How Food Allergies Can Make a Child a Nervous Wreck, and What Parents Can Do About it
Living with life-threatening food allergies can cause more than just physical symptoms. The emotional effects of being deathly allergic to a food are too often overlooked but can include anxiety, depression, isolation, extreme caution, low self-confidence and even anger. Parents have a big role to play here and can help their food-allergic children learn to be more confident, less cautious and better able to cope with allergy fears.
Anxiety, Caution and Self-Confidence
Children may become fearful of food when they fully realize what the effects may be of accidentally consuming an allergen. Some of this fear can come from within, but a lot of it may come from how parents react. For instance, a child with a peanut allergy sees his mother panic when she thinks he accidentally took a bite of a sandwich with peanut butter in it. It’s scary and it makes him scared, too—a connection he may continue to make with food and eating in general.
Some fear is only normal, but it can turn into extreme caution, about food and life in general, and lack of confidence. A child who’s afraid and cautious loses confidence in his or her own actions and judgment. Studies of the quality of lives of children with food allergies have proven that these kids are more likely to have anxiety and fear with respect to eating than other children, and they also have a lower perceived quality of life.
The Social Impact of Allergies
Emotional health is an important aspect of quality of life, but so is social health. A child with food allergies may suffer socially. For many kids, food allergies limit activities and time spent with peers, leading to a feeling of loneliness or isolation. Parents may place these limitations on a child out of fear of being unable to control food intake, but the limits may also be self-imposed by a child’s own fear, anxiety and caution.
How to Help Your Child Be Safe and Happy
In striving to protect your child, you may inadvertently cause him to become fearful, cautious and even isolated. But there are steps you can take to turn this around. Keep your little one safe while also allowing him the freedom to explore, socialize and live confidently and with less anxiety and fear:
Children at risk for anaphylaxis should always have an epinephrine auto-injector and be trained in how to use it. Studies have found that just having these injectors always available and knowing how to use them significantly lowers anxiety and raises self-confidence.
Being involved in sports is a great way for any child to develop self-confidence and to socialize with peers, and there are fewer food allergy risks in sports than at other events, like birthday parties or school events.
Learning about food. You can help your child with food allergies cope with anxiety and fear by teaching him more about food and cooking. Knowledge is power, and the more a child knows how to cook and how to identify risky foods, the more empowered he will feel.
Lowering parental stress. Numerous studies have found that parents, especially mothers, experience more anxiety than their children with food allergies. If you can cope with and minimize your own anxiety, it will have a positive impact on your child.
Your child needs to be aware of food risks to be safe, but he shouldn’t have to live with fear or a lower quality of life than other children. As a parent you have a lot of power to help your child recognize and moderate these emotions triggered by food allergies.