They say that giving someone a fish feeds them for a day, but teaching someone to fish feeds them for a lifetime. While there’s much more to raising kids and teenagers than that, it’s true that teaching critical life skills and allowing kids to learn by making mistakes is far more valuable than doing it all for them.
But what if you’re teaching them how to live with a life-threatening allergy, and there’s no room for mistakes?
As food allergy parents and allies ourselves, we’re right there with you. It’s natural (and necessary!) to relentlessly protect our little ones, especially while they’re still learning how to navigate life with a food allergy. But when it comes time for them to take off on their own and live without you by their side, how can you make sure they have the skills to succeed?
It’s simple… just teach them to fish!
It’s About More Than Just Safety
Safety is always top of mind for parents of children with food allergies. But building a strong sense of self confidence does much more for your child than keep them safe – it serves to build independence, reduce anxiety, support emotional well-being, and prepare them to problem solve later on in life. Teens with allergies entering the world on their own are bound to encounter people who don’t understand what the “big deal” is, or those who insist that “just a bite won’t hurt”. Like casting out in bad weather, losing a lure, or snapping a line, a strong base of self confidence allows them to move safely past challenges and keep on fishing.
External pressure isn’t the only issue kids with food allergies may face as they begin to gain independence; some of life’s toughest challenges can actually come from within! People-pleasing” – the tendency to make space for others in an attempt to reduce social conflict often to our own disadvantage – is a habit even non-allergic people struggle with. And although it may feel better to avoid conflict in the moment, setting safety aside to avoid inconveniencing another person is incredibly risky. No matter how awkward it may be to ask for the chef at a restaurant or say no to an unlabeled homemade treat, raising confident children means teaching them from the start that it’s always worth it to stand up for yourself.
Fishing Lessons: The Life-Long Solution
You’re not alone if your brain is always working on overdrive. It’s exhausting and constant, but it’s worth it to know your kiddos are safe and fully spoken up for whenever you advocate on behalf of them. This makes sense if you’re caring for younger children, but as they become teens and young adults, you may actually be missing a fantastic real-life opportunity for them to practice advocating for themselves. Here’s how we do it.
For younger children, it’s necessary to take on the role of full advocate. After all, they are still learning how the world works! Though they know that certain foods make them feel really sick, they may not fully understand the consequences of ingesting their allergens. At this point, keeping them safe, teaching them to listen to their body, building trust through open communication, and modeling advocacy is the goal. In their eyes, you are a master fisherman – by watching you, they are learning what good fishing looks like.
With your help, older children (or those who are beginning to spend more time away from you) should be encouraged to find their own voice. Think of it like letting them hold the fishing rod for the first time, with you right there to help in case they catch a fish too big to reel in alone. With practice, they’ll gain more independence and start to recognize what it feels like to set themselves up to succeed. Encourage them to speak up for their needs in public, help them practice saying “no”, and equip them with phrases they can memorize for common situations. Having older children inform restaurant staff about their food allergy or ask if items contain their allergen at stores are simple, low-stress ways to introduce them to this concept.
Soon enough, you’ll realize your little ones aren’t so little anymore. A life away from you is right on the horizon, and it’s time to make sure all the food allergy advocacy skills that they’ve acquired over the years are rock solid. Early teen years are a great time to begin encouraging more independence, empowering them to build their food allergy support network, and giving them space to develop more agency. Finally, they’re fishing on their own! Finding ways for them to rehearse these skills is key here. Try sending them on grocery trips to practice reading labels and setting the expectation that they’re in charge of speaking up for themselves at restaurants as a way to practice self advocacy in their everyday life. Nobody’s perfect – they’ll likely make some minor mistakes along the way, and that’s okay. At this point, your job is to provide a safety net while allowing them to spread their wings.
As food allergy parents, our children are our life. We get it – giving up control is challenging, uncomfortable, and even downright terrifying at times! When the doubts begin to creep in, remember what drives you to do everything you can to give your child the best possible future. Despite the challenges they may face living with food allergies, they’re more prepared than ever because of YOU. So teach them to fish – you’ll be feeding them (safely) for a lifetime.
About Intrommune Therapeutics
At Intrommune, we are dedicated to improving and protecting the lives of the over 220 million people worldwide who suffer from life-altering food allergies. Our revolutionary oral mucosal immunotherapy (OMIT) treatment platform is a patient-friendly solution that conveniently incorporates allergy immunotherapy into a patient’s established teeth brushing routine. Our lead product, INT301, is in Phase 1/2 clinical trials for peanut allergy desensitization.
Explore our website to learn more about our mission to develop simple, safe and effective solutions for food allergy sufferers so that they and their loved ones can live without fear.
Cover photo by Monkey Business Images. Licensed for use by Canva Pro.