When dealing with life-threatening reactions for a child you want to ensure a sibling (possibly a non-allergy child) appropriately understands and doesn't feel overwhelmed by the stressful and difficult circumstance. As a parent it can be difficult to divide your attention in an alarming situation and you need to be able to attend to both the child needing medical attention as well as any other siblings. Fortunately, being prepared doesn't have to be stressful or anxiety-provoking, it is simple a matter of planning and practice.
Knowing what to do in any situation makes a significant difference in a toddler's reaction to the world around them. Planning ahead for the possibility of a reaction and assigning roles for each individual (child and adult) helps a difficult situation more manageable. Here are some suggestions to consider as you develop a plan for your family:
Create a plan for the sibling to follow. For example, our older toddler understands that when mommy says younger toddler has a "big ouch" that means it is time to play a game on our LeapFrog Scout toy while sitting on the couch in the living room. This toy is kept in the same place (an accessible location for a toddler to find with reliability) and is something that be turned on and used independently. And yes, our plan involves a specific location to sit. Not even the simplest of details is left up to interpretation when planning for these moments. We rehearse the plan regularly enough so that when such a situation arises the script is familiar and will not results in questions or negotiations from little toddler minds.
Identify toddler-friendly language that explains the situation but doesn't overwhelm. Establishing a common set of household vocabulary around allergies helps communicate important information in a difficult situation and ensures understanding of what is taking place. Some suggestions include calling an Epi-pen or Auvi-Q "medicine" and labeling a severe reaction as "bad ouches" or "big booboo." The goal is not to trick or mislead the toddler, but to help break down what is taking place into chunks of information your toddler can easily understand.
Identify your adult resources and plan for leaving the house. If you are dealing with an anaphylactic reaction you will need to visit the Emergency Room. If you have family close by, identify someone (aunt, uncle, or grandparent) who is able to stay with your non-allergy child. Have a special bag or box of puzzles or games that can guide this adult in both entertaining your child and keeps the mood upbeat. Having activities planned will keep everyone at home occupied and hopefully focused on the special visit from the aunt/uncle/grandparent. If you are unable to rely on family or another adult to stay with your other child/children, keep a pre-packed bag of books, toys, small electronics that you can easily take with you. (Include diapers/wipes/extra clothing in this bag depending on the age of your children.)
Whatever routine works best for your family, the important piece is to have a plan in place and make sure everyone is familiar and comfortable with the specifics. Of course, not everything can or will go according to the plan, but the time spent organizing and rehearsing will help managing the unexpected issues easier.
What strategies have worked well for your family during an allergy-related incident? What advice would you give to other tackling the same reality in their home?
ABOUT CHRISSY K
I am mom to three boys (one with several life-threatening food allergies) who will never own too many picture books or create Pinterest-worthy snacks. Simply Chrissy K is a place to find helpful tips on parenting that stem from my work with families as an educational consultant and parenting coach.
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