On my way into work today, I was listening to a local morning program talk about a situation occurring in a local town regarding trick or treating. A parent reportedly posted flyers throughout the neighborhood asking families practice “responsible parenting” and to provide only certain types of candy to all children on Halloween given her child’s food allergies. Specifically, the parent stated “My son has severe allergies and comes home every year devastated that he can’t eat any candy he’s collected at your homes. Don’t exclude my child, or any other child from the fun.” This situation provoked many responses from listeners calling in to express their feelings about that parents’ flyer.
First and foremost, food allergies are a serious issue and can result in very significant consequences for those individuals, young and old, who suffer from them. Thus it is important in certain environments (schools, daycares, developmental centers) that lack complete control over each family’s food choices that they impose some restrictions on what can be brought in to school. For example, daycares/developmental centers often impose nut restrictions on the food that parents send in with their children each day and only allow prepackaged food for birthday parties. This is understandable as trying to contain a two-year-old with peanut butter on his/her hand from touching a peer who has a nut allergy is a major challenge. However, outside of those environments the issue of exposure to certain foods would seemingly fall on that of the parents’. Therefore, this post will not address the healthy, or unhealthy, treats that are provided during Halloween, but instead focuses on parental responsibility and education with regard to individual limitations.
Whether an individual suffers from a food allergy or another ailment/limitation (physical or psychological), helping that individual fully understand and accept their limitations is a process; a developmental process. What is meant by a developmental process is that teaching these concepts of understanding and acceptance should begin as early as possible to establish a pattern/state of understanding and acceptance from the get go.
To use the above situation as an example, I can understand the parents’ difficulty/upset at seeing his/her child upset each year when he/she is unable to eat the candy that they have collected. I do not know the age of the child in the aforementioned situation, however, what can be inferred is that the child seems to be old enough to know that candy is something that is highly desirable. If the child knows that much, the child is also likely able to understand their limitations regarding food (excluding any cognitive or developmental limitations).
Teaching children from an early age what their limitations are is critical for that child to begin to learn self-regulation skills as they grow. Additionally, teaching them that they do not have to like everything that happens in their lives but that accepting that certain situations are the way they are and cannot be changed can ease some of the upset is important. With that being said, parents’ can teach problem solving skills to their children by working with their children on alternative ways to work through a situation where their limitation prevents their full participation in the activity. Again, referring to the trick or treating situation above, the parent could have (and certainly may have tried as I don’t know the family situation) worked with their child on understanding that part of the enjoyment of Halloween and trick or treating his getting a ton of candy and the other is about dressing up and showing that off. With regard to the candy part of it letting the child know that they have purchased some candy/sweets that maybe their child does not always get to enjoy and that when he/she comes home from trick or treating the candy collected will be exchanged for the “safe” candy/sweets the child can eat. To take it a step further the parents’ could include an additional life lesson aspect to this situation by talking with their child about donating his/her candy that he/she cannot eat to a food bank for those less fortunate.
I am by no means trying to pass judgement on the parent involved in this trick or treat situation, but rather providing those parents’ whose child may have some limitations they are dealing with that there are productive ways to work with these limitations and make what might otherwise be highly upsetting situations less so, and even potentially enjoyable and rewarding for that individual.
Dr. Ryan Loss is a licensed clinical psychologist and the Director of Clinical and In-Home Services at Connecticut Behavioral Health, LLC, a group psychology practice in Cheshire, CT. He received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Texas A&M University where his clinical and research work focused on treating childhood behavior problems and parent therapy techniques. Dr. Loss completed his clinical internship at Franciscan Hospital for Children where his clinical work focused on assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with significant behavioral and emotional difficulties in both residential and outpatient settings. He then completed his Residency year with Connecticut Behavioral Health, LLC, expanding his clinical practice to the treatment of adults in addition to children, adolescents, and families. Dr. Loss specializes in individual and family therapy addressing issues of emotional, behavioral, and psychological functioning with a particular focus on parent training. Dr. Loss has worked with children, adolescents, families, and adults in university, hospital, community, and school settings, and now private practice. Dr. Loss has taught psychology at the undergraduate level, supervised postdoctoral level clinicians, provided in-service trainings for school districts and parent organizations, and presented research on behavior problems at national conferences.