What Age Should a Child Become Independent?
It is impossible to dictate at what time you should allow your child a specific level of freedom since every child matures at a different rate. So what may be achievable for one child may take longer for another.
With allergies most children learn a certain amount of sense and responsibility because they have learnt how to manage their condition. They understand what to avoid and they know that this avoidance helps them to feel better.
However there can be pressure from other children to conform, or to do something unwise. When being taunted by other children, even the most sensible child can do something silly. By understanding the pressures from other children you can help your child to cope with potential problems before they become an issue. An allergic child needs to develop a strong sense of self-esteem and to be able to say a clear ‘no’ to others where necessary.
It can be difficult to explain to a child about peer pressure and that sometimes other children might encourage them to touch or eat something they shouldn’t, in order to be accepted. Pressure can also come from other children who do not understand allergy or are unaware of the importance of the problem. Understanding peer pressure can give an allergic child a greater sense of control so that they may be less likely to be pushed into doing something they know is unwise.
How Much Independence?
Independence at any age can cause anxieties. It can be difficult to allow your child more freedom because of fears about whether they will be able to cope with their allergies. Yet with support, advice and up-to-date information, your child may become a ‘mini-expert’ and learn to control and accept their condition much more quickly than adults would be able to.
The level of independence which you give your child will depend largely on their age and ability. Certain treatments will be more suitable for them to manage themselves such as having access to their inhalers and being allowed to use them when necessary. This is also true for auto-injector pens as they become older.
Start talking to your child about allergic problems from an early age and encourage them to take responsibility for some appropriate parts of their treatment regime. Praise them when they remember to carry out certain parts of their regime or when they note a trigger which may be unsuitable for them. Leaflets, sticker charts and diary cards are available from some hospitals and surgeries and may help your child manage their condition. A number of websites provide information about allergies and many have interactive games, access to videos and DVD’s and other content directed at children.
It is important that children are involved as much as possible in their care and are able to say what suits them best. When treatments are reviewed at the hospital or GP practice it can be good for children to be allowed to take an active role as part of the plan of care. It is also good to talk to an allergic child about every aspect of their treatment (as appropriate for their age) so that they feel more involved in decision making and therefore more in control of their allergy.
It is also sensible to go through the child’s medical plan of action and to make sure the child understands. Children need to be aware that sometimes it is necessary to check with the adults who are looking after them that they understand the child’s condition and treatment regime.
Important steps to help a child towards independence include:
- Involving your child in their care and giving them jobs to do
- Allowing them to collect their medicine when leaving the house
- Giving them their own medical bag so that they get into the routine of always taking this with them from an early age
- Teaching them to always keep their medication in one area so that it is easily accessible
- Establishing good habits such as teaching them how to communicate when they are not feeling well or are having symptoms
- Using role play to give them more confidence in situations that they may find themselves in. For example, refusing politely if they are offered something which is not appropriate for them
- Allowing your child access to family days or youth groups from allergy support organisations. As your child gets older it sometimes helps to be included in events like this without family or parents as it allows the child to identify with peer groups about their conditions
- Making sure a mobile phone is available (fully charged with credit) if your child is out independently and that they have emergency contact numbers for parents and doctors, etc
- Reviewing contact details regularly, in case of a change of phone numbers, etc
- There are now phone apps available for use in emergencies
- Laminating a reminder card with your child’s kit so that they can always find telephone numbers easily and so they are not stored solely on a mobile phone.