Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Raising Your Child's Awareness vs. Freaking Them Out

I recently read an interview of a psychologist studying the social and emotional toll of coping with food allergies. Specifically, the "shocking" levels of stress in mothers of children with food allergies.

I guess there was nothing shocking to me in the interview, but I took note of the following quote from Dr. Rebecca Knibb:
If the parents cope well, this behavior is learned by the child. Children are very perceptive and learn vicariously, i.e. they learn by watching how parents react to situations. If a parent is very anxious, the child tends to be anxious also.

That sounds about right to me. So, how do you teach your child to better understand his or her food allergy in order to keep them safe, without scaring them in the process? How do you go about hiding your "shocking" levels of anxiety from your sponge-like children? : )

My daughter is not yet 3 years old, and we are trying to gradually increase her awareness of her own food allergies and what that means as far as what she can and can't eat. This is especially important since she'll be starting preschool in the fall, surrounded by well-meaning adults and children who may occasionally offer her food that she should not eat.

However, we have never once told her something like, "You could die." I don't think she even gets it that plants die, or that bugs die when you squish them, so the last thing we need is for her to live in fear for her own life. I don't think any toddler should be burdened with such a heavy thought, but dare I say, our Georgia is an especially sensitive one. (Understatement of the century.) We have an age appropriate allergy book that mentions hives, coughing, itching, and that sort of thing, but if you asked Georgia, I think she'd tell you that her allergies might give her hives. If you asked her the follow up question of, "What is a hive?" I think that she might or might not be able to answer that. But again, please keep in mind that she's only 2.

So, it's all very weird. Some days she'll say things that make me feel proud of our efforts, like maybe she's really "getting" it. She's pretty good at asking us, "Do you have the EpiPens?" when we leave the house. (Not because we normally need a reminder, but more so that if she is ever with a new babysitter or relative that she will hopefully ask them the same thing.) And then on other days, someone will ask her if she wants a peanut butter sandwich, and she'll answer yes without hesitation, which is disappointing. But it's not surprising that when you're two, and have relied on trusted adults to meet your every need, that you don't exactly stop to question, "Wait - is this safe for me?" at every turn. It takes practice to instill this behavior.

Once again, there is no particular conclusion to this post. Obviously, I do have a certain level of anxiety related to Georgia's food allergies, though I try to keep it in check. Maybe this blog is a good outlet for me to write things down and get them off my chest, rather than passing my worries on to my daughter? It all goes back to that whole Goldilocks Principle thing -- I hope we are teaching her enough to be careful, but not so much as to be scared.

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