By Nicole Schwarz, MA, LMFT
Sending a child to school has its fair share of anxiety for any parent. But for parents sending children with allergies or health concerns, there is an extra layer of apprehension involved.
One common concern among parents is how to keep their child from feeling left out in the classroom. With class party treats they can’t eat, activities they can’t enjoy, and separate lunch tables, it’s easy to understand why parents worry.
Instead of being driven by anxiety and fear, empower your children with skills they can use in their classroom.
Here are nine ways to support your child:
- Empathize with their experience: When your child comes home talking about being left out at school, resist the urge to rush in and defend them, call the teacher, or solve the problem. Instead, just be present with your child in their experience. Make a guess about what they may have been feeling and respond, “That sounds (fill in the emotion).”
- Brainstorm solutions together: Often, parents are quick to rush in and “fix” the problems for their kids. Unfortunately, kids miss out on a valuable lesson in problem-solving. Work together to explore ideas and possibilities that your child can try during the school day. Then, check in after school and see how it went. Revise as necessary.
- Give them medical information: Many kids feel more empowered when they understand the “why” behind their restrictions so they can explain it to others. Young kids may say, “Eating peanut-free is the healthiest choice for me!” Older kids may say, “My body sees gluten as an intruder and attacks! Unfortunately, this makes me really sick.”
- Practice assertive body language: Demonstrate the difference between “passive” (shoulders slumped, eyes down) and “aggressive” (hands in fists, eyes glaring) and “assertive” (stand tall, shoulders back, eyes up). Encourage your child to use assertive body language when they are feeling bullied or left out at school.
- Find a confident voice: Similar to body language, tone of voice can also be “passive,” “aggressive,” or “assertive.” Have your child say the same sentence using the three different tones. Practice using the assertive tone, combined with assertive body language. Talk about how this can be used when they are feeling picked on at school.
- Encourage a variety of friendships: Resist the urge to “force” friendships based on a similar allergy. Older kids are often struggling to strike a balance between being an individual and being accepted into the crowd. Focus on helping your child build healthy friendships with positive people.
- Create positive mantras: Work with your child to write a few positive, uplifting phrases to repeat during the school day. These may or may not have anything to do with your child’s allergy. They are true statements, even if they do not feel true at the time: “I am brave.” “I am friendly.” “I make healthy choices.” “I am more than my allergy.”
- Empower your child to make changes in their school: If your child is willing, give them an opportunity to educate their peers, teachers or staff at school. Maybe your child will decide to make the class a wheat-and-dairy-free treat. Maybe he or she will write a story about an epinephrine auto-injector, explaining what it’s for and how it works.
- Manage your own anxiety: Sometimes our own worries trickle down to our kids. If you are anxious about your child feeling left out, they may begin to worry as well. It’s not easy to parent a child with a health concern. Take time to focus on your own self-care, find a supportive community, or seek help from a mental health provider.
Instead of anticipating the worst, prepare your child to be successful in their classroom. Allergies and health concerns may set them apart, but it doesn’t mean your child will suffer. Empower them to feel confident, create solutions that work, and build friendships based on factors beyond what they can or cannot eat!
Nicole Schwarz is a mom to three young girls, one of whom has celiac disease. She is a parent coach and licensed therapist. She provides positive parenting tips, strategies for managing anxiety, and support for parents on her blog, Imperfect Families. She is also the author of an ebook, Positive Parenting for Imperfect Families.
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