Having a child with food allergies means constant anxiety, vigilance and planning, and limitations on family activities.
Children must learn to handle feeling "different" and having to say "no" to certain foods. To help families cope, Lynda Schneider, MD, and Jennifer LeBovidge, PhD, in the Allergy Program at Children's Hospital Boston, created a half-day psychoeducational/support workshop, with a group for children (age 5 to 7) and one for their parents.
The children's groups, facilitated by a Child Life Specialist, included games and an art project to encourage the children to express their feelings about having a food allergy. The parent groups, led by a psychologist and an allergist or pediatric nurse, focused on how to handle stress, support children emotionally and teach children age-appropriate allergy management skills. Of the 61 participating children, 64 percent had been to an emergency department with allergic reactions, 40 percent had used Epi-pen and 20 percent had a history of anaphylaxis in the past year. Almost all were allergic to multiple foods. (The average was five.)
On a follow-up questionnaire, the parents reported significantly greater feelings of competence and an eased sense of burden. The children enjoyed meeting other kids with food allergies and engaging in "medical play"—acting out their feelings with doctors' kits and toy Epi-pens, ambulances and food.
The Allergy Program has also completed one pilot group for children ages 8 to 10 years old—an age when
children's anxiety about allergies rises and can even lead to disordered eating. The program hopes to hold further workshops later this year.