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Friday, November 20, 2009

Taking Care of Non-Allergic Siblings (Dec. 2007)

When Ben boarded the bus for the first time to head off to Kindergarten, I had already spent at least 20 hours with his teacher, the principal, the school nurse and various other representatives of the school's faculty.

When Ben's sister Molly climbed on the bus the very next year for her first day of Kindergarten, I realized that I had spent a total of five minutes with her teacher in a classroom during an open house visitation.

Such is the life of a sibling of an allergic child.

Allergies are hard. They're hard on our allergic children. They're hard on us as parents. They're hard on our school systems. And they are hard on our non-allergic children.

There are many issues involved in caring for our non-allergic children.

We must think about "equitable, not equal." It is important that while we might not do exactly the same thing for each child, what we do do with them must be equitable (while continuing to foster a safe environment for the food allergic child). For some families, this means taking non-allergic children out to a restaurant, while the allergic child is on a playdate with friends.

Food allergic children also tend to receive more attention than their siblings because of the nature of allergies, so parents must make a concerted effort to devote one-on-one time with each child in the families. This lets siblings know that they are worthy of parents undevoted attention.

Additionally, there is a fine line between age-appropriate care-taking activities AND relieving our non-allergic children from that burden. Young siblings can be taught that an older brother has food allergies and we have to read ingredients. Older siblings can be taught where the Epipen is kept and how to get adult help. However, siblings never should be put in the place where they are the gatekeeper of information or they are determining which foods are safe and which are not.

There are no easy answers when it comes to parenting in general. But when food allergies complicate the situation, through communication with your partner and constructive criticism of yourself, you can raise both food allergic and non-food allergic children to be well-adjusted happy individuals.

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