Teaching Your Little Ones About Their Food Allergies

Updated on January 26, 2018
myfood4thought profile image

Jillian is a food-allergic adult and mama with years of personal experience to share with the greater food-allergic community.

Source

If you have a child with food allergies like I do, doesn't this otherwise beautiