Q: Because our eight-year-old son has a serious peanut allergy, we’ve been teaching all of our children the importance of food safety. At the same time, we don’t want to frighten them, especially the youngest, who freaks out when she sees nutty candy bars at the supermarket checkout. What’s the best way to handle this?
A: Anaphylaxis can be a huge source of anxiety for parents, particularly when their allergic child reaches school age. At eight, your son has a growing understanding of how serious his allergy is, and may become increasingly anxious as a result. It sounds as if your youngest is picking up on those anxieties too.
You can help by reassuring her that you, the parents, are in control and will keep her brother safe. While it is essential to teach all of your children about food safety so they will be appropriately wary, as you say, you don’t want their anxiety to skyrocket. It’s difficult to walk this fine line, but in order for your youngest to calm down, she needs to sense a greater calmness in the family unit.
Consider ways to help yourselves and your allergic child feel less anxiety about this allergy. Have him work with you to choose safe foods, show him how to self-administer his epinephrine injector, and teach his friends what to do in an emergency. This will help your child to feel empowered and you to feel more trusting of his ability to cope with his anaphylaxis. These feelings of control will trickle down to your daughter and help her feel less frightened.