It can be challenging for teens or adults to communicate feelings and needs related to their food allergy.
Some of us are naturally reticent to express ourselves in social situations. Others may be more bold, but find their communications are not always effective, and sometimes our hurt or frustration about a situation makes clear communication problematic.
Clinical social worker Kirsten Kauke who gives workshops for teens with food allergies and is raising food-allergic sons, recommends using the D.E.A.R. strategy to communicate allergy-related needs. D.E.A.R. stands for describe, express, ask, and reinforce:
- Describe your situation.
- Express your thoughts and feelings about it.
- Ask for what you need.
- Reinforce the request with appreciation.
For instance, a teen wanting the help of her friends might use the D.E.A.R. strategy like this:
- Describe: “Most of you guys know that I have a severe allergy to peanuts.”
- Express: “Well, I get uncomfortable when we’re hanging out and my allergy makes me the center of attention.”
- Ask: “So, when I’m reading the food labels on snacks to see if they’re safe, I’d like it if you’d just keep talking and didn’t watch me, or ask me about the ingredients.”
- Reinforce: “I really appreciate you doing this to help me.”
The beauty of this simple communication tool is twofold. First, D.E.A.R. makes it easy for us to prepare what we want to say, and then to practice saying it. Practicing with a parent, friend, or in front of a mirror makes the actual communication easier. Second, those who repeatedly utilize this tool will eventually begin using it more automatically—without having to consciously think through each step.
Since communication problems are not resolved by changing who we are, but by acquiring more effective expressive skills, strategies such as D.E.A.R. can be immensely helpful—and are certainly worth trying. Most people are willing to help us out, if we know how to ask.