A FAAN conference is one of the rare opportunities for parents and children alike to be with other people that truly get it. For parents, I thought: "There is no better time to practice having difficult conversations about food allergies then when we are all together." So, that’s exactly what we did.
I put the parents in unfamiliar pairs, and then asked them to role-play about what a food allergy emergency means to their child. Even before we started the exercise, from the dais, I could see parent pairs connecting immediately. I saw a lot of agreement and head nods and heard outbreaks of laughter – always the best signs that connections are happening. The comments after we completed the exercise were insightful and helpful to the whole group. One food allergy mother recognized that even in this practice session she felt stressed about talking about food allergy emergencies. This stress in a low stress moment highlighted how much she felt she needed to practice emergency situations before they happen. Great! Another parent shared how her practice partner models certain situations, like dining out at a restaurant for her child, letting her 13 year old listen in on a phone call to that restaurant. This gives him a chance to hear how she does it before he will start doing the call himself. Yes! Another parent pair discussed how her child doesn’t yet understand that label reading means not just one time but every time because labels change and foods are recalled. Nods all around.
With the two kids' sessions (middle school and high school/college), they came up with one-two minute skits related to what they learned or felt during the conference thus far. Some of the concepts they created and enacted were a game show, a talk show, a narrated true story that was mimed, a song, a commercial and a cautionary tale. I was deeply impressed by their creativity, cooperation and engagement in the process. And they all wanted to perform their creations for the group so much so that we ran out of time! They made each other laugh, bonded and most importantly, played.
Play is how children learn. Play can be how adults learn, too, which is why I brought these improvisational exercises to the FAAN’s Teen Summit this year: to learn, to connect and be healed together.
I was honored to be a part of the FAAN’s Teen Summit 2012 speaker line-up. Thank you FAAN’s Teen Summit and thank you FAAN’s Teen Summit conferencees for taking a leap with me – we all reaped the rich rewards!