Allergies and sensitivities can feel overwhelming at the best of times so imagine how they must feel to a child. Adapting to an allergy, especially food based, requires mental and practical adjustments. Adults may have the emotional maturity to quickly adjust to a new way of life, but this can pose huge challenges to children and their families. They may not fully understand what is happening to their bodies or how to explain their feelings or physical symptoms.
Unfortunately, many medical professionals and official resources simply help parents to ‘manage’ their children’s allergies and fail to recognise the bigger picture thus triggering parental stress and anxiety. At Regenerus we appreciate how functional medicine can fill this gap. To support and encourage parents dealing with allergies and food sensitivities we have come up with a SIMPLE and easy strategy to make life that little bit easier.
Understandably parents of children with allergies may feel fearful and anxious. Many allergies can be life threatening and at times may feel like a dark cloud hanging over the family. Children can also sense and read their parents’ worries so is it essential for all family members to stay upbeat and set a positive tone. Therefore, it may come as no surprise that a 2014 study revealed how mothers of food-allergic children tend to display greater levels of stress and anxiety compared to mothers of children with no chronic illness.
There are also numerous studies on how parental stress can directly affect children from behavioural problems to impaired academic performance. Parents can take control of an unpredictable situation and support the family by staying calm and addressing their own perceptions of their children’s allergies. Self-care is essential and should never be considered a dirty word because if they are stressed and overburdened how can they expect their children to be able to cope? This is one of the topics covered by David Cole’s thought provoking book, Kids Pick Up On Everything: How Parental Stress Is Toxic To Kids.
Involve the children
Hiding allergies or simply ‘managing’ them in the background will not help children in the short or long term and will undoubtedly place more stress on the family unit. Children must play an active part in their condition from an early age because once they start school parents inevitably lose the ability to micromanage as they increasingly place more trust in teaching staff. Obviously, this is a gradual process, but laying the groundwork early can make important childhood transitions, like starting or changing schools, much easier.
Here are some tips to help parents involve their children:
- Teach them to be food label detectives via fun and interactive games.
- Help them to understand their condition and how to explain their allergies to friends and adults.
- Do they understand their medication and how to use it?
- Help them understand the importance of medical ID bracelets.
- Involve children in shopping, food preparation and cooking.
Meet other families
Allergies can be incredibly isolating, especially for children, so finding a local network of other affected families can be incredibly empowering for the parent and the child. The parent is not alone, and the child is not alone and as they say, ‘safety in numbers.’ Support meetings, online groups and local meet ups can be sociable, fun and incredibly useful.
Pick your battles
If you have children, you will already know that picking your battles is the first chapter of ‘Parenting 101.’ Obviously, allergies can be life threatening and avoiding triggers is not negotiable, but your approach to this must, to some degree, be guided by your child. Consider how best to engage them, what motivates them and how receptive are they to change.
Look out for resources
When faced with allergies or sensitivities education must be the family’s weapon of choice. As we all know children do not come with a manual, so it is a parent’s responsibility to be as proactive as possible. Luckily there are endless resources from local libraries to specialist allergy charities, but parents need to be the driving force which is why it is so important to build a strong and supportive network. Education is important for everyone including children, siblings, parents and even grandparents. In fact, everyone involved in the care of the affected child has an important role to play.
In some cases, allergies and sensitivities can be lifelong conditions however there is no need for parents to accept them as a ‘life sentence.’ Allergies are not static, and their distribution and patterns can change as the child matures. Also, many children present with multiple atopic diseases so introducing strategies early in life can be extremely beneficial.
Working with a functional medicine practitioner alongside allergists, GPs or even counsellors can give families the opportunity to address their concerns and conditions holistically rather than simply managing their daily symptoms. They may also use one of the many diagnostic tests from our menu such as the Comprehensive Stool Analysis or Coeliac Profile.
Allergies are complex and your patients will appreciate any support and guidance you can offer. Yes, a child with an allergy is unique however they do not need to feel isolated and simply viewed as the “kid with the allergies.’ They deserve so much more than this and as practitioners we can help to instil confidence and knowledge so they can control their condition in a positive and constructive way. Understanding the impact of allergies requires a holistic and structured approach and whilst this is incredibly complex and at times mind boggling, keeping it SIMPLE can make the world of difference for so many families.