The social world of today’s small child can be more hectic than that of an adult! There may be:
- Family visits
- Mother and Toddler groups
- NCT groups
- Playing with friends away from home
- Activity groups such as toddler music groups
For a child with allergy, some of these experiences might seem to exclude them:
- How can a child with a wheat allergy enjoy party food?
- How can a child with dust mite allergy play in a dusty church hall?
- How can a child with eczema enjoy the rough and tumble of a toddler group?
However, with the right knowledge, understanding and motivation from adults, allergic children can enjoy most of the activities and opportunities that children without allergies take for granted.
For children it is not only just fun to be with other children. If they are encouraged to play, explore and experiment with children of a similar age, their social and educational development is greatly improved. Helping children with allergy to become as involved as other children in activities can sometimes take a bit of planning and communication, but this will reap rewards for both parent and child.
Small children can be worried or alarmed about another child who appears different or is unwell because of allergy symptoms. This could be when a child doesn’t run around as much, has an obvious skin problem or who seems to always be sneezing and upset.
While most symptoms can be managed, there will inevitably be days when they flare up and are more noticeable. Children of a young age will generally directly say what they think and this means they might comment on another child’s allergic condition in a way that may upset the allergic child. It is important that allergies are explained to other children as this will help them accept the allergic child.
This understanding about allergy can be achieved by thinking about the groups of people you might need to inform and help to understand about allergy:
- other parents
As a parent of a child with an allergy, you will often find that you have to help people understand your child’s allergy. You can also use information from the Allergy UK website to help explain how each person in contact with your child can help make sure that they are safe, involved and happy.
The relationships between an allergic child and siblings can sometimes be difficult for both sides. Siblings may feel that it is sometimes a nuisance to have an allergic brother or sister. They may feel resentful of the attention that the child gets or of any restrictions that may be placed upon the family as a whole.
Jealousy over time spent with the allergic child (e.g. application of moisturising creams, preparation of special foods or hospital visits and checks) can affect everyone’s daily life and sometimes it feels like the allergic child is always the centre of attention.
Equally, a child suffering from allergy may be jealous of the fact that their brother or sister does not have to undergo the same treatments. If their allergy restricts their social lives and prevents them from having the same freedom as their siblings, they may also feel resentful.
One way to lessen the impact of the allergic disease on the whole family is by involving siblings with aspects of the allergic child’s routine and by clearly explaining why it is necessary to manage the allergy. It is useful to include all children in activities related to the allergy so that both the allergic child and the siblings feel that they have an important role within the family.
This inclusive approach may help promote support amongst siblings and improve their understanding of why it is important to control allergens, not have certain foods in the house, not have a particular pet, etc.
Try to encourage the non-allergic sibling to help with special occasions but also have time when the non-allergic sibling can be the centre of attention. For example this could be an afternoon spent doing an activity that they have chosen.
Often the parents and siblings of an allergic child quickly become familiar with the problems of allergy and accept it as part of their daily life. However, the wider family can take longer to understand your child’s allergies and may not have a clear understanding of which precautions they should be taking.
Sometimes relatives appear to be difficult when dealing with allergies perhaps because of a lack of knowledge or fear. They may also never have encountered allergy before. If your child has an allergy to something which can be avoided, then talk about this with relatives whose homes you visit frequently.
If a relative has a pet that your child is allergic to then ask if it can be put outside when you visit. You may need to talk to your doctor about medication before a visit or you may have to arrange meeting elsewhere to avoid the allergens.
Whilst the whole world cannot be expected to adapt to your child’s condition, close family members be the most willing to help and to make their childhood experiences as fun and worry free as possible.
You will need to explain to relatives about your child’s condition to help them understand and you may need to do this more than once. Where possible, keep family members informed about the treatments that your child is receiving and how they are working. Regular information will help them understand and they will feel more comfortable about having your child in their home and caring for them in your absence. It is also helpful to explain what your child is not allergic to so that confusion is kept to a minimum.
After all your efforts you may still have relatives who are unwilling to see that the symptoms could be a problem. Remember your child’s health is paramount and you have to make sure people understand that you are not making a fuss or trying to be ‘over protective’. Make sure your relatives understand what has happened in previous allergic reactions and how it made your child feel. Share your concerns and discuss the ways to prevent it happening again.
With food allergy there is a lot of information to take in about which ingredients are linked to which food. Hidden allergens – such as coatings on frozen vegetables or possible nut contamination in chocolate and cake – can be forgotten by people.
Encourage those people around your child to learn about these things and use the Allergy UK website to help your relatives to gain a good sense of how allergy can affect your child. Your dietician can help with relevant food lists and you can provide relatives with snacks to give to your child if necessary. You can then still let them enjoy the ‘giving’ of treats knowing that they are safe for your child.
Remember that cousins and other children in the family can also learn about your child’s allergy. If you do not explain the allergy to the other children in the family, then your child will be left to do it. It is better if the facts come from you and your child can also explain things to the other children.
Consider whether it would be beneficial for your relatives to read information that you can get for them or if it would be better for them to watch a video about your child’s condition to enhance their understanding. It is a good idea to explain to them about emergency procedures and encourage them to have training in using auto-injector pens. This will increase their confidence when it comes to helping your child and will help relatives feel more relaxed about your child joining in normal family activities.
Last updated: March 2012