Copied from AllergyMoms Jul 27, 2013 newsletter

Kristen Kauke is a therapist and  Kristen Kauke
parent of a son with food allergies.
In her new book Growing Up Ben:Living a Full Life, with Food Allergies, Kristen shares the stories of how her family has learned to live well with food allergies.  I love her insights and candor and hope you will too.  

Gina Clowes: Kristen, I really enjoyed your book Growing Up Ben. Living a Full Life, with Food Allergies. Stories are great teachers and I loved reading about you and Ben. So let's share some of your insights.  

As a therapist and a parent of a food allergic child, what do think parents of food allergic children need to know?

Kristen Kauke: It's hard to raise a child with food allergies, especially if they've had anaphylaxis because your baby's life was in danger.

One of the dangers, a situation that you'd want to avoid as you raise your child, is the blending of your own emotions with your child's. You want to look at the situation at hand and separate your fear from what is really going on.

When you're feeling anxious, you say, "What is the issue? How can we handle this issue now based on factors in the present?"

Gina: One of the things we see often is one parent who is very, very vigilant with the other parent who is much more passive.

What are the effects of polarized parents on a child with food allergies?

Kristen: This happens often and what we see is that each parent reinforces the others behavior. A parent who is the driver of the protection reinforces the other parent to be more "hands off." The parent thinks "Oh, she has this covered."

The cavalier parent reinforces the other to overcompensate for what's not happening.      

Gina: Is it fair to say that the vigilant parent is typically the mother?

Kristen: Mothers tend to fall into that lot.

Gina: How can moms balance the scales a little more?

Kristen: Start by checking in with yourself. If you find the majority of the caretaking falls on you, ask yourself: "Does this feel good? Am I feeling resentful?"

Every feeling has a need. The need of anger or resentment is assertion.

If you notice resentment within, share this with your partner. "This system doesn't feel good to me. I wish we could share the burden more."

And then ask him to pitch in. This is over generalizing, but most men, if they know what do, will do it. They may not be the emotional caretakers, but they are action oriented.

You may have to ask more than once, or to have more than one discussion, but it's worth it.

Gina: What about the fathers and how they're faring?

Kristen: Ask him. This is a great opportunity. "Are you feeling left out? How do we do this together?" Think about how you can draw out some of his strengths.

Gina: There are many quotes in your book that are real gems of insight. For example:
"My past has helped me learn that seeking to ease anxiety by desperately imposing control never leads to freedom."
Would you say more about this?

Kristen: Sure. You want to be aware that needing to control is a symptom of anxiety. It's not reality. We are reacting to our own fear and panic. We cannot control everything.

stressed momGina: So many of us have been living in a very high state of anxiety. Talk a bit about the cumulative effect of this chronic stress.

Kristen: When we have trauma and live in a high state of arousal, there is a danger to us. It is not healthy to live in a state of "fight or flight" arousal.

There is also a danger for our child as we can lay the groundwork for an anxiety disorder in our child.

When we manage our own anxiety by controlling everything that they do, we are actually using them to regulate our own emotions.

Gina: How can a parent live well--knowing that the chances are close to 100% that at some point the child/teen/young adult will make a conscious or unconscious mistake with his/her allergies?

Kristen: Instead of trying to hyper-control the what-ifs and every aspect of a situation, we help them to be able to manage potential reactions and enact safety action plans. We strengthen their ability to respond.

For example, here we have tornadoes. When we hear the sirens go off, we are prepared. We know what to do and we retreat to the basement. We train for this.

We could live in fear of a tornado, or we can be prepared and trust in our ability to respond in that moment.

Gina: Let's talk about relationships next. You say,  
"Communication can either be the glue or the kerosene in a

What are some strategies you can use with friends and relatives when they don't "get it"?

Kristen: Once you've explained the basics, friends and relatives who don'tget it are either in denial or in a grief process.

Continuing to preach to them will not help them get it, and it may make them shut down. We can't hurry up the readiness process. We can present the information, be kind and direct, and then just be patient.

Gina: True, but while we are waiting, these friends and relatives may not be suitable caregivers for our kids which brings us to boundaries. How do establish healthy boundaries with loved ones?

Kristen: Make it concrete. I visualize a line down the middle of the page. There are two times when we have to assert our rights: When there are safety issues and when there is a violation of our rights.  

If grandparents want the kids to come for the weekend but they refuse to carry the EpiPen, that is a safety issue. You say, "If you can't do this, then I can't let you have the kids tonight."

Other things, you let go. For example, they express a wacky opinion. It may be ignorant, but if it's not a safety issue, let it go rather than create a defensive posture in them.

Gina: Siblings are other important family members to consider. You said, "Fair is not equal, fair is when people get what they need." I really feel for the siblings though when it seems the whole household revolves around the needs of one child.

Kristen: The siblings feel that sense of burden, and that it's always the other child's way. They can feel sidelined. The burden does need to be acknowledged.

We can spell it out in conversations and appreciate how they're responsible. When it comes down to it, we take care of others. It's what we do as a responsible human. We are all in this game of life with others.

Gina: How can we make sure that the siblings feel validated and loved?     

Kristen: Special one-on-one time with both children. One-on-one pizza date with child who is not allergic. Each child needs attention.

Gina: In your book, you talked about your son getting anxious at parties. My son got sad or mad that he couldn't partake of the goodies. How can we prepare our kids emotionally for these types of events?

Kristen: First, we don't project our own emotions onto our child. We may feel sad or scared but they may be okay. They may be oblivious.

Next, if they do feel upset, start by acknowledging what they are feeling. Every feeling has a need. If they're nervous, they need protection. If they're angry, what do they need to assert? If they're sad, they may need comforting.

Gina: You also shared an incident where you got very angry when your other son left dairy crumbs on the table. You felt you muddied the waters and lost a teaching opportunity by getting so upset.

What happens when we become overly emotional with our kids?

Kristen: The issue is that our kids will not hear our message. They will hear anger and they will put up a wall. Not only are they not hearing, they are losing their connection to us in that moment.

Really what is happening is that we are taking our anger out on them. We are kicking the dog.

Gina: Hmm. So how do you instill a healthy respect for food allergies and an appropriate level of vigilance?

Kristen: I'm always looking at the moment. What is going on now? Is there over or underreacting?

Recently my [teenage] son was tempted to take a risk by trying some chips that contained lentils. This is an example of underreacting.

I asked him a series of questions to help him assess the situation.

-How bad would it be? [If he had a reaction]
-How likely is this to happen?
-How would you manage?

When we ask questions, we help our kids come to the right conclusion.

Gina: Thank you so much for talking today. It is always a pleasure. As we wrap up, what would you like to share with moms about our amazing kids?

Kristen: That they are so resilient. They see things with a wide lens. So they can cry at a funeral and a few minutes later they want to play ball.

Kids can bounce when we allow them the safe space to do so. We don't have to restrict their world. They have to learn to read it and to feel normal.

There is more to do and more to learn. And we can have these conversations and understand each others viewpoints. When we understand, we strengthen our bonds with each other. That's really what it's all about.

  Growing Up BenGrowing Up Ben: Living a Full Life,   
   With  Food Allergies 
    by Kristen Kauke

Kristen Kauke is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a mission to administer compassion to others through introspection and active expression to achieve wellness.  She has presented at Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network conferences (now FARE) across the country on the topics of coping with anxiety, and resolving conflict in relationships as it relates to living with life threatening food allergies. 

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