<< Back to Allergy Resources
Teaching Your Child About Food Allergies
(JULY 2014) As much as we’d love to be with and protect our children 24 hours a day, the reality is we can’t. As children get older, they go to school, make friends and get involved in extra-curricular activities, spending less and less time with mom and dad. For parents of children with food allergies, these hours apart can be unnerving. What if my child eats something he shouldn’t? What if he doesn’t know a candy has peanuts? What if he has an allergic reaction?
Since we can’t be by our children’s sides 24/7, we have educate them about their allergies and what it means to be allergic and then trust them to make smart decisions. But like any difficult subject, parents should be tactful when speaking to children about allergies.
To help bridge that gap, try using these best practices for teaching your child about food allergies.
Be comforting and clear.
It’s important to stay positive and upbeat when talking about allergies. The subject can be scary for children, especially if they’ve already experienced a severe allergic reaction. Make sure they feel comfortable and know that as long as the situation is handled correctly, they will be safe.
For younger children, use age-appropriate language. Don’t get bogged down with medical terms, as this will be difficult for your child to understand – and could make the allergy sound frightening.
Teach your child to tell others.
Always be open about food allergies – and medical conditions in general – to help your child be open about them. Teach them allergies are not something to be shy about, and it’s always important to speak up when being offered food from others. Also teach them it’s good to say, “no thank you, I’m allergic,” to foods they can’t eat, and that adults will understand.
It’s just as important for your child to understand the food allergy as it is for him to be able to convey it to others.
Get them involved.
Children have an easier time understanding difficult subjects when they play an active role in learning about them. You can create activities or experiences for them to learn about healthy and safe eating. For example, try letting them help cook meals that are allergy-safe. The more they interact with safe foods, the better they’ll understand what they can eat.
Another opportunity to educate is in the grocery store. Give them a chance to participate in selecting the foods you buy. Look at labels together and teach them warning signs to look for. This teaches children to watch out for allergens while also making them conscious of nutrition.
Another great learning activity for children is reading with them. There are many food allergy books that present the subject in a kid-friendly way. Reading stories about other children with similar conditions may prevent your child from feeling alone.
Make food allergies normal.
Above all, make sure your child knows that food allergies are completely normal and plenty of people have them. Allergies are nothing to be ashamed of. It just means your child will need to be a little more aware of what he eats, and where his food comes from.
Kids with food allergies should always wear some form of medical ID jewelry. Make the process fun. Let your child pick out his favorite styles or colors. Get multiple options to mix and match with what he’s wearing. This can make the allergy feel less like a medical burden and more like an extension of his personality.