Child Development: Food Allergies, Your Child's Behavior, and YOUR Guilt

I've been away on vacation for a bit, and we were able to visit lots of family and friends. I was struck by how many have kids with food allergies and sensitivities -- more and more of us are discovering what a difference our food choices have on how we, and our kids, feel and behave. But it ain't easy, managing special diets. The pressure to "join in" and have "just one cookie" is quite difficult. The pressure even comes from within the family, often in the form of well-meaning relatives who want our kids to "not be different" and "just have fun". Many parents feel guilty that they can't give their child what the other kids can have. But guess what? Parenting is at least as often about saying "no" as it is about saying "yes", and having limits and structure in life is good for our kids' ultimate development. On the other hand, you don't want to go to the other extreme and be rigid when there's no need. So it's a balance between being realistic about food choices, firm in your decisions, and flexible when you CAN be. I appreciate the comments left by Hot Wife, KiwiLog and Margaret after my last post, and I urge you to review them, and their resources, if you're interested. Here are some of my additional thoughts and recommendations as well:

For parents of kids with food sensitivities:

Make a big deal out of exploring new, safe food options. Have fun in the kitchen and enlist your child's natural desire to learn the "rules".

Kids with sensitivities (as opposed to true food allergies) can often have a certain amount of the "offending" food. Determine, with her doctor and/or nutritionist, how often your child can have foods that trigger her sensitivities. Once a week? Once a month? Once a year? Then give her the freedom to pick and choose those foods within her allowed time-frame.

Be flexible in allowing "treats" that fit in with her diet -- don't make yourself crazy trying to follow every single rule about healthy foods. The more unnecessarily rigid you are, the more you risk a backlash against your rules in adolescence.

Stay closely in touch with online or in-person support groups, as information about food sensitivities and allergies changes rapidly, and your doctor may not have the resources to keep you abreast of all the developments, new foods available, etc.

For parents of kids with life-threatening allergies, I also suggest the following:

TALK to your child, even if she's very young, about her food safety issues. Empathize with the fact that she can't have what she wants; you understand that it's hard. Give her examples in daily life of you and others saying "no" to themselves in order to be healthy and successful. Explain that it's hard for ALL kids to say "no" to themselves, and you'll help her to do that until she's able to do it for herself.

Try not to feel guilty about "depriving" your kids of the junk they can't have. All parents have challenges with their kids, and this is yours. It's your job to keep her safe. She'll understand your reasons as she gets older.

Don't hesitate to tell everyone at your child's school, and playdates, about her safety issues. Don't worry about "rocking the boat". Use your child's pediatrician as a backup if the school doesn't take your child's safety seriously.

Use this experience as an example of how the whole family can effectively deal with one of life's challenges. This is only one of many that will be faced by you and your child, and you have the opportunity of making it a learning experience for everyone!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink