Food Allergy and Inclusion

Kristin Beltaos interviewed by Katja Rowell, M.D. for Extreme Picky Eating Help

Food Allergy and Inclusion: Introduction by Katja Rowell M.D.: Children may face eating challenges for various reasons. Children with extreme picky eating tend to experience higher levels of anxiety, around food and in general. Perhaps the most anxiety-provoking feeding challenge that parents face is life-threatening food allergies. Some children with extreme picky eating also struggle with food allergies, which can complicate the picture even further. Kristin Beltaos has made it her mission to help parents and children not just be safer and healthier, but thrive. We were intrigued and impressed with Kristin Beltaos’ work with parents, children, and schools (A Gift of Miles). She has graciously agreed to share some wisdom in our first guest blog post.

1. Food Allergy and Inclusion – Spotlight of Difference intrigues us. Can you tell us more?

First off Katja and Jenny, thank you for the opportunity to communicate with you and your followers.

food allergy and inclusionUsually when you think of placing a spotlight on a child you think of something positive, i.e., accomplishing an awesome grade, playing a great sport game, writing a wonderful paper or doing well in a recital. These are all great ways to shine a positive spotlight on a child.

It’s fascinating how when we are confronted with a challenging situation, such as creating a safe environment for a food allergic child, our initial instinct is to determine how a child will adapt to our environment, rather than how the situation can be modified so that it’s safe for everyone. When we only address the individual child it will almost always create a Spotlight of DifferenceTM.

In our efforts to create safe environments for children with food allergies, parents and schools alike often shine an unnecessary Spotlight of Difference TM on these children that I believe is a catalyst for anxiety in food allergic children as well as food allergy teasing and bullying. We need to understand that safety does not always equal separateness and vice versa. I believe it’s our inability to view the picture creatively and holistically that causes us to go the easy route and shine an unnecessary Spotlight of Difference TM.

When I use this in my training, I have attendees actually work through real life examples on how to create more inclusiveness and diminish the Spotlight of Difference TM. It’s really stirring to see people get creative and excited about how to make life for a food allergic child better. I think so often we don’t like what is happening, like an allergy table, but we don’t take the time to think about how we can do it differently.

2. Food Allergy and Inclusion – How does this relate not just to food allergies, but also children with extreme picky eating, and even beyond food, to other differences?

I think we shine a spotlight more often than we think. Let’s examine when treats are used for incentives, rewards and celebrations.

Food Allergy and InclusionI always like to share about the first year when my youngest son was old enough to eat Halloween candy. My youngest son sat down to Twix®, Milky Way® and Hershey® candy bars while my child that has food allergies had in front of him Starburst®, DOTS® and Smarties®. You cannot look at these treats and equate them as being in the same category. You can’t “sex up” the non-chocolate treats, there’s just no comparison, unless of course you aren’t a chocolate fan.

My point is, you wouldn’t have your child’s three friends over and provide three of the children with delicious chocolate and one child with the other variety. How do we solve this dilemma? If you’re having a school-wide celebration, then that means finding a treat that is safe for all based upon all the dietary restrictions whether that be food allergy, food intolerance, diabetes, Celiac disease, autism, extreme picky eating, ADD, ADHD, etc. If you’re having a classroom celebration then that means finding a safe treat based upon the dietary restrictions within each classroom.

Spotlights don’t always have to be related to food. Each child may learn to read or understand math at a different pace. Stickers, colors, or Popsicle sticks may be used to track progress. Peers will know what level you are at in reading based upon the tracking system utilized. Children may be called out in the hall, to at a separate table or moved to a different classroom for assistance. If a child is learning at a slower pace, he/she may feel embarrassed. I don’t have the answer to this type of spotlight, but as you can see, often times we probably don’t even know that we’re shining a spotlight on a child.

While it may require additional planning, many schools have successfully found ways to socialize, celebrate, incentivize, reward, learn and craft without food or within restrictions surrounding food. It simply takes a little extra effort, and more importantly; just imagine the difference you make in a child’s life that is dealing with a challenge.

To read the rest of the interview about Food Allergy and Inclusion, click to enter the Extreme Picky Eating Help website.

Food Allergies: Anxiety, Gratitude & Belonging

So often we worry about whether our food allergic kiddos feel like they belong. We never want them to have that feeling…that they’re the ‘odd man out’ or like one of the segments from Sesame Street’s ‘One of These Things is Not Like the Other.’ As I’ve grown in my comfortableness with my son’s food allergy diagnosis, I too have evolved in what I find to be an unending truth.

The truth is, we don’t want our children to feel like they don’t belong, always different in this crazy world that socializes, celebrates, rewards, incentivizes and crafts with food. Whew! That was a long list. But let’s be honest, at one time or another in our childhood or even as an adult we’ve felt like the: ’odd man out’, ‘third wheel’, however you want to label it. Feeling different is really a rite of passage, whether you have food allergies or not. I believe these types of situations help us form our being. I know this now because I’m an adult though…I now have the ability to know and understand that ‘now’ isn’t forever and that as we age and grow so does our resilience, what we stand for, how we come to formulate our morals and values, how we determine who our ‘true’ friends are, not to mention just plain get more comfortable in our own skin, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I will still advocate hard for inclusion of food allergic children, but my new theory will help to manage feelings about it better.

So here’s my theory:

I think that focusing our lives and the lives of our children on gratitude and appreciation for what we have will not only decrease our and their anxiety but intensify everyone’s feeling of belonging.

"One thing that has helped me immensely in handling life's challenges, is letting go of how I thought it was going to be." ~ Kristin Beltaos

“One thing that has helped me immensely in handling life’s challenges, is letting go of how I thought it was going to be.” ~ Kristin Beltaos

How could you not have a strong feeling of belonging when all you see is sheer abundance?

Truth be told, I’ve always told my boys that it’s not about what material things we have in life but about the experiences that we have, the people that we spend time with, what we give of ourselves to others and how we impact the lives of the people we interact with — whether that’s the cashier at the grocery store or your family and friends. We need to not only think about our gratitude, but convey it through our gestures and contact!

How can you start this? Well, get a large canning jar and have each family member write down what they are thankful for and place it in the jar each day, every other, whatever feels natural. Then on the ‘difficult’ days pull from it for reminders of what we are grateful for to help deflect from a negative situation. Another option is to have each person share at the dinner table what they were thankful for about each day. No matter how you decide to establish this new family ritual, realize that the jar may prove to be of tangible help when a rainy day heads your way, being able to pull from it and review past joys.

By focusing our lives on the expression of gratitude it will make it difficult to slip into the dangerous ‘grass is always greener’ mentality, wishing things could be different in our lives. Truly accepting life the way it is handed to you and living within that rather than ‘how things were suppose to be’ permits us to teach compassion to ourselves and others and accept our life’s ‘lumps’ for what they truly are…something to be grateful for.

I gave you a few of my thoughts, won’t you leave a comment and share with me one of yours?