The goal should always be to have your child become independent in managing their allergies. Of course, when they are younger, they will need more guidance in how this can be done. This is where modeling appropriate behaviour for your child comes in handy (e.g. reading ingredients, carrying auto-injector, etc.).
Tip #1- Be Assertive, not anxious
It is important that you teach your child how to speak up in a confident and polite manner. Encouraging children to speak up for themselves is crucial; they should be comfortable discussing ingredients, the location of their auto-injector, and any symptoms they may experience. Have them start speaking up in familiar settings for practice. In the future, this will help them advocate for their needs in novel situations.
Although the threat of an anaphylactic reaction is a scary thing, try not to use ‘scare’ tactics with your child. Scaring them could lead to anxiety concerns with your child. This applies to caregivers as well! Try your best to remain calm and in control (even in potential emergency situations). Your child should understand the risks of having allergies, but feel confident and capable of managing the risks rather than frightened and overwhelmed.
Tip #2 Foster Independence
We all know the cliché saying, “live and learn.” Yes, we learn through life experiences (even the negative ones). If given a choice, I’m sure that any loving caregiver would choose to have their child avoid unpleasant or stressful situations. However, being overprotective, or a ‘helicopter’ parent doesn’t necessarily help children—especially those with allergies. As stated previously, the ultimate goal is to have your child become independent in managing their allergy. This means that you can slowly have your child assume certain responsibilities when you feel they are ready. An example of this would be carrying an auto-injector. As an infant/toddler/preschooler this task would most likely be the responsibility of a parent. However, as school year age approaches, parents have to consider alternative arrangements for this. Remember, there is no real ‘correct’ answer about when a child should start to carry their auto-injector independently. You know your child the best so factor in their personality, maturity level, and age. Some tips for having your child remember and carry their auto-injector themselves:
– Have your child choose a safe, secure spot to keep it (e.g. fanny pack, purse, backpack).
– Help them develop a strategy to remind them to bring it (e.g. post-it note on the front door).
– Give them oral reminders. Remember, you don’t want them to become reliant. Like the old expression says: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Meaning of course, you are better off to teach your child how to manage their allergies than to just manage their allergies for them. The key is for them to develop routines that will promote life-long risk-management and effective problem-solving skills.
I would highly recommend checking out the following links for more info!
Managing Anxiety and Feeling in Control
Emotional Health for Parents of Children with Food Allergies
Emotional and Social Issues