I often hear from parents and grandparents of young children with a new food allergy diagnosis talk about the hopes and goals of outgrowing. They research the numbers in the studies and can quote the statistics. They spend lots of time and energy focusing when this (hopefully short) chapter may be over.
When given a diagnosis or situation that is less than favorable, it’s natural to think about when it will possibly end. When will this phase be over? Surely, we can just tough it out for a year, or two, or three; then everything will be fine and go back to normal.
What are the odds of outgrowing?
Studies show that milk, egg and soy are more likely to be outgrown. While peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish are likely to be life-long allergies. Other allergens fall somewhere in the middle. There have been many studies on the likelihood of outgrowing. I was once told that milk and eggs were almost always outgrown by the time the child started school. Newer studies show that children are holding on to the allergy longer into middle and even high school.
I could fill this blog with numbers, statistics and percentages, but sharing data isn’t my motivation for writing this. I want to share my advice to not focus on the possibility of outgrowing. We have children that could benefit greatly from us focusing on skills and knowledge that will help them today.
Will my daughter outgrow? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s highly unlikely to outgrow all of her allergies. But the bottom line is she’s not a statistic (and neither is your child). She’s a child facing a challenge. A child with a heavy weight on her shoulders. Instead of focusing, wishing and dreaming for her to be a number in the favorable piece of a pie chart, I will teach her skills to manage her challenges. I will help her carry her heavy load so she may stand tall and confident. I will teach her that we all have challenges. Food allergies are hers. Don’t be ashamed of it or live with the mindset that it is only temporary. Take care of yourself, be aware of what you put in your body, always keep your epinephrine within reach, and most importantly live your life.
I have discussed with her the slight possibility of outgrowing her allergies, and this chance is the reason we continue to do annual testing. But we don’t have this conversation often. If she had consistently heard “she should outgrow milk by age 3 or 5,” she would have fully expected that to happen and would have been significantly disappointed when it didn’t happen. Instead, I focus on talking to her about the food she can eat and how to avoid what she can’t. I encourage her not to look at food as an enemy, but as vital nourishment to her growing body (with a few exceptions)
Remember your children hear what you say. Be intentional in what you communicate to them and about them in their presence regarding their food allergies. Stay positive, yet realistic.
While I still hold on to hope, I don’t dwell on thoughts of “once she outgrows….”. I try to remain optimistic as we await test results each year. The phone call comes. Our allergist tells me to “continue doing what you’re doing.” On the surface that sounds like simple orders to continue to avoid milk, peanut, tree nut, sesame and mustard. But he means more than that. I need to continue to protect her, prepare her and support her.
While this annual conversation includes some disappointment; I feel that it has lessened over the years. With each year that passes my child grows with her self-management skills. She is not holding onto a “when I outgrow” dream in her head. She knows nothing different. This is her normal.
When we get stuck in dreams and fantasies, we forget that there is living to do. Learning to do. Teaching to do. I encourage you to focus on the here and now, not “if only” and “when”. Today, we are managing food allergies. If the day of outgrowing does come, we will celebrate (likely with pizza and ice cream). If it doesn’t come, we’ll still have celebrations (with Daiya pizza and coconut milk ice cream). I’ll teach my child that it’s not the ingredients in the celebratory food that matter. What is important is learning to manage her food allergies confidently and to love life despite her restrictions.