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Parenting Kids with Food Allergies-Stress Goes with the Territory

Updated: Aug 7, 2018

By Marté Matthews, LMFT

One in 13 American children has a serious food allergy. That’s 5.9 million young people. Parenting children with food allergies is a daily tight rope walk as parents wipe down every surface, read every label, and prepare meals from scratch to keep food allergic children from having their next reaction. Even then, families dealing with food allergies show tension and anxiety levels higher than for most parents, and more similar to families with serious and chronic illnesses like diabetes, simply due to the risk of unexpected and serious problems.

Like any other children, kids with food allergies are going to misbehave some of the time. We wish we could give them a chance to just be kids, but what’s scary is that disobeying could mean touching or eating something dangerous, getting hives, having trouble breathing, and ending up in the hospital emergency room again. Coping with that level of stress is the daily life of a parent with a child with food allergy.

Parents do ask me about how counseling or a support group could really help. After all, dealing with food allergies is stressful, so everyone in the family is stressed. That’s just the way it is, right? Must that really be just the way it is?

I work with families with serious food allergy at Child & Family Counseling Group in San Jose, and at Stanford Medical School in the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy & Asthma Research. I’ve learned so much from many families, from my friends, and from my colleagues with kids with food allergies. I’ve seen them find ways to manage their stress, and I’ve helped many kids and parents learn coping skills to reduce their anxiety. Over the years, I’ve helped children with food allergies learn to challenge themselves in healthy ways to “cut those feelings down to size” and to stop panic from “butting in where it doesn’t belong,” to be “putting those fears in their place,” and finding ways to enjoy life again.

Stress and anxiety symptoms are like a smoke detector. When the alarm sounds, it signals that something is wrong. Worry about food allergies keeps children from eating something without checking first with a parent. But too much anxiety is like an alarm that goes off even when nothing is actually wrong. It just isn’t helpful anymore.

I propose that if a parent or child is in a state of near constant stress, like that alarm that goes off all the time, that a support group or psychotherapy could be helpful. Support groups provide the unique experience of being with a number of other parents who truly “get it.” Psychotherapy for children and families won’t ever shut off anxiety and stress, but will teach strategies to manage it, to keep anxiety where it belongs.

If you are a parent or a caregiver stressing about food allergies, I hope you will choose to come join us for the free series of talks, support groups and events at CFCG in 2018, listed on our website:

I hope to see you there!

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