29 Jun Healthy Talk with Kids About Food Allergies
The number of kids with food allergies today is large and increasing every day. So as parents we are navigating waters we might have ignored when we were kids ourselves. From birthday party cake that our child cannot eat to avoiding the local pizzeria that everyone goes to, we now find ourselves in situations that require conscious conversation.
We want to communicate something that isn’t a sense of lack. We want to hold their allergy not as good or bad but as simply present. Too much drama and labeling of it entrenches the mindset that there is something wrong with your child and that they are being deprived (cough, my childhood experience).
I encourage parents to focus on using language that empowers and is truthful because both of those move you toward a state of well-being.
So here are some concepts you can easily put to use when you find yourself saying “No” all the time.
Here are 4 Core Communications to use:
We are just as different on the inside as the outside.
Point out to your child how they have a different color hair from their friends, or they are an early riser while their brother loves to sleep in. There are so many places to simply notice differences without making one right or wrong. This helps them understand and accept the quirks and preferences of their own body.
So saying things like, “We are just as different on the inside as the outside and different bodies like different foods” and “Your body doesn’t like milk but my body doesn’t like peanuts” and “Look how much your body loves apples!” These are simple statements that are both true and clear.
Then when you bust out the gluten-free dairy-free treat you brought for your child. you can affirm they are having a treat that works for them. Say “This is your special treat — because it works for your body.” And make it delicious and decadent. Seriously, if your kid loves a certain type of candy and they can’t eat cake, why not let them indulge at a party?
Your body’s symptoms are smart and giving you important information about you.
Your body has ways of telling you what it wants and doesn’t want. (Hey, that’s what vomiting and pimples are all about!) Since your digestion can’t talk it uses symptoms to tell you what it likes and doesn’t.
Try saying things like “Your gassy belly is telling you not to eat wheat” or “That rash is showing us your body doesn’t like strawberries” or “Look what happens to your lips when you drink milk.”
And as they get older and you see a food consistently creating a symptom in your child, ask “What do you think is happening when you eat dairy?” or “What do you think is causing your acne?” My own son shifted his mini-mart candy habit when he drew his the conclusion that was the cause of his pimples.
Your enjoyment is within your control.
Being flexible and compromising is a way to show your child that they aren’t the only one who has to adapt. Whether you’re shopping for groceries or going out to dinner, find a way to be open to what does work for your child’s body.
One family I know added potato chips (all organic, of course!) to their weekly grocery list — not exactly “health” food — so their child would feel that good things were being added, not always taken away. Another family ate a LOT of sushi, since sushi restaurants are generally gluten- and peanut-free and that’s what they needed to avoid.
And bring them into the process by brainstorming possibilities and if they’re the right age, reading labels. The more this becomes cooperative the more empowered your child will feel.
Conditions can always shift, so hold the space for change.
Announcing and labeling a child as allergic, sensitive or even epileptic engraves a diagnosis in their mind. This solidifies the idea and leaves no room for change. And the label can turn it into an identity.
A mom who wrote me about her child’s milk allergy said she was telling her daughter, “Right now your body does not like milk but your body is learning and maybe it will in the future.” And I say Bravo Revolutionary, Evolutionary mom! This is great messaging.
A time marker can be really helpful: “This is how your body is responding today,” or “Your body seems to be rejecting that food right now, but that can always change,” or “I know you really want some ice cream, but since dairy caused a problem last time, let’s get sorbet this time.”
It goes back to another blog I wrote about process not predicament. Your child’s body is developing and growing and adapting — all processes that are dynamic and influenced by so many things. I was so allergic to dust and pollen as a child that the doctor told my mom to throw out all my stuffed animals and literally use plastic sheets. Today I am allergy free (a tale for another blog) so I am living proof that shift happens!
Trying to control what your kid eats is one of the hardest and least rewarding things you can do as a parent. Giving yourself and your kid a break from the feeling of loss can make it feel more like you are, in fact, gaining something new. Whether it’s an appreciation of the true value of “treating” yourself or an expanded sense of new possibilities to explore, conscious conversations in your family can create a new reality.
When you make this kind of shift in your language, your attitude will also change. Our words shape our worlds, so give your child the best vocabulary of wellness you can — and watch them gain health and power.
Your questions and comments are always inspiring. If you want to plunge more deeply into a topic or ask about something I haven’t addressed, email me at [email protected] — and your question could become my next blog post!