend. For years, I would expect them to understand on their own and have something that was AF (Allergy Friendly) for my son. Hullo – how are they supposed to know if I don’t tell them?!? As a result, often there would be nothing for my son to eat at social gatherings and I would come back feeling miserable.  That is – until I gathered the courage to ask my host beforehand if there would be anything Arjun Friendly at the party. Since then I have seen most people make minor adjustments to the menu so that at least a couple of dishes are safe.

5. Don’t deny yourself all the treats: I have seen that denying ourselves causes damage at multiple levels:

  • It gives undue importance to that food item and makes kids unnecessarily curious.
  • Kids begin to wonder if something is wrong with their family and that’s why they dont eat the food other children talk about in school.
  • This is uncalled for sacrifice on our part and serves no real purpose except making ourselves feel deprived and our kids feel guilty once they start understanding.
  • Most importantly, our kids will be that much more empowered if they grow in a normal environment and still know to keep safe. How can they keep away from an allergenic food if they don’t even know how it looks?!?

6. Keep repeating to your child: Remind your child every day in a gentle conversational manner. Encourage them to cross-question even you. I cannot tell you the number of times my son has helped himself by insisting that I read the ingredient listing.

7. Don’t fuss too much: Keeping our kids safe is of paramount importance. However, paranoia does not help!!!

  • I believe that it makes our kids get increasingly annoyed and embarassed. That may lead them to do things we don’t want them to – like experimenting with new foods when we are not there.
  • It also annoys everyone around us – teachers, friends and family. No one wants our kids to suffer and they just need a reminder rather than an over-zealous parent.  My mantra – ‘others are more likely to empathize and be helpful if we don’t annoy them.’
  • Also, it is better to make our kids self-reliant rather than depend on society to keep them safe. That does not mean that we don’t support efforts to have better laws in place to keep our kids safe.

8. Make alternative foods fun: This is where I would immodestly admit that I have succeeded immensely 😀 I love cooking and one of mommy and son’s fav things to do is to cuddle up and watch Food TV and figure out ways of making featured dishes Arjun and Allergy Friendly! Whether it is a buttery Paula Deen dish or our loved Giada’s recipe 😉

9. Don’t isolate your child:

  • Makes them a target for bullying.
  • Makes kids feel that there is something seriously ‘wrong’ and ‘different’ about them.
  • Impedes them from learning to keep themselves safe in all situations. Empower them with training and information and then trust your kids.
  • People around us learn to accept food allergies more naturally if we are one of the general populace.

10. Be a part of social activities involving your child: I have been an active part of all food and non-food celebrations surrounding my little one in school, little league and more. It has helped me:

  • Ensure that there are allergy friendly treats for my little one too even if it means that I have to bake a batch of cookies.
  • Gives me the opportunity to socialize with teachers and other parents because we need their support to keep our kids safe.

11. Accept that some wont ‘get it’: Despite the obvious seriousness of food allergies some people just DON’T GET IT 😦 I have had doctor friends – pediatricians at that, complain that they cannot send a PBJ in the lunch box because the school prohibits it. We cannot do anything about them so instead of letting some random people get to you – just learn to ignore them!

12.   Accept that some don’t want to take the risk: Even if they are close to you. Appreciate that and let it go. Don’t brood over it because our negative reaction reflects on how our kids view their food allergies.

13. Don’t lie to your kid: That’s me! I just don’t want to lie about anything when it comes to food allergies – like giving false hope that their peanut allergy will definitely go away. Yes, there might be a medical breakthrough but as of today it would be a lie.

14. Celebrate Life and Food in an Allergy Friendly way:  I want my son to grow up believing that he can have the best and funnest parties even though the cheese sticks, pizzas, nutty desserts etc. are not there! We celebrate almost every kiddie occasion with lots of other children over – Halloween, Birthday, Easter and no-reason at all parties! And, yes his friends know that Arjun’s mom organizes the most interesting parties. In fact, they eagerly look forward to the Allergy Friendly treats – a break from the usual 🙂

Food allergies has unwittingly become a part of our lives but don’t brood about it. If we emanate postive energy, our kids will view their food allergies in a far more healthy manner…

Best wishes for a safe Holiday Season 🙂

 

17 thoughts on “Dealing with the Emotional Impact of Food Allergies!

  1. Applause…applause! I have to say that was very well written and to the point! Food is such a central part of living especially when you are faced with multiple food allergies. I have tried to teach my children that as important as food is … sometimes it needs to take a back seat. Birthday parties, going to the movies, play dates, etc…I try to teach my boys to enjoy the activity, their friends,family…that is the main focus…not the food. It’s not always about the food. We are not visiting our friends or family or going to the movies for the food…rather we go for the experieince. Susan H. @ the food allergy chronicles

    1. Thank you so much Susan. You words just bless my soul and motivate me so much 🙂
      I so agree with you – somehow we have become a society that celebrates everything with unhealthy foods. Hopefully we food allergy moms will pioneer a new activity-oriented social order 🙂
      I was going through your chronicles yesterday and the donuts look amazing. Am planning to go through it in leisure again and try it out.

