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5 Tips for Parenting Kids with Food Allergy Anxiety

Written by: Tamara Hubbard, MA, LCPC

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor;

Founder & CEO, The Food Allergy Counselor


Living with a life-threatening food allergy often feels unpredictable and uncertain. Navigating thoughts of “Will I have an allergic reaction? Will it be anaphylactic?” can trigger food allergy anxiety, which for some, leads to over-avoidance of life experiences. Parents of kids exhibiting food allergy anxiety often reach out to behavioral healthcare providers when that anxiety gets in the way of functioning. Some common examples are:


"My child will no longer eat at restaurants when we go out to eat as a family."

"My child complains of an upset tummy often, especially before or after eating."

"My daughter won't ever go to her friend's house to play, even though she says she would like to hang out with her friend over there."

"My son reads food labels over and over again, sometimes 5-10 times, before feeling like he can eat foods."

"My child says she feels like her stomach hurts and her throat is closing after almost every meal she eats."


Do any of these statements sound familiar to you? Especially if you’ve noticed your child is anxious about their food allergy, these five general anxiety reminders for parents will be useful to incorporate in order to effectively address and manage food allergy anxiety.


 

1. Aim to manage the anxiety, not eliminate it.


Wouldn't it be great if we never felt anxious or worried? It sure would! However, that's not a realistic goal, so don't try to remove or avoid everything that produces anxiety for your child. The best way you can help your child navigate anxiety is to help them learn to accept its presence, better understand it, and develop skills to manage it.


Part of understanding anxiety is not only learning about our thoughts and feelings, but also the physiological sensations often associated with the emotions. By gaining this understanding, it allows for the development of more personalized skills that will help your child manage their own anxiety. Additionally, focusing on managing the anxiety (rather than avoiding it) often demystifies these thoughts and feelings, which leads to decreased frequency and intensity of anxiety over time. It's also important to teach our kids that anxious feelings can be a positive tool, reminding us to assess risk, and motivating us to cope in order to make it through uncomfortable situations.


2. Avoidance can actually increase anxiety.


Your natural instinct when you see that something makes your child anxious may be to remove them from the situation, and maybe even avoid similar situations in the future.

While it's important to avoid unsafe situations when managing food allergies, if you find that you and your child are shying away from most activities, you may need to explore perceived versus actual risk levels with your allergist. Do all of the situations you’re avoiding truly have high enough risk that they need to be avoided completely, or can you reassess the risk levels for some situations? Why is it important not to simply avoid all situations that evoke anxiety? Because it can actually increase anxiety, and sends a message to your child that the solution to anxiety is to avoid, leave, or simply ignore the feelings. Approaching anxiety this way robs them of the opportunity to learn how to navigate these feelings, build tools to become more resilient, and eventually gain confidence in handling tough situations - all of which helps decrease anxiety.


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