Siblings are a massive part of a food allergic child’s life; often they are the first friend, the first person they go somewhere without a parent with and if older often left in charge of keeping their sibling safe. The sibling is likely to witness an allergic reaction, which can vary in severity depending on a number of factors and can change with each exposure. The sibling can observe everything from a mild reaction which can include hives or redness to a moderate reaction with vomiting and wheezing which requires the immediate administration of epinephrine and the call to 911. Finally, there is a severe reaction with multiple system failures and the required stay in the Intensive Care Unit.
The many rules that are in place to keep the food allergic child safe and included can often time lead to a non-allergic sibling missing out on social activities, special treats, and living with a heightened sense of fear. In my own experience traveling the country and talking with food allergic families, I often hear from parents that their non-allergic children suffer post-reaction anxiety and fear. These same children may also find themselves in a parental role, trying to protect a sibling, feeling a sense of responsibility for their allergic siblings’ safety. Food allergic siblings often feel overwhelmed, with the responsibility for their sibling’s care. They can feel jealous of the extra time the allergic sibling “gets” to spend with Mom and Dad, even if it’s at doctors’ appointments or in the hospital.
Here are 9 things you can do to help your non-allergic child feel empowered, safe, and special.
- Schedule time to do a fun activity with your non-allergic child alone. For the non-allergic sibling, this can mean “sneaking” away to have a special treat that the brother or sister can’t have. Try to do this at least monthly and let them when it will be so that they have something they know will be just you and them.
- Acknowledge their feelings and that sometimes you must spend more time on your other child’s care. Remind them that there, maybe a time when you will need to spend more time with them as well.
- Remind your child that they are a child and not responsible for their siblings’ care.
- Address any anxiety the sibling may have with real facts. Provide age-appropriate education about risk, challenge extreme thoughts about the chances of having an allergic reaction.
- Emphasize all of the things the child can control.
- Provide opportunities they can do with their brother or sister that don’t involve food.
- Have regular training sessions with your Epinephrine auto-injector (all of the brands come with trainers). Practicing can make the idea of using them much less scary.
- If a reaction occurs; take the time to check in with your child. See how they are processing it. Remind them, and it is not their fault or responsibility.
- If your child continues to struggle with anxiety, fear, or jealousy about their brother or sister’s food allergy get help.