  2. I use all purpose flour in my doughnuts…if you check out the edible perspective, Ashley’s original recipe for the Triple Doughnuts are gluten free. She has other varieties as well you may be interested in. With a teenage sons it is hard to keep some of the ‘junk food’ from them,,,potatoe chips are their weakness on the weekends. I try to substitute with air popped popcorn sprayed with canola oil and sea salt…my personal favourite and weakness on the weekends! Considering they eat relatively healthy the rest of the time and I know most kids don’t…I try not to get too upset about it…life’s little indulgences are good in moderation! Thank you for continuing to check out my blog…susan H @ the food allergy chronicles

  3. I followed my son’s diet restrictions (then wheat, egg, dairy, soy and nut) for almost 2 years while I was nursing him. It was difficult, but I think it gave me a lot of empathy. He’s 9 now. It’s tricky to know when to eat something he can’t have in front of him and when that would be rude. I just started a blog and wrote about that experience the other day: http://dairyfreediner.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/anger-and-pizza/
    It’s a process for sure!

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      I sooo agree with the ‘trickiness of when to eat’. Such moments become tougher when we give our kids some hard to find Allergy Friendly snacks and other kids want it too. On one hand, they would be the last few cookies with me and on the other was the prospect of saying ‘No’ to a child. Thanks for sharing the link to your blog – will definitely read more of it!

    1. Hi Stacie – apologize for the delay in responding. That is such an awesome question. I am going to make it one of my blog posts this week.

  4. Thank you for this. My daughter is also six and we have gone through the similar emotions and experiences. We’re raising her to know that food restrictions don’t have to control her life and hoping she’ll grow up happy and confident despite the allergies. I love your emphasis on modeling behavior that will teach kids to be independent yet included.

    1. Thank you Lisa. Honestly – I can only hope that they will be able to accept never being able to eat a few things as ‘no big deal’. However, I do have faith that our little ones will grow up to be empathetic, confident and self-reliant adults!
      Best wishes 🙂

  5. Great advice, although I do not expect party hosts to go out of their way to make sure my child has safe snacks. It would be nice if they would offer, but I think it’s a bit rude to request. Instead, I always ask if I can provide the alternative myself.

    1. Thank you Julie. I do agree with you about social situtations – it does sound rude making a request. However this is how I reasoned it out:
      1. We do make adjustments to accomadate diabetes, heart problems and more. Food allergies is no different and in fact far more serious.
      2. Most people who have us over are family and friends who do want to make us feel welcome and food is a big part of that. They just dont know how when it comes to food allergies. Us telling them makes it easier for them.
      3. I do believe that food allergies aid in developing an empathetic social culture where we help each other to make the world a better place to live in.
      Of course – this approach is not appropriate at all times. More relevant to small social gatherings in the immediate social circle. However, near strangers have taken me by surprise by asking me of their own accord as to how they can accomadate my son.

  6. I loved reading your article and I had a similar experience. I but in my case, my son started to have an allergic reaction and I had to swoop him right out of the party(He is only 2). I worry about how it will be as he gets older, and I try to do things that will make him feel more “normal”. I generally bring to parties a cake alternative. For my son’s birthday, I made allergy friendly cake pops. I actually made a lot of them, and froze some of them so that I could thaw them as needed for future parties throughout the year. The best part about making it into a cake pop was that my party guests did not know that the cake pops were dairy, soy, nut, egg, and gluten free. They loved them and it was only after I told them about what I had done that they knew they were different from the other set I had made. Thank you for your blog. It is always helpful to hear stories from other mommies that have been through the process of adjusting to a life with food allergies.

    1. Thank you Kim for reminding me of how I handled my son’s allergies when he was younger. I had completely forgotten that I wowuld do the same – make an Allergy Friendly cake or snack and carry it with me. As it is, very young kids don’t really enjoy party food.
      The cake pop idea sounds awesome – would you consider writing a guest post with the recipe of cake pops? I am sure it will help a lot of moms to present a fun and cool looking cake which is also Allergy Friednly.

  7. Anu – We met last week at a birthday party. Checked out your blog over the week-end. Very well written. Good strategies and approach.
    -Rujuta

  8. Hi Rujuta,
    Yes – I do remember meeting over the previous weekend 🙂 Thank you for visiting Allergy Foodie. Glad you liked it.
    -Anu

  9. My son was diagnosed last year at age 11. The day HE decided to eliminate these goods from his diet, I told him I would join him on this journey. It is so much easier to say “we” cannot have that food than for me to say “he” cannot have that food. It’s a form of support and my son appreciates it so much that I almost never “cheat” on this diet. And he has never knowingly consumed foods that give him reactions. I think going on the diet with him has made all the difference, along with letting him decide whether to go on and stay on this diet, and when he is old enough to go out in the world, he will make that daily decision whether to stay on this diet or not.

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