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Navigating Tense Allergy Discussions During the Holidays


Family passing food at table

'Tis the season for holiday gatherings....and maybe increased stress, too? 


The holiday season can feel like a stressful time for many managing food allergy and allergic conditions. Safe food preparation and planning. The logistics of ensuring your child doesn't eat foods that aren't safe. 


The potentially not-so-supportive and stressful conversations with family members who just don't get it?


My hope is that all of you have incredibly supportive and understanding families, who are willing to make safe adjustments to recipes and navigate inclusion without skipping a beat!

But the reality is that even in supportive families, there still may be tough conversations about the management of food allergies and allergic conditions. Therefore, below are practical tips for navigating three tense allergy-related discussions at (or while preparing for) holiday family gatherings:



Discussion 1: "Can't you (or your child) just have a little bite? I'm sure it will be fine!" 


Especially true for older generations, your family members may not be well-versed in IgE-mediated food allergies and allergic conditions if they don't live with them. And while comments like this can be frustrating, it's helpful to remember that in most cases, the comment comes from a place of love. 

Use these practical approaches to navigate this scenario in a workable way:

  • Don't engage in debate. Instead, use it as an opportunity to educate the person. Focus on one or two specific aspects of food allergy management rather than trying to educate on everything. 

  • Lead with facts, not emotions. This can be tough, but share factual data to illustrate your point whenever possible. Others may be more willing to change their perspective when you share data from allergy advocacy and allergy/immunology medical organizations.


Discussion 2: "I recently read about (insert treatment or trial) and that it can cure allergies! Why aren't you doing that?"


With so many clickbait headlines circulating online, your well-intentioned family members may ask if you know the latest food allergy news they recently read about. Again, this is most likely coming from a place of love, but it's easy to experience this as a judgment on how you're managing your allergy. Additionally, the information they share may not be accurate or understood accurately. 


Use these practical approaches to navigate this scenario in a workable way:

  • Simply thank them. Even if your family members are misinformed, you can still thank them for thinking of you and/or your child's well-being. Let them know you appreciate their sharing the information, and gently transition to another topic. 

  • Engage and explore mindfully. Consider if it's worth an in-depth discussion. If you do decide to engage in this conversation, be mindful of your goals for doing so. What outcome are you hoping to achieve, and is that realistic? Is this family member open-minded and truly willing to hear what you have to say? What's the benefit to you for engaging in this discussion, and is it worth your energy?



Discussion 3: Your family, your in-laws, or your partner's family just don't get allergies, which causes friction - and the possibility of not attending


This may be one of the more likely scenarios people navigate during holiday gatherings. Whatever the specifics are in your situation, it can be frustrating and exhausting to deal with this, especially if this is the experience for every holiday gathering.


Here are practical approaches to navigate this scenario in a workable way:

  • Build a united front first. If you and your partner don't see eye-to-eye on allergy management, it makes this task much harder. Therefore, before approaching this conversation with family, focus on establishing acceptable solutions you both can agree upon, and commit to dealing with this situation together as a team. 

  • Speaker of the House. You certainly can approach this conversation together with your family member, but whoever's family it is you're addressing this with should take the lead. They're the person who knows their family best. 

  • Focus on facts. This is another situation where facts may yield more results than emotions. It may be hard to do so, but calmly explain your allergy safety protocols and potential outcomes if not followed, using facts from your allergist or reputable sources. Encourage the family members to visit reputable sources online to read these facts and stats for themselves. 

  • Be solution-focused. It's easy to let emotions take over when navigating this situation, but as much as possible, stay focused on developing a workable solution. While it may seem easy to just avoid the family gathering, and that may end up being the final decision, aim to find a solution that allows for safety AND connection with family.


Final Thoughts...

Remember that whatever the stressful conversation topics may be, you have choices. You don't have to discuss things you don't want to. You don't have to justify your allergy management protocols. You can choose to kindly, but firmly change topics!


Prepare some canned responses before the family gathering, and try your best to stay connected to the reason for the holiday season over the next couple of months! 

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