Guest blog by Nicole Ondatje
I have been reading to my daughter since she was born, and we often find that books help us tackle difficult topics together. When she was a year old, she was diagnosed with severe anaphylactic food allergies. I remember being overwhelmed and having extreme anxiety about how to keep her safe, so I poured through the available literature to learn as much as possible and feel empowered.
As my daughter grew, we read age-appropriate children’s books about food allergies that could help her understand her allergy better. At age four, she started experiencing anxiety about her annual allergy skin prick tests, attending birthday parties, visiting family, and eating at restaurants. Searching online, I could find children’s books regarding food allergies and a handful of children’s books regarding anxiety, but there weren’t books that specifically and directly addressed food allergy anxiety in children. I started researching techniques to help children manage their anxiety, testing which approaches helped my daughter the most.
When she turned five, my daughter enrolled in a clinical trial for the peanut patch, adding blood draws and food challenges to her long list of anxiety-provoking situations. My approach was to help her write and illustrate a story in which she overcame her fears of going to her peanut patch appointment by being brave (and getting a sweet treat afterwards). She felt that the story, called “Rosy Goes to the Doctor,” helped her prepare for future appointments. That is how I was inspired to write a children’s book to help my daughter and other children like her who struggle with the daily challenges of living with a food allergy.
The result of this journey is Not Today, Butterflies! A Book About Food Allergy Anxiety. In the story, nine-year-old Quinn experiences several anxiety-provoking food allergy scenarios: her annual visit to the allergist, navigating a play date and a birthday party, being different from her friends, and having to speak up about her food allergies. These experiences generate uncomfortable feelings of butterflies in Quinn’s stomach. Quinn learns different tools to help manage her anxiety and tame the butterflies. Intended for children ages 4-8 as well as parents and caregivers, Not Today, Butterflies! A Book About Food Allergy Anxiety offers some guidance on how to identify signs of food allergy anxiety and helpful ways to teach kids how to manage it. The book provides an engaging and relatable experience for children who are coping with fears and anxiety about their own food allergies.
As a family, we have learned many useful techniques for managing anxiety, all of which are included in the book. Continuing to practice these techniques has helped my daughter feel less anxious about her frequent skin prick tests and blood draws, and more confident in speaking up to friends and even strangers about her food allergies. I truly hope that this book helps children and families with food allergies. It’s based on my own personal experience, research that I’ve done through books, conferences, webinars, and meeting with a child psychotherapist whose own child has food allergies. Before publication, it was vetted by that same psychotherapist as well as my child’s board certified asthma and allergy doctor.
Not Today, Butterflies! A Book About Food Allergy Anxiety is currently available for purchase on Amazon, on the website of Olympia Publishers, and through Barnes and Noble.