I am very happy to share with you Jamie’s blog below. We, at Food Allergy Education Network, are honored to have Jamie as a member of our advisory board as well as the facilitator for our children’s group. Her knowledge and insight are invaluable resources to our organization. You can read more about Jamie HERE or on her website. She is also featured in our Speaker Video Series. I think you will find her advice as helpful as we do. Please feel free to leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
12 Tips to Help Your Child Cope with Food Allergies During the Holidays
by Guest Blogger Jamie Perillo, LPC
Childhood food allergies are on the rise with over nine million children diagnosed with at least one food allergy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about an 18% increase in food allergies was seen between 1997 and 2007.
As a child and family therapist and facilitator of a children’s food allergy support group, children come to me with significant anxiety – expressing constant worry if their environment is safe. They worry about school – will a child bring in a dangerous food item? Will the substitute teacher remember to check everyone’s lunch box to verify all snacks are safe? Will their friend accidentally touch them before washing their hands after eating? Kids with food allergies do not jump up and down with excitement when they are invited to pizza parties or ice-cream socials – events that are supposed to be carefree.
As the holiday season approaches there will be classroom parties, gatherings around food, cookie swaps, bake sales, and family and friend gatherings.
With proper support and education children with food allergies can have a happy and safe holiday season. Here are twelve tips to help your child reduce anxiety and increase overall excitement and enjoyment during the holidays.
- Help your child form their food allergy (FA) team. Identify people who are supportive. Group “team members” into categories. The first category, “the safety team” are people who understand the child’s allergies such as school staff, family members, and close friends who work together to keep your child safe. The second category is the “feelings team” -people your child can talk with about their feelings. The last category is the “fun team.” The fun team consists of adults and children your child can just be a kid around.
- Have regular “check-in’s.” Many children are initially referred to me for behavioral issues – tantrums or acting out in school or home. However, we discover their behaviors are a manifestation of their anxieties and feelings regarding their food allergy. Scheduling regular check –in’s with your child will help your child express their feelings. You can play the “High/Low” Game – what was the high of your day and the low of your day or use a feelings box where your child can write their feelings. (Check out www.inspiredfamilies.com for downloads.
- Participate in fun food free events. If holiday parties are a trigger for anxiety, try to participate in food free events or create your own. Instead of a cookie swap or decorating party – make a holiday craft and play games. Pin the feather on the turkey anyone?
- Engage your child in decision making. This helps them feel a sense of control. If they have to sit at a different lunch table at school allow them to choose a friend and perhaps where the table is located. If they need to sit elsewhere during snack time allow them to choose where that will be, or if they are bringing their own snacks to a party allow them to choose.
- Help foster your child’s self-esteem through participation in activities they enjoy or feel good at. An increase in self-esteem helps them better cope with feelings related to food allergies. It also allows them to focus on positive aspects about themselves.
- Help your child focus on the positive. Use a gratitude journal or have the family take turns with gratitude statements at dinner.
- Engage your child in activities such as yoga, meditation, dance, or martial arts. Many children express a fear with their bodies if they have had traumatic experiences .These activities aid in stress reduction as well as help your child become centered and appreciate what their bodies can accomplish.
- Volunteer. Volunteering helps increase a positive mood, decrease anxiety, and allows your child, who may often need help from others, to feel helpful.
- Seek Support. Check out local food allergy groups where your child can meet other children with food allergies. Support is a key component in coping with food allergies. A therapist can be helpful as well.
- Get Creative. You don’t need to live for food but you need food to live. Get creative with your child and help them embrace the foods they can have. People often use terms such as “living without” when speaking about food allergies, however this has a negative connotation focusing on deprivation. Instead focus on the positive – explore new recipes, cook together, make fun smoothies, pancakes in animal shapes, or anything that makes food enjoyable. Bring the new foods to your holiday gatherings.
- When you are celebrating your child encourage everyone – if they can –to share your child’s food. If your child requires a specially made cake – don’t have your child eat it alone. Eat their cake encouraging inclusion when you can.
- Educate Others. Many parents express frustrations when non- food allergy friends and family do not understand their child’s allergies. Gently yet firmly educate those around you and your child. This will help both of you feel less anxious.