Struggles of Non-Allergic Siblings of Kids with Food Allergies
Food allergies are challenging and difficult on every family member. It’s a struggle for parents to learn and keep their child safe and for the child to deal with them. But what about siblings? Siblings can get lost in the shuffle when trying to keep an at-risk child alive and safe. While children with food allergies deserve attention and care, siblings of children with food allergies need attention as well.
Is there a higher possibility for siblings to get food allergies?
If one child has food allergies, it seems reasonable to assume their siblings will have food allergies. This assumption is not exactly right. 53 percent of siblings of children with food allergies have a food sensitivity, with only 13 percent having an actual food allergy. This is about one in seven siblings having food allergies, compared to the 1 in 13 children having allergies in the general population.
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommends to test your children for allergies after exposing them to foods. Unfortunately, allergy tests can have false positives which can lead to extra worry. Food allergy tests cannot predict the future risk for food allergies when someone hasn’t eaten the food before. "Routine screening without a history of allergic food reactions might lead to unnecessary food avoidance in kids who can actually tolerate that food, which impacts quality of life and nutrition. Food avoidance also increases the risk of developing an allergy to that food,” says Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, a pediatrician and researcher at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
If you believe your child has food allergies, showing allergic reactions, contact your doctor as soon as possible and stop feeding your child the triggering food.
How do siblings feel about their sibling with food allergies?
While you worry about your child with food allergies, siblings also share those worries. Tamara Hubbard, MA, LCPC, conducted a survey in regards to siblings and how they feel about their siblings with food allergies. 92 percent of non food allergy siblings in the survey worry about their sibling. Some siblings feel worried about their siblings safety or being left out. Others feel sad when their sibling is left out and that they can’t do anything to help.
Just over half of the participants felt they got less attention than their siblings with food allergies. Tamara Hubbard says “parents of children with food allergies spend a lot of time focused on safety preparations, which might translate to some non-allergic siblings as an abundance of attention being given to their allergic sibling, therefore leaving less time for them.”
Pam Moore speaks about her experiences of having one child with food allergies and a sibling without any. One day after taking her younger daughter home from the hospital, the older complained and wanted pizza. Once home, Moore played dolls with her older daughter and discovered she was scared her little sister will die from her allergies.
What to do with non-food allergy siblings
Food allergies can change the dynamics of your family and . Dealing with conflict in the family or how to cope with your child’s food allergies can cause strain on siblings of those with food allergies. Here are some tips on how to make the sibling feel included and not left out.
Safety, Not Fear: Educating the non-food allergy child is very important. The more they know, the more safe they can feel about their sibling. When talking about allergies, avoid using strong emotional words or the worst possible outcome. “Words like ‘You will die,’ especially when shared with emotion, are indelible,” Gina Clowes, founder of Allergy Moms, says. The more knowledge you and your children have, the more safe and calm situations can be.
Special Time: Alexandria Durrell’s daughter used to wear peanut butter facials, ate freely, and never worried about food till her little brother was born. Now, her entire life changed and she was no longer free to wear the facials or eat peanut butter. Durrell plans to provide special days for her where she can go out and eat whatever she wants, peanuts included.
Providing regular special time with the sibling without food allergies will demonstrate that the sibling is important, loved, and cherished along with their food allergy sibling.
Be a Team: Having the sibling be a team player can help the child feel empowered and helpful. Qionna Tinney, associate medical director of child services at Cardinal Innovations Healthcare says, “This can give them a sense of inclusion and allows for open and frequent conversations to occur”.
Training siblings on what signs of an allergic reaction and when to call 911 is very valuable. However, don’t make the sibling feel responsible for the other’s safety. They are a team player, here to help you and your food allergy child.
Are you or do you know of a sibling to a person with food allergies? What are your plans on how to care for the sibling to someone with food allergies? Comment below and share your stories with us!