TV’s Jo Frost: Finding the Right Mindset with Allergies
AL: Jo, we know you best as an expert with children. Every child wants to be invited to a birthday party or play date. What advice do you have for parents of children with food allergies who want their kids to enjoy the ‘normal’ childhood experiences? It’s not always easy when you have to be vigilant about food exposures.
JF: It’s also about preparing. You have to make sure that the person who is holding that birthday party actually has that information. And you have to help them to understand what they can do, so that they know what they can do to make sure your child is safe and protected in that circumstance.
The more you’re able to do that, the more the conversation is had and everybody else is aware. The host when it comes to food the children will have or to snacks is aware.
Articulating that will create a safe environment for children so they will be able to socialize and enjoy the event that they’re at. [For multiple allergies or allergens that are difficult to avoid, Allergic Living additionally recommends bringing your child’s own safe foods.]
It’s not something to be embarrassed about. Some children just have a medical condition. We have to be transparent, we have to voice what the medical condition is, so that we can really facilitate creating a fun, social environment for our children, so they can enjoy childhood without feeling restricted.
It’s about a mindset, about an attitude. When you become somebody who feels restricted [by the condition], then it becomes magnified. It’s about breaking through that restriction, and realizing that the more you can articulate and educate, and be prepared with your action plan, then you allow your child to have that childhood.
This is something I can testify to as a 43-year-old woman who had a very fulfilled childhood.
AL: What about other parents who shy away from inviting allergic kids over because they’re almost paralyzed with fear about the condition. What can be done?
JF: It’s again education. Give them the facts about anaphylaxis. It still goes back to the action plan: if you know the signs and symptoms, and you avoid allergens at all costs, and the child carries their EpiPens. (And if you did need to use them, you’d use them and call 911 afterwards.)
When you can give a parent an action plan and they can articulate that to the people who surround them and their family, then you calm all of those nerves and anxiety – because now they feel in control of the situation. It’s about being very open and recognizing that you are going to do all that you can to make sure your child can socialize and have fun in a safe environment.
AL: Sleepovers are another hot topic for socializing by the tween years. What advice do you have for a sleepover when a child’s got food allergies?
JF: As children get older, you have to work with them as they are maturing so they can make good decisions. [Again, Jo advises making sure the family is fully up to speed with the allergies and how to implement an action plan.]
With teenagers and tweens, I’ll sometimes do role play and certain scenarios to help them feel confident in how they’ll respond. Certain teenagers when put on the spot feel peer pressure or feel embarrassed if they don’t want to articulate that they have life-threatening allergies. So when a circumstance occurs, if they’ve already simulated it in role playing, they’re able to address it with confidence. I’ve even done this with adults in restaurants.
AL: How do you role play with an adult?
JF: Some adults feel a bit reserved to voice that they have these allergies, and they may have a server who wants to whisk through the menu.
I really teach them to ‘own’ the life-threatening allergy that they have. It is what you have, and you are going to be looking to your mindset every day to live life to the fullest but prepared. With your action plan in your back pocket, and your epinephrine.
It’s about recognizing the awareness we can give this country – from adults to parents to children to teens – and making sure we have an action plan.
AL: Jo, thanks so much, always a pleasure to speak to you.
JF: Thank you, have a great Christmas and speak to you soon.
For more information, see EpiPen.com.
Profile: TV Nanny Jo Frost on Her Allergies