If your child has food allergies, you are well aware of the downsides of food allergy life – the anxiety, the feeling of being “different,” the difficulty in finding safe foods and the desire to blend in with others. These are serious concerns that could undermine anyone’s self-esteem and/or hinder emotional development.
The most fundamental measure to sustain life is eating. It is more important than having a home, wearing clothes that fit or spending time with friends. Eating and drinking are required, just to exist.
Now imagine that essential element of life is a danger itself. One wrong bite and the consequences could be severe, even tragic. This is what our kids deal with every day of their lives as they develop and move toward adulthood.
So how is it possible that kids who grow up living with food allergies could end up being confident? How could they be self-assured after years of dealing with unrelenting fear and adversity that many adults don’t even understand?
I’ll tell you why. It’s because these kids are determined; they have perseverance. Most importantly, they have grit!
As parents, we teach our allergic children to stay safe and secure in a world that often seems the opposite. With guidance and support, it turns out there are benefits to walking a path that is outside of the norm. Following are 10 remarkable traits that I’ve noticed in our son Alex and other food allergy children.
10 Top Traits From Food Allergy Life
1. These kids are brave: I’ve seen a determination to find ways to be part of the outside world. Many kids who are able to go anywhere and do anything, will stay home. For them, there’s no urgency. Kids with food allergies want to go out and do things. They want to spend time with people – and are willing to put in the effort to make it happen.
Most people have no idea of the thought, preparation and sometimes pre-eating it takes for a person with food allergies to go out for the day. Our kids have discovered that leaving their comfort zone can be done – and is worth it. They want to be included.
Am I the only one who cries during The Little Mermaid when Ariel sings, “Wish I could be part of that world”?
2. They are planners: There is no just showing up to an event. With food allergies, you have to consider what’s around the bend. If it’s a school field trip day or a birthday party at a venue, they need to know what’s involved.
They have to ask questions:
– “Will there be food available that I can eat? If not, how many meals and snacks do I need to bring?” “Is outside food allowed where we are going?”
– “Will it be hot or cold outside? I need to make sure I can keep my auto-injector at the right temperature.”
“Are the adults in charge trained on what an allergic reaction looks like? How will I get help if I need it?”
3. They make excellent teammates: Kids with food allergies (and their parents) go to great lengths to be part of extracurricular activities (from athletics to band, drama, choir). They have to want it badly enough to put forward the effort required, including travel. If they’re on the team or in the band, they’re all in.
Safe food is needed, both on and off the road. These students can’t plan on wolfing down whatever food is available at a roadside restaurant after an all-day competition. The ability to rise above the stress of food allergy life takes a high level of focus and commitment. These kids do it every day.
4. They’ve had peer pressure-proofing: When growing up with food allergies, our kids have learned to say, “no, I can’t do that” to friends and to adults. And not just any adults – those in positions of authority! Teachers, principals, coaches, restaurant staff, family members.
From a young age they’ve learned – and I’d venture most have accepted – they can’t simply go along with the crowd. They’ve had to speak up for themselves when a friend or an adult doesn’t understand their food concerns.
There can be tricky peer situations, but in their hearts they know they have no choice. They’re aware of the potential severe consequences if they bend allergy rules just to fit in. Saying “no” is a skill many adults without allergies could stand to learn.
5. They know to ask for help. Every child has stress at times and may need extra support from friends, family or even professionals like doctors and school counselors. Problems grow when children won’t talk about their fears.
Many kids with food allergies are great at expressing their concerns with parents or friends. Others are still working toward having an open dialogue with others. What quickly becomes evident to them is the benefit in seeking help on food allergy issues, rather than trying to go it alone.
6. They own their reality: Parents tend to sugarcoat facts in the interest of keeping their children innocent, but that’s not a luxury food allergy parents have. When our children are mature enough to understand, they are taught the life-threatening consequences of accepting food from others. I forced myself to let go of the mom guilt due to my son growing up faster than other kids. Instead, I focused on the big picture: his safety.
Our kids have processed the reality that disappointing someone by rejecting their food is better than risking their own life. Dramatic? Yes. But is it reality? Also, yes!
7. Their priorities are straight: Kids can get hung up on the latest clothing styles or which TikTok video is trending. That can be fine and age-appropriate, but kids with food allergies know priority No. 1 is their health and food safety. When planning their clothes, they look at the weather as well as the best way to carry their lifesaving auto-injectors, even in the heat and cold.
Our teenage son is more concerned about which masculine pocket bag he will carry than what shoes match his outfit. A secure location for his wallet, keys, phone and auto-injectors are always a prime concern.
8. They pay attention to details: We may be raising an entire group of researchers and don’t even realize it. Food allergy kids have the ability to pause and take the time to read food labels, which can include words they’ve never seen and can’t pronounce. They know how to Google an ingredient to find out if it’s safe for them.
Our son has even noticed food packaging designs, such as similarly packaged products that aren’t safe for his allergies. As a bonus, being aware of what they are eating is another way to have control of their lives.
9. They learn to find friends who care: Kids with food allergies are learning to look for qualities in friendship that are deeper than who wears the coolest clothes or who is the best athlete. They will likely come to realize they need allies who genuinely care, and will walk with them during their food allergy journey.
Our son understands he needs friends who are mature enough to take a possible reaction seriously and to get help. A couple of his friends have even learned how to administer the auto-injector. They want to have his back.
10. Their parents model behavior: As a food allergy mom, I had to learn to be confident and direct. The only way my son could learn to speak up was to see me do it. I look people in the eye when I ask about food in restaurants or tell a friend we can’t meet at a particular place. I don’t blink or look embarrassed. I am willing to wait silently for a response; no rambling or apologizing. I am always polite but I stand firm. We teach our son to do the same.
After all the adversity kids with food allergies face, they are still here. Still standing. Still moving forward. Dealing with that adversity teaches them to be strong, resilient and I’m seeing it build confidence. It’s heartening that an unexpected upside of a child managing food allergies may well be a lifetime of seeing the bigger picture.
Caroline Fleur is the author of Destiny and Other Dilemmas, a novel with twist, turns, romance and a dash of food allergy perspective. The former bilingual and special education teacher has a son with multiple food allergies and EoE, and she is dedicated to raising food allergy awareness. Caroline and her family live in the Dallas area.