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Psychological Impact

Isabelle de Mallmann, Psychologist

Emotional reactions

Food allergies cause emotional reactions in children and their parents. It is important to define these reactions and take them into account to improve the quality of life of these families.

The main reactions are:

  • Anxiety over an accident whenever one is not in his or her comfort zone; this can cause difficulties when leaving the children alone, attending social events, traveling,...
  • Fear of new foods, which can sometimes trigger feeding problems because eating is no longer fun.
  • Fear of being identified as different or of being excluded by others, which can lead to children refusing to carry their medication.
  • Frustration of not being able to taste certain foods or not being able to eat like the others, especially on special occasions.
  • Sense of injustice among children and parents alike, which can lead the parents to feeling guilty about their child’s allergies.

Food allergies are serious, children and their parents need to be aware of the risks without dramatizing the situation or letting the aforementioned emotional reactions take over.

Parents of allergic children may become very anxious because they are living with the fear of a possible accident. This anxiety can lead to over-protection and can create an exclusive dependence between the parents and their children. In addition, parents can transfer their anxiety to their children who are at risk of developing anxious personalities.

Helping families of allergic children

Here is some advice to address these problems:

  • Give appropriate information to the parents and to the outside world on how to avoid accidents and how to react in case of one in order to minimize the risks and associated anxiety. It is also important to help defuse the situation so as to limit their anxiety.
  • Give them clues on how to manage the stress and the fears linked to allergies so that they can control them and their consequences.
  • Share parental responsibility with respect to the children's allergies to avoid the omnipotence of a parent for example. This responsibility should also be shared with other caretakers.
  • Explain their allergies to the children using an age and personality appropriate vocabulary. Make sure to explain the situation so that they avoid worries by giving them simple but precise explanations of their allergies and how to manage them in case of a problem.
  • Support the children by telling them that we all have a little burden to bear and that theirs is food allergies. This will little by little help them take ownership of their allergies, take responsibility, become independent, and eventually handle their allergies with confidence and even with pride.

Families face a new set of challenges with each age group. While children from 3 to 6 years can have such attitudes as refusing food or insisting on eating potentially dangerous ones, those aged 6 to 10 years may experience fear or anxiety when they are outside of their comfort zone. As for adolescents, their need to stand out and to belong to their peer group can prevent them from talking about their allergies (not sharing their concerns nor warning their friends about their allergies), or even push them to take risks such as not reading the list of ingredients or secretly eating forbidden foods...

Parents should observe their children: each child will be ready to take the above described independence at a different age, according to his or her own maturity, to his or her parents’ attitudes, and to the severity of his or her allergies.

If your children have emotional or psychological problems because of their allergies, you can talk to their allergist or contact a psychologist. It is important to help them express their feelings with people they trust and who can help them understand what is happening in their bodies and how to manage it.

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