I just returned home from the ever-impressive FACES conference in Chicago. This wonderful conference puts patients and caregivers in the room with researchers, physicians, psychologists, counselors, advocates and experts who lead them in discussions about the present and future of food allergy. It is a fascinating, energizing, and supportive event.
I learned so much over the course of my FACES experience, but one session stands out. Throughout the day, any attendee – child or adult – could put a question in a box that would be read anonymously and answered during a session, titled, “FACEless, What Do You Want Your Parents to Know? What Do You Want Your Kids to Know?”
The information gained from this session was enlightening – and it wasn’t just the answers (however incredibly informative) that interested me most. It was the kinds of concerns on our children’s minds that truly stood out.
Do you trust us when we’re out with our friends?
Are my food allergies a burden to you?
Do my food allergies scare you?
What worries you the most about my food allergies?
In addition to managing their own concerns and regulating their own emotions, some food allergic children are worried about how their parents are coping. This is an additional weight they carry on top of the demands food allergies naturally come with.
Food allergies have been cited to lower the quality of life for patients, increasing incidences of:
- social isolation
At the root of this emotional strain is the hardship of food allergy management. Patients are saddled with many additional responsibilities – often beginning at a young age. They must understand where risk exists, how to react in an almost-inevitable emergency, cope with feelings of insecurity and fear and they bear the obligation of educating others, communicating their condition and remaining firm in the face of misunderstanding or objection.
How do we address these silent concerns our children may carry with them?
How can we allay their worries so they can concentrate on the busy work of childhood and adolescence?
Talk the talk and walk the walk:
- Demonstrating a can-do attitude and verbalizing problem solving can be very empowering.
- Model positivity and embrace the values and guiding principles that are important in your lives (kindness, inclusion, empathy, etc).
- Validate the emotions patients are experiencing and discuss productive ways to manage uncomfortable feelings.
- Involve kids and adolescents in overcoming obstacles. Teamwork and supportive coordination is critical to security and well-being.
- When it comes to the sensitive conversations about how you (the caregiver) are coping, model healthy emotional management and focus on your love for the patient. It’s okay to acknowledge your feelings with your children – it shows you’re human. Be sure to also show them your resilience. Talk about how you handle these feelings and ask them what they do when they feel overwhelmed or insecure. Talking about how you feel encourages your children to be honest about their real feelings and experiences.
- Let negative emotions help motivate you in positive ways. Focus on the outcomes you’d like to see. An example conversation might begin, “When you leave the house without your auto-injectors, I do get worried you’ll be unprepared for a reaction. I never want you to feel sick and be caught without your medicine. Let’s come up with a way I can help you remember and find an easy way to carry it.”
- IMPORTANTLY, reassure your children that you will do everything you can to keep them safe and take care of them. Make sure they know they can talk through future food allergy anxiety and challenges with you. Reinforce that you are right there with them, partnering with them to overcome any obstacles in their way.
The FACES conference was so incredible and this session will sit with me for a very long time.
For more information about the psychological side of food allergies, please read: