Food allergies can be tough on the whole family, especially on siblings. So how can we deal with this and help our children understand and support their siblings on their food allergies? Today, Dr. Douglas Jones is sharing with us a few tips on this issue.
Dr. Jones is an Allergy and Immunology and has a record of successfully curing over 750 patients suffering from allergies through oral immunotherapy. His work has brought in patients from over 20 states in the USA and multiple countries around the world.
Millions of people worldwide suffer from a variety of allergies. While most adults can adjust their lives to cope, a child’s allergies, especially food allergies, can impact the entire family.
When one child has allergies, it is vital to discuss allergies in an age-appropriate way, not only with that child but with their siblings as well.
When parents make changes focused around one child, siblings can feel forgotten, or worse. All children must understand allergies and why it is impacting their lives. Dr. Douglas Jones, a leading Allergist from The Tanner Clinic, has some tips that can make the discussion more productive.
Educating your children about allergies
Discussing allergies with the entire family helps to create a safer home environment for your child with allergies. However, it’s crucial not to overwhelm children with too much information.
Start with what is most important, sharing information regarding severe allergies. Although children should know what allergies they or their siblings have, it’s not useful to use scare tactics to attempt to keep them safe.
Watch your language to ensure that you are using appropriate terms instead of talking about death or something similar. Worse case scenarios, such as sharing that a severe allergy could lead to death, serve to scare but are overwhelming and cause undue stress.
Preparing your children to deal with a food allergy emergency
Dr. Douglas Jones reiterates the importance of “shifting the thought of being scared to being prepared. The siblings may feel a sense of burden and stress to protect their allergic sibling. Providing education on how to be better prepared to prevent or treat an emergency helps to boost confidence.”
Educate both the child with food allergies and their siblings to identify the signs of an allergic reaction, such as hives, gasping for breath, rashes, and vomiting. Be specific about the symptoms that they may see.
Again, this should be done at a level appropriate to the age and maturity of your children. Describe the physical signs that a child may see, along with the steps to take in this situation. Prepare your children, as much as possible, to respond in an emergency.
Create a safety plan that the children are a part of. Share that, when you leave home, you bring the epi-pen in case of an emergency.
Confirm that your child with allergies is wearing their medical alert bracelet. Share expectations about seeking parental approval before accepting food from others or any other boundaries that help your family.
This builds a routine with your children, helping them to understand expectations and ultimately to feel that the situation is under control.
Responsive Parenting: Ensuring Mental Health
When discussing allergies, remain calm. Model a relaxed attitude. Children learn from what they see and can pick up on cues when a parent is anxious or stressed.
Dr. Douglas Jones suggests that parents “acknowledge the stress food allergy brings, but also ensuring each child is valued.” Help your children to develop healthy coping strategies that will be useful in all the challenges that life will throw at them.
Depending on the age and temperament of the child without allergies, empower them by assigning a “helper” role.
While this role can be overwhelming for some children, parents can monitor their child’s reactions and allow this to guide how involved the non-allergic child becomes.
Dr. Douglas Jones encourages parents to “[ensure] the siblings are involved in meaningful activities and… focus on their achievements to help them feel valued.”
A child without allergies can feel left out, as attention seems to be directed to their sibling. Ensure you dedicate quality time to your non-allergic child. This is especially pertinent during periods when your focus remains on the child with allergies, as during an allergic reaction. Such attention helps to avoid the building of resentment.
All children need to feel special; focus on the sibling without allergies can help to alleviate the conflicts that can occur when one child feels left out.
While taking time to focus on your child helps them to feel cared for, one-on-one time can show that you emphasize with the life changes that have occurred.
You can schedule a time that may include a trip to a location that serves your non-allergic child’s favorite food, which is no longer allowed in your home. The opportunities to enjoy such meals safely can make your home safer in the long run.
Praise your children for making food choices that are safe for everybody when you see them making good choices. Praise, in every aspect of parenthood, is a necessity.
Managing food allergies in your child can be an initially overwhelming task. Helping their siblings to understand this change isn’t always easy either. Working to create a safe and emotionally responsive home can help to alleviate the fear and anxiety in both your allergic and non-allergic child.
An open and honest, but age-appropriate conversation with your children is vital to ensure the health and emotional well-being of the entire family.
Now, would you share with us some tips you might have on how to help your children understand their siblings’ allergies? We’d love to read them in the comments!
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