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No means NO! Listening to kids with food allergies

A recent article came out titled “8 Things Not to Say to a Parent of a Child with Severe Food Allergies“, and it got me thinking – what is the worst thing someone can say?  Honestly I really do understand that most people have no idea what we go through each day. I was probably the same way, but now things have changed so much it’s hard to imagine a life without a care about food ingredients.

But I will admit, there is something that really gets me upset: When people will not take NO for an answer. This has nothing to do with food, and everything to do with not being listened to.

This summer and for the past few summers my daughter has attended a week-long day camp.  This particular camp was a choir camp. With an activity like this, here’s what we usually do:

Email ahead of time to let the person in charge know my daughter has food allergies and that we’d like to speak to them for a short bit on the first morning. On the first day of the camp we fill out the customary forms and waivers, but then always find the person in charge to explain about the food allergies. This is not always easy, as this person will be distracted. So I’ll wait until they are free to talk. We explain about life-threatening food allergies, that she’ll be bringing food from home, and only eating food from home. Then we’ll ask about what kind of parties and food-centered activities they have planned in the week. As with every activity that includes children these days, the customary ice cream and pizza party is always part of schedule. They get the run-down about her carrying an Epipen and other medications. And now at age 11, she carries a cell phone with her in these situations so she can call us or I can check in and see how she’s doing.

Then I kiss my girl goodbye and hope all will go well.

We knew there will be an ice cream party on Thursday and a pizza party on Friday. Tuesday, Autumn and I went shopping and picked out something she wanted instead of the ice cream they would be serving.  Some of her favorite options are those frozen chocolate covered bananas from Trader Joe’s (everyone loves those and she can share them), So Delicious Mini Ice Cream bars, or sometimes I’ll make a little mini ice cream cupcake by cutting a cupcake in half, putting a scoop of ice cream and the top back on it and storing it in the freezer.  When there is no freezer available then she’ll bring a regular cupcake— I keep a stash in the freezer.  Instead of pizza, her favorite is a BLT. Sometimes we make little pizzas, but they don’t taste as good as a BLT. She understands it’s not the exact thing people are eating, but it’s something she can sit with her friends and eat while they eat and according to her the stuff the kids get usually looks gross anyway. Most of the time the other kids want to try what she’s eating. She doesn’t feel left out and she is happy.

Wednesday she gets pulled aside during the camp by an adult to ask what kind of ice cream they should purchase for her, so she doesn’t feel left out.  Autumn politely says, “no thanks, my mom has something that I will bring instead”.  The adult insists, “no really, I want to include you – how about a lactose-free ice cream”.   Ugh— you get the idea.  This exchange went back and forth several more times until finally Autumn just walked away confused.  She’s sure she said “No,” but this person would not listen to her.  Autumn understands that most people don’t get it— they have no idea what she’s dealing with, but at 11 it’s hard for her to argue with an adult.

She came home and told me all about it, saying it was no big deal. We had a long talk and I’ll admit, I was upset. My kid has to deal with so much already, she really doesn’t need an adult pressuring her like this.  When my kid says no, LISTEN TO HER.

I think not listening is a pretty common thing these days. Everyone’s rushing around so busy, on their phones, head down catching Pokémon, whatever— we don’t take the time to listen with full attention to each other. It can be an even greater challenge for children to get adults to listen. I can admit, I don’t always allow my kids the full attention they deserve. At home we have family meetings to check in with our schedules, give some kudos and appreciation to each other, and address any issues in the house. In those meetings we have practiced active listening when someone isn’t listening. I find it’s a really helpful exercise to make sure all sides are being heard, and it’s a great practice for all of us to learn better communication. The best way to be heard is to listen first— with full attention.

The next morning I kept my cool, but I brought Autumn with me and had a talk with the Director about listening to kids when they say no. In these situations I find it always works best to be kind and respectful but firm. It’s important to model appropriate behavior so that Autumn can learn to stick up for herself and also know I’ll always be there to help her.  She was worried I’d embarrass her …  I probably did a little bit, but that’s what parents have to do sometimes.  In the end, she was glad I spoke up.

The rest of the week went without incident, but it had us talking at home about how to handle “well meaning” adults.  In this case, I was really proud of my daughter. She was respectful and kept saying no, and when they didn’t listen to her, I stepped in.  For now, this works, but one day she’ll be on her own.  Just like sports, she’s in training every day for a time when she’ll have to deal with this stuff independently, but I’m glad she knows we will always be here to listen.

Have a safe end of the summer!

Until next time, Lisa


Below are some links about listening and family meetings you may find helpful.

Our family meetings look similar to a positive discipline family meeting: https://www.positivediscipline.com/articles/family-meetings

Active listening: http://fatherhood.about.com/od/familycommunication/p/How-To-Practice-Active-Listening-With-Your-Children.htm

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