Three Amazing Tips To Empower Your Food Allergy Kids
I don’t have to tell you how hard parenting is. As cliche as it is, it’s 100% true: parenting has been one of the most challenging jobs of my life. And although non-food allergy parents have similar challenges, there are a few extras that food allergy parents need to help their kids with. For this post I’ll focus on empowering our food allergy kids in a couple ways:
Teaching our kids to self advocate so they’re confident to do it for themselves once the difficult teen years arrive.
Creating a sense of self-responsibility so our food allergy kids are empowered to take care of themselves without feeling like a victim of their situation.
Parenting Tips for Kids With Food Allergies
Reading these two things sounds great, right? I think we all want this for our food allergy kids. But HOW do we accomplish them?
For our family it means a few things:
1. Being consistent with bringing the epinephrine everywhere we might be eating/drinking.
Our rule is no epinephrine, no eating or drinking. We’re extremely diligent with this rule because we believe that instilling this now will help our daughter be strong and make smart decisions when she isn’t with us as much in the teen years. But I have to tell you this is NOT easy to follow through with. For example: We’ve found out that we’ve forgotten the epipen on the way to dinner and had to turn around and add an extra 45 min to our trip, making us late AND hangry.
More recently, we went on a family walk to get a drink from the local coffee shop. Although we wouldn’t touch the baked goods, there are drinks that we feel comfortable letting our daughter have. Unfortunately, we realized too late that we forgot her EpiPen and we had just WALKED 1/2 hour to get to the coffee shop. Now what!? Our other daughter was super excited about her treat and we couldn’t take that away from her.
So we all got our drinks except my food allergy daughter. This was HARD, because I NEVER like to exclude my daughter. In fact, I would rather cook many entire Christmas dinners just to make sure she can safely eat everything; so this went against every grain in my body. But we also want our daughter to feel confident being the only one NOT eating/drinking in a crowd if she doesn’t feel it’s safe. I know there will be many times in the future that this will likely be the case and we feel it’s important to prepare her for it, even though it’s hard.
It’s not something I want to do often, but in the end I think it was probably more painful for me than it was for her and it was a good teaching moment.
2. Encouraging our daughter to speak for herself in as many situations as possible.
This doesn’t necessarily come easy for lots of kids and I find there’s a balance to forcing them and talking for them. It’s hard to find that balance sometimes; and there were times when I wondered if she would ever feel confident enough.
I had a super proud mama moment with this recently (take note this happened on the SAME DAY as our coffee shop story in #1). It was later that evening but we went out to one of our favourite restaurants with family. The kids were sitting on one end of the table and the adults on the other (and yes, EpiPen was there too, thanks to the lesson that morning). Usually we need to watch the kids order and help my daughter explain her allergies. This time, she was sitting a bit further away so we didn’t jump right in and she did it COMPLETELY on her own. I have to say she did an awesome job. She was clear and explained it well. I was so proud.
All the hard work and teaching is starting to show and I couldn’t feel happier that my daughter is getting more independent and reliable when it comes to her own health. She made me one proud mama!
3. Wearing her own epipen and remembering to bring it herself.
Obviously from the coffee shop story this has been a work in progress. My daughter has self-carried her EpiPen at school since grade 1, but until about a year ago, I always carried her Epipen outside of school. But when my daughter was somewhere between 8 and 9 years old, we decided to get her in the habit of carrying it herself everywhere. This has definitely been something we need to reinforce in the early stages, but has been going well lately.
We started by getting her a carrier that she chose herself and really likes (hello pink purse). We then made a visible spot right by the door where she leaves her EpiPen. These things helped, but we found that we also needed a lot of routine building and positive reinforcement too. For us the positive reinforcement came as a reward chart. I also believe that the episode at the coffee shop moved this one forward too.
You’ll find that some of these habits are hard to implement (and following through is even HARDER sometimes), but it’s all worth it if we have responsible, empowered kids, right? Our food allergy kids are depending on us to give them the skills they need as they grow up because we won’t always be there for them.
Just like many things in parenting, things are not always easy, but it’s NEVER to late to start good habits! We’ve been working on some of these things right from diagnosis, but good habits are always worth starting AT ANY TIME. So I want to encourage you to start empowering your food allergy kiddo no matter where you’re at in your journey. You’ll see the fruits of your labour if you keep at it!
What about you? Have you ever had to make any hard decisions to enforce good food allergy habits with your kids?
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Photo credit: Let There Be Light Photography