Many parents find themselves in a state of panic after their child is diagnosed with a food allergy. Suddenly the parent is tasked with learning all about food allergies, educating others, implementing allergy protocols, filling prescriptions, and often ridding their home of certain foods.
While all of these things are important, perhaps the most important action a parent can take is talking to their child about their allergy. After all, the child has a steeper learning curve to climb, and eventually must become their own advocate.
If you are one of these parents, here are a few strategies to get you started:
Explain the allergy in age-appropriate terms. Discuss the difference between safe foods and non-safe foods. Take them to the grocery store and point out their allergen. Tell them why we read labels before we eat anything and why we don’t share food with friends. Information is education!
Calmly explain a food allergy.
Though they may be little, it’s helpful to calmly discuss what an allergic reaction might look like and how it can make them feel. Most importantly, teach them that if they start to feel any of these symptoms to alert an adult right away.
Involve them in the process.
Take your child with you to train their teachers and caregivers. Create a routine around grocery shopping and checking labels. Let them put their art supplies to work and create a reminder to place on your door to always pack emergency meds (epinephrine and anti-histamines) when leaving the house. Involving your child provides another layer of education. It’s also important to ensure that your child experiences as much “normalcy” as possible, as this can help them avoid feeling fearful.
Make it a part of your everyday conversation.
Food allergies affect the whole family, not just the child. Talk to them about their experiences. Help them to understand that a food allergy is a unique part of who they are. Role-play scenarios. Cook allergy-friendly recipes together. Don’t be afraid to have an open dialogue with your child! Remember, knowledge is power. An open dialogue will better prepare your food-allergic child to navigate the road ahead.
Support tools are key.
There are many tools and resources out there for newly diagnosed families. A great way to start is with a book. There are a great many allergy-themed children’s books out there, including Food Allergies and Me, Nutley the Nut Free Squirrel, and Blue: The Monkey who was Allergic to Bananas. You can also get them a medical ID bracelet—many brands now carry fashionable and fun medical jewelry. Or learn about allergies on TV! The beloved PBS Kids show Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood recently aired a great episode about food allergies.
Connect with others.
It’s helpful if you don’t try to go this alone—and you don’t have to: 1 in 13 children in the U.S. has a food allergy. There are numerous groups and support networks for families managing a food allergy. Many of these groups host allergy-friendly playgroups, share tips and recipes, and inform members of events for food allergy families.
Regardless of which approach you take, remember to strike a healthy balance between managing your child’s food allergy and ensuring that your little one takes advantage of all that childhood has to offer.
As a food allergy mom and Certified AllerCoach, I love talking with families about this topic. Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to chat further!
- Meg and the Allergy Amulet Team