How do you build confidence in your kids with food allergies? Are there ways you can be intentional about building confidence and self-sufficiency? This is a question allergy parents ask me a lot, and the answer is “yes,” you can definitely be intentional in your parenting to raise confident allergy kids who can advocate and manage their allergy when you are not around.
You want your child to have the best in life, and when they have a food allergy that means they will have to learn to manage it confidently. But how? When I am working with allergy parents in coaching sessions this is a question that comes up a lot (listen to a coaching session here). They don’t want their child’s allergy to impact their live negatively but obviously can’t keep their child in a bubble their entire life. The answer I say is down to how you prepare them early in their life and primarily with how they think and approach their allergy management. Below I am talking about 4 of the most important things you can do to build confidence in your food allergy kid so when they grown up they are equipped to manage their allergy safely and not let it negatively impact their life.
Teach your child to own their food allergy and never feel sorry that they have one. Allergies are a fact of our lives and for those with anaphylaxis it is unlikely that they will ever grow out of it. When I was young my parents took this approach with me, the aim was that teach me to own my allergy in all areas of my life so that I was safe when my parents were not around. The fact that my parents never felt bad for me but took a practical approach to my allergy management meant that I didn’t grow up feeling sorry for myself. I was taught to see the problem and then work out a solution to the problem. It was, and still is in my life because I still have my allergy, to not think I’m missing out but to figure out how I can do things differently.
Don’t hide your child’s food allergy or how severe it is. Honesty is usually the best policy and I am sure when it comes to allergies that this is the way. My Mum calls it her Sleeping Beauty Theory: when the king finds out that sleeping beauty would die if his daughter pricked her finger on a spinning wheel, he made sure all the spinning wheels were removed from the kingdom. So Sleeping Beauty had never seen a spinning wheel before when the evil fairy turned up at the castle with. If Sleeping Beauty had known what a spinning wheel was and she would have known how important it was to avoid it and so not pricked her finger. It’s not about scaring your child, it’s about making them aware of what will make them sick so that they will take ownership and responsibility for their well being.
Make your child practice advocating for themselves. We all know to be good at something we have to practice and it is exactly the same when it comes to building confidence. So when you are looking to build confidence in your food allergy kid to advocate and manage their allergy you need to encourage them to ask the questions, help you read labels and tell people about their allergy. From my own experience of growing up with food allergies, my parents would remind me before we went to restaurant and ask whether I wanted to tell the waiter about my nut allergy (they had usually called ahead and checked before we got there, but I didn’t know at the time). Then when it came time they would guide and prompt me through the process. Each time I told a waiter the easier it got and the older I got the more confident I felt. The same came to telling my school friends, they all knew about my allergy and it never bothered any of them one bit. Every part of living my parents got my brother and I involved in so that we would learn, from the simplest thing of going food shopping and checking labels all the way to telling parents and teachers about my allergy.
Make sure your food allergy kid knows they can say “no” to food they are unsure of and that you will support them in their decision no matter what. This is one of the most important factors of building your child’s confidence and it is only when I was an adult reflecting on my experiences that I realised how much of an affect it had on my confidence. I remember my Dad saying many times growing up, especially when I was little, that “if you don’t think somethings safe, if you’re not happy about any food, you don’t eat it. EVEN if an adult is telling you its ok. You can say “no.” Don’t worry about getting in trouble because you won’t. We will deal with it.” I was a good child as well, one of those who always followed the rules, listened to adults and teachers, so defying an adult with the possibility to get in trouble was not a nice thought for me. But because I knew that I had my parents absolute support, that they trusted my decision even if they weren’t there empowered me as a little person to advocate for myself, and if that meant disagreeing with an adult, well then so be it. I could be or pretend to be confident in myself because I knew my parents trusted and believed in me.
I continue with my Allergy Awareness Week series tomorrow talking all about how to travel with allergies when you get thrown into the unexpected.
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If you have any questions on this post and would like to know more, book in a complimentary 15 minute consultation with me and get a tasted of allergy coaching. I am here to help and want you to empower you food allergy kid to be able to travel, have their dream career and explore this wonderful world! Send me an email today.