I am JJ: Let's Raise 'Change' Experts

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Blog Post #107 — Last week, I started my internship in New York City. It’s been an incredible experience so far. Busy. But awesome.

On Friday, as I walked back to my apartment, I filmed a short clip for yesterday’s CANspirational video post. I want all young people to know that people who live in the Land Of Can adapt to change and embrace it. People who live in the Land of Can aren’t scared of change because they know that change is how you get better at something. Change transforms us.

Yet, how many older people resist change? We fight it. We ignore it. We think the daily routine is going to be the routine forever.  We act like it’s not going to happen. But it does happen. And when it does, we overreact.

Change is a big part of life. Adapting to change can be the difference between success and failure, between being great and being mediocre. This is even more important for young people living with food allergies and for their families.

Change is a big part of living with food allergies.

“Oooops. I didn’t know ‘non dairy’ cream had dairy in it.”

“They didn’t have the blue box you wanted so I got the yellow one.”

“I forgot you couldn't eat that.”

“I’ll just take the croutons off.”

“It’s just a little bit.”

“Did that person in front of us at the drive thru really just order 10 ice cream cones?”

“They must have changed the label.”

“We don’t carry that brand any more.”

One tough part of being young is learning what you can control and what you can’t. Life is so random sometimes that everything can seem frighteningly out of our control. It’s increasingly more frightening, though, if you have an allergy and you feel you can’t control your own safety, even when your life depends on it.

While we can’t control change, we can control how we respond to it, how we prepare for it. We can adapt to it.

We must teach our children with food allergies that while change happens, we can oftentimes prepare for it by being proactive. Make sure you have your two AUVI-Qs. Have an emergency plan just in case. Extra food. Extra snacks. Extra clothes. Cool alternatives, alternatives that are better than the original. A Rolodex of safe recipes for any occasion. The right friends. A healthy, optimistic attitude.

Parents who have children with food allergies must model this behavior.

The grocery store is out of your brand of safe butter for the cupcakes you’re making? Relax. What’s another brand of butter you can use? Is there an alternative to butter? Can you make muffins instead?

Costco stopped carrying that mega box of safe egg rolls you always get for parties? Don’t have a temper tantrum in the aisle. What’s another safe appetizer you could buy in bulk? Is there another store you can quickly run to? (This just happened to my parents when I was home!)

Your kids will follow your lead. If you act like the world is ending because a 16-year-old hostess told you the restaurant could accommodate the allergy when you called even though they couldn't, that isn’t the right lesson. And even if it was the owner who told you, overreacting as your food allergic son is deciding between dried baby carrots and apple slices will not likely help. Roll with the change. Have a backup plan that really is a legitimate alternative. Point out learning experiences when things can’t be changed. While you can voice your anger later at the appropriate time and place, you will be teaching your child a valuable lesson if you show restraint in the moment. Change happens. Roll with it. Move on.

And, most important, if your children can prepare for a changing world by solving their food allergy challenges time and time again throughout childhood, they’ll be experts at rolling with the punches when life starts throwing them other obstacles as young adults. They’ll be change experts, and they'll be miles ahead of their contemporaries when possessing this agility really starts to matter.


JJ Vulopas is a rising senior at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. An advocate for young people, JJ has lived with food allergies his entire life. He is the author of the children's book, Land of Not. You can read his daily blog at www.thelandofcan.com and follow him @thelandofcan on Twitter and Instagram.