How can anaphylaxis impact young children?

Having a serious allergic reaction can be a traumatic experience for young children and this can affect the whole family. This is particularly true with food allergies as eating is an essential part of daily life and finding food that’s safe to eat can be a challenge.

Unfortunately, when parents and other family members often feel anxious, the child may pick up on it and grow up with a fearful or anxious disposition, even about things unrelated to their allergy. The ideas on this page should help you to manage your own worries and to build confidence in your child.

Keeping calm

Becoming well informed about allergies can help to reduce your own anxiety as you will understand the risks and how to manage them. Use reliable sources of information such as health charities and talking to health professionals. Be wary of information on social media as it’s not always accurate.

How you talk about allergies in front of your child is also important. Remember that the aim is to help your child feel able to manage their allergy, rather than causing fear around what could go wrong. Managing your anxieties and being aware of how you’re communicating can help to prevent passing a feeling of anxiety or panic onto your child, which can stifle or overwhelm them.

The following will help when talking to others about your child’s allergies:
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Be matter-of-fact. Keep calm and be aware of the tone of your voice and the unspoken messages you’re sending your child.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Be careful of the language you use when you talk about the risks. Although it’s important to explain how serious allergies can be, try to avoid talking about “death” often.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Involve your child when talking to other people about their allergies. Try not to talk about them as if they’re not there.

Handing over responsibility to your child


It’s essential for your child to learn about their allergies to build their confidence. It can empower them to let others know what they are allergic to, ask for what they need and be able to say no when they need to. Ideally, you want to raise them to be able to ask questions and make their own decisions regardless of pressure from friends and acquaintances. It helps to lay the groundwork from an early age.


It can be tempting to ask questions and read food labels for your child rather than allowing them to do this for themselves. Remember that you are preparing them for the future and supporting them to learn to manage their own allergy. Letting them know they have a say in decisions, such as whether to accept offers of food, will give them the confidence to speak up and ask questions.

Involve your child in their allergy appointments

For example, encourage them to think about any questions they may have for the doctors, nurses and dietitians in advance.

Help them prepare for new challenges

For example, by learning to manage their medical kit and how to use their adrenaline auto-injector. They need to feel they can carry their medical kit without embarrassment.

Make plans for eating out

When you are planning to eat out, involve your child by looking at menus together online, discussing the options available and deciding what questions to ask at the restaurant. You could also call ahead and let your child know you’ve done this. This will show them they can still take part in the same things other people can, it just takes a bit of extra preparation.

Create a written care plan together with your healthcare professional

This can be a great way to help them understand their allergy and build confidence. The care plan could include what they are allergic to, recognising the symptoms of a reaction, and what they should do if a reaction happens.

Invent role play games to practice communication

For example, how to order food safely in a restaurant or how to talk about allergies at a friend’s house or party.

Be patient

Try to encourage a gradual shift towards your child taking more responsibility.

Children's birthday party

Preparing for social occasions

Some parents don’t allow their child to go to social events, school trips and parties because they’re worried about the risks. But if a child’s social life is restricted unnecessarily, they may grow up feeling isolated and different to other children.

Your child can still join in social occasions and school trips, they simply need to be planned ahead. Communication is essential among everyone involved, such as teachers, assistants and caterers.

If your child has a food allergy, together you can take steps to make sure your child only eats food that’s safe. At children’s parties, for example, this may mean that your child should take their own party food.

If your child has another type of allergy such as insect stings, this could mean being prepared with adrenaline-autoinjectors, and knowing what to do to avoid being stung.

Woman looking after two young children

Allowing other people to look after your child

Be patient with yourself when you’re handing over control to family and friends as it can take time to gain the confidence to trust another person to look after your child. It can feel like a huge and overwhelming step, so it’s important to do it in a way that allows you to feel confident and assured.

First, you could explain your child’s allergies to your friends and family, then accompany them the first time they look after your child when there’s food involved. Eventually, when you feel at ease, you can leave your child with them at meal times. Many parents who have taken these steps are surprised at how accepting and willing others have been to accommodate their child’s needs.

Be proactive when teaching your friends and family about your child’s allergies. It is best to start talking to people soon after your child is diagnosed so you feel supported and your child doesn’t miss out on social opportunities.

Starting school or preschool

The first day of preschool or school can be daunting but can also help you to face your fears. It can show you that other people can learn and understand how to manage allergies and keep your child safe.

Arrange a meeting with key staff so you can give them the information they need and ask about what training the school has undertaken. This will help you to feel calm and confident when your child is at school or preschool.

Information and communication are key. School staff need training to be well-informed about:
  • right_arrow_orange_icon what your child is allergic to
  • right_arrow_orange_icon the signs of an allergic reaction
  • right_arrow_orange_icon how to treat an allergic reaction
  • right_arrow_orange_icon having two of their own adrenaline auto-injectors available at all times
  • right_arrow_orange_icon buying spare adrenaline auto-injectors.


Bullying in or out of school can cause emotional distress, isolation, low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. Occasionally, children with allergies are on the receiving end of bullying, especially in school. This may be due to other children having a lack of awareness or understanding of allergies. You may find the tips and ideas below helpful.

  • Education in schools

    We recommend that schools educate all pupils about allergies and take as serious a view of ‘allergy bullying’ as they would with any bullying. All state schools must have a behaviour policy in place that includes measures to prevent bullying. This policy is decided by the school and all teachers, pupils and parents must be told what it is.

  • Support

    Encourage your child to include their friends in their allergy management. This will help if someone tries to tease them, pick on them, or bully them about their allergy.

  • Inclusion

    There are occasions when adults exclude children with allergies from activities because they’re trying to keep them safe. Unfortunately, this sends a message to all the children that it’s okay to exclude children with allergies which can set the scene for bullying. It also sends a message to the child with allergies that they are not worth including. Children with allergies need to feel safe and included and that their well-being is important to the adults in charge. See the Government guidance, Supporting pupils in schools with medical conditions.

  • Planning and communication

    Ask your child’s class teacher if there are any activities planned which might be risky for your child and if it is possible to find alternatives so they can still join in. If teachers give out treats for example, you could give your child’s teacher their own treats that are safe.

  • Sharing worries

    If you think your child is being bullied but they don’t feel ready to talk, there are strategies that could help. Making a “worry box” is one idea. Encourage your child to write down what they are worried about on small pieces of paper throughout the day and post them into the box. Schedule in a regular time each week to sit down with your child and discuss the worries. If talking helps, the worries can be taken out of the box and thrown away. If not, they need to go back in the box for you to look after. The worry box may help your child to reach the point where they find sharing their worries much easier.

  • Role playing

    Role playing with your child can also be helpful. You could act out scenarios that may occur at school or clubs involving food and practise what your child might say if someone teases them about their food or their allergies. You could also discuss steps to take if bullying happens – who they should speak to and how to handle the challenging situation. This helps children feel more prepared and in control.

More information about allergies at school and preschool

Handling difficult situations

Your child will have to face challenging situations and conversations from time to time, in restaurants or at friends’ houses, for example. It can help to calmly discuss how to manage these.

When a difficult situation arises and you’re with your child at the time, the priority is to give them a sense of control and accomplishment but be ready to step in if necessary. Give them the space to handle the situation, but if they are struggling, step in to support them. Make sure they know you will back up their decision to say ‘no’ to eating a new food or something they are not confident about.

Difficult situations will happen when you are not present as well. Teach your child how to politely but firmly refuse certain foods. Explain that there will always be people who don’t understand, so it’s up to your child to take responsibility for avoiding risky foods. Again, role playing challenging situations at home is a great way to practise what to say and how to say it.

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Supporting children after a serious reaction

A serious allergic reaction can be traumatic for everyone. Parents and children can be left feeling very anxious by the memories of the incident. This can mean an enormous shift in many aspects of normal life involving food.


Neither children nor adults benefit from repressing the memories of an event. In children, their fears and fantasies can be more frightening than the reality. Young children often make false assumptions about the causes of anaphylaxis. Unfortunately, they sometimes believe it’s their fault. If you think your child might be making these false connections, reassure them that the reaction wasn’t caused by them.


Use these tips to support your child after a serious reaction.

Offer reassurance

Encourage your child to express how they feel and let them know that you understand. Provide comfort and support and reassure them whenever you can. Although you can’t assure them that they will never have a reaction again, you could say, for example “I will be there for you”, “you can ask questions anytime”, “you are safe now and so are the people you care about.” Explain that you and the people around them are taking steps to lower the risk of them having a reaction again, and that they have emergency medication if the need it. You could also explain how their medication works.

Listen and comfort

It is fine to tell children that you don’t know why something happened or you don’t know the answers to their questions. And it’s fine to tell them that you too get confused and upset – for example, in cases where the allergen or cross-contamination was unexpected. Listening and comforting your child without avoiding the issue or overreacting will have long-lasting positive effects on their ability to cope. Honesty and openness will help your child develop trust.

Focus on the good

For example, point out that the medication worked, people were there to help, and the people around them have learned lessons from the experience. Positive interpretation of the experience can be helpful. The good news is that children are very resilient, and they can even inspire adults with their inner strength and optimism.

Be a role model

Be a role model for how you handle emotions. For example, when you feel stressed or anxious, you can notice that you’re feeling anxious, take deep breaths and calm yourself down so you your thoughts don’t spiral. When they are ready, share how you feel, including both the positive and negative.

Learning together

Use these ideas to help your child understand their allergy and see how far they’ve come.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Write down any questions your child has, discuss them together, and encourage them to write down the answers using their own words. You could even draw pictures.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Write down your experiences together – “My Allergy Journey”. Starting from when they were first diagnosed, draw pictures and write memories on a timeline to help them explore how they felt and open up communication about their fears and hopes. Encourage your child to be interested in their food by cooking together.

Seeking professional help for allergy-induced anxiety

Speak to your GP or allergy specialist if your child seems particularly anxious or worried. They can refer you to any specialist services for children in your area that might be able to provide some support and reassurance.

Supporting teenagers and young adults

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