Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I've mentioned before (many times) that my daughter, Daisy, has a variety of food allergies, including eggs, nuts, and dairy. From an early age we taught her about these allergies, and consequently she's always been cautious around new foods or any food that wasn't given to her by her parents. In the last month, however, she's gone from cautious to phobic.

Last week, for example, I offered her some corn nuts when she was due for a snack.

Me: Mmmm, corn nuts. Want some? They're not really a nut, just crunchy corn.
Daisy: No.
Me: Why not? They're crunchy and yummy. Heck, they're not even healthy. Dig in!
Daisy: I just don't want any.
Me: Is it because of the word "nut" in the name?
Daisy: *nodding*
Me: These aren't nuts. I understand the word "nut" is scary, but sometimes it's just a name. You eat coconut, and that's ok, because that's not a real nut. Same for these.
Daisy: No thanks.
Me: You don't have to eat these, but you should trust that I'm not going to intentionally feed you nuts. I PROMISE you that you are not allergic to these. It's just corn. Want some?
Daisy: No.

We went around in that circle for a couple of minutes, with me getting increasingly frustrated that my daughter was more scared than trustful, until I finally had her read the ingredient list (which was just corn, corn oil, and salt). At that point, she finally nibbled delicately on a corn nut, paused, and then consumed the rest of the bag.

I don't really have a problem with her wanting to read the ingredients, but I do have a problem that my assurances weren't enough. Things got more disturbing a few days later when she didn't eat the lunch that Hank had packed for her. Apparently Daisy got paranoid that Hank might have used regular mayonnaise (which has eggs) on her sandwich rather than the vegan mayonnaise that we always give her. Daisy acknowledged this was a completely irrational fear, but just wasn't able to bring herself to eat the sandwich at school.

That just drove me nuts. I can't argue with irrational fears. By definition, they're outside of the bounds of logic. That "ir" gets me every time.

This is the problem with kids. Weird problems pop up and blindside you. Now I suddently have a child with food phobias. I didn't have one a month ago, but now I do. It's like once a month you shake up the Magic 8 Ball of parenting and see what you get.

"Oh! I got Attention Disorder Deficit kid! What did you get?"

"Lemme see.... Whoop! Serial Killer kid. Bummer. I'm going to ask again later."

It feels like these conditions just manifest themselves out of thin air. No one is trying to raise a serial killer, but some kids turn into them anyway.

I chatted with one of my friends who is a therapist and she had two bits of advice. She suggested that since irrational fears are completely illogical, there's nothing to be gained by talking through them. We should reassure Daisy that we love her, smile, and then not validate the fear by making it a continuing topic of discussion. If Daisy wants to make her own lunch, she should feel free, but that's all the attention we should pay to it.

As for the long term approach, the therapist instructed us that these fears don't just manifest themselves out of thin air. More likely than not, Daisy has noticed all the attention we pay to her allergies when we order food in a restaurant, or when we shop at the market, or pretty much any time we discuss food. The therapist theorized that Daisy absorbed all this, seeing how much attention we pay to her allergies, and logically concluded that this is something that requires her concern as well. Given that she's seven years old, that concern happened to take the unfortunate form of a phobia. So, the therapist suggested that we limit how much Daisy sees of our food manipulations, downplaying the seriousness with which we treat her allergies. The idea is that if she sees us treating the allergies with the same level of calm that we treat oil changes for our car, then she'll realize that it's just something to take care of and not something to freak out about.

I'm not entirely convinced this is the right approach, because I don't feel like Hank and I were ever particularly panicked about Daisy's allergies in front of her, but I suppose it's possible. Anyway, these ideas are better than any that I have.

Am I perplexed though?

Signs point to yes.


zelda1 said...

While I agree with your therapists friend, I also know that is children do not think something is a big deal, like say not eating eggs, then they will eat them. So, while downplaying might be a good thing, it can also be a bad thing. Daisy needs to understand her food allergies. I like letting her make her own sandwhich or at least, get the vegan mayonaise out of the refrigerator while Hank makes the sandwhich. Get her involved in the preparation so she sees what is going into and it holds her accountable enough, well enough for a seven year old.

Mike said...

Zelda1, Daisy definitely understands her allergies. The idea, is that perhaps we've involved her to a point that's inappropriate for a seven year old. Daisy is a born rule-follower. I don't think there's any chance that she'll start scarfing down peanuts regardless of how Hank and I act.

Kat Campbell said...

Ugh, kids and irrational fears, I feel your pain. While no therapist will sanction this, Pap and I dealt with irrational fears, irrationally. Monster under the bed? In came the monster removing team. Our five grew up, nobody died, and they need medication only once a day. Hang in there! By the time she's a teenager, she'll be eating everything to CONFIRM she's allergic.

Mike said...

Kat, so.... I should hire the allergen removing team?