Letting go of the “parental reigns” is hard enough at the best of times. But when you have a child with allergies, the task is monumental. That’s because the stakes are so much higher if you misjudge your child’s ability to take responsibility for their well-being.
As the parent of a now 23-year-old allergic child, I freely and unabashedly admit that I hung onto those proverbial reigns as long as I could. Was it longer than needed? I don’t think so. When you have a “healthy” child, you can encourage independence by letting them suffer the consequences of their mistakes, since as we all know, life’s lessons are best learned through personal experience. But that approach certainly doesn’t work here, because the potential consequences of not being prepared in the event of an emergency are dire. So how do we reconcile letting our children take control of their allergies and keeping them safe at the same time?
The first step is to know your child. Because of their condition, you cannot “push” them to be responsible. Your child needs to understand the implications of their allergies, but remember that it is typically not before age 7 (and as late as 10) that they can fully grasp the concept of death. This knowledge is a game-changer for an al
lergic child, and how they respond is anyone’s guess. Some may mature overnight. Others may be unable to deal with this overwhelming new realization and pretend it’s not real. Let their response be your guide and respond accordingly.
As they get older, they will notice what steps you take to keep them safe, for example, calling ahead before an outing to see what food will be served. If your child is an extrovert, you can ask them if they would like to make the call. But bear in mind that these calls mean talking to adults, and most children are not comfortable doing that until well into their teens.
Never lose sight of the fact that you are a parent and that this is not a popularity contest. They may roll their eyes on the way out when you ask (again!) if they have their auto-injector and asthma medication with them.
As teens, they may not want to divulge where they’re going, and although they won’t make the necessary calls, they won’t want you to either. Stand firm.
When you have an allergic child, it’s hard not to be a helicopter parent. Using that metaphor, then I was a 737 jet. I make no excuses, and I have no regrets. Until this day I am making sure my daughter follows up with her pulmonary specialist and allergist. There is nothing I would like better than to shed this responsibility, but until I am 100% sure that she can fully assume the load, I will be there, because it’s my job and because I love her.