7 Tips for Teaching Children About Their Food Allergies
Food allergies in elementary schools are on the rise, and with that comes anxious parents and complicated lunch scenarios. I would know; I’m one of those parents.
While some schools take a hard line on food allergies and simply eliminate high allergy foods from the campus (such as peanuts and tree nuts), others work on a class-by-class basis.
No matter how the school handles food allergies, one thing is clear: Parents need to teach their children, in no uncertain terms, about their food allergies. There is no glossing over this one. Food allergies act fast and can be life threatening. Children with food allergies need to know the dos and don’ts of eating away from home.
Below are 7 tips for teaching your child about food allergies.
Food allergies can be tricky because we don’t want to scare our children away from trying new foods and enjoying meals, but we need them to know what they can and can’t eat. And we definitely need them to know that they can’t take chances.
The most important thing you can do is to remain calm and filter out your own anxious thoughts. Children need facts, not worries.
Use age appropriate language when discussing food allergies with your child. “If you eat a food that you are allergic to it will make you feel yucky. It could make you feel itchy and it might make it hard for you to breathe,” is a simple explanation that gets the point across.
2. Get artsy.
Your children need to learn and memorize their food allergies. Why not make learning fun?
Create a collage with your child. Place a stop sign at the top of a poster board and cut and paste photos of foods that your child can’t eat underneath. Have your child decorate the collage and include phrases that you want him to remember. “I have food allergies,” “I need my mom to check this first,” and “No thank you, I can’t eat that,” are simple, easy to remember phrases.
Post the collage in the kitchen for regular exposure.
3. Say no to snacks.
Not long ago, I sent my daughter off to the park with a friend. It was to be a quick trip and the park is just across the street. I sent her with a water bottle, but failed to remind the other mom not to feed her. The result? She ate a few bites of a snack containing rice – hives all over.
Even when kids have their allergens memorized, they can’t necessarily read labels and don’t always think to ask first. Teach your child to say no to all snacks. It’s never worth taking a chance.
4. Ask for help.
Food allergies can be a source of embarrassment for young children because they feel “different” from other kids. Because of this, they don’t always speak up.
It’s essential to role-play asking for help when something doesn’t feel right. Practice seeking out the teacher or another adult if they begin to feel itchy, sick, or have difficulty swallowing or breathing. The truth is that they need to be able to act fast and yell out loud if they experience an allergic reaction.
5. And on the off chance that your child does try a food from a friend that doesn’t feel right, teach them to follow this simple advice: When in doubt, spit it out.
6. Invest in medical alert bracelets.
Medical alert bracelets or necklaces are a simple way to remind other adults that your child has allergies. My daughter has so many allergies that her arm would be covered if she had a bracelet for each allergy, but there are also bracelets that simply state, “I have food allergies. Don’t feed me.”
7. Teach your child to cook.
The only way to truly ensure that your child doesn’t ingest any allergens is to prepare all food at home. While it sounds like a lot of work and might be an adjustment for snack-dependent kids at first, it can also be a lot of fun.
Give your child some control over his allergies by involving him in the shopping, preparing, and cooking. Teach him to read labels (when he can read) or ask for an adult to read the labels for him.
Kids love to cook and be involved in the kitchen. Kids with allergies learn that they can make their own safe foods that are even better than the prepackaged snacks they can’t eat. Just ask my daughter…she can’t get enough of the homemade granola bars we made this weekend!
Image via Katie Hurley