Children who have asthma are at high risk to face separation anxiety, but a new study has found a home remedy that parents can use — regular family mealtimes.
“It makes sense that children who have difficulty breathing may be anxious and prefer to keep their parents, who can help them in an emergency, close by,” said Barbara H Fiese, a professor at the University of Illinois.
Supportive interaction during family mealtimes helps increase a child’s sense of security and eases separation anxiety symptoms. And, when children are less anxious, their lung function improves, Fiese said.
According to her, family members play an important role in helping children emotionally manage their asthma symptoms, adding that a supportive, organised environment during mealtime puts a child at ease whereas a chaotic, unresponsive atmosphere fosters worry and anxiety.
In the six-week study, 63 nine to 12-year-old children with persistent asthma completed questionnaires and were interviewed about their physical and mental health. Within one week of the lab visit, a family meal was recorded. The children’s medication use was monitored electronically throughout the study.
The researchers found a relatively strong relationship between compromised lung function and separation anxiety symptoms. “But, interestingly, we could also see that these intense feelings of concern were related to how the family interacted at mealtime,” she said.
Conversely, family mealtimes that were organised, featured assigned roles, and generated involvement among participants were a protective factor for children.
Why are shared family mealtimes so important? “Few other family activities are repeated with such regularity, allowing children to build up expectations about how their parents and siblings will react from day to day. As a result, kids develop a sense of security. They know someone’s there for them. That’s important for a child who feels vulnerable,” she said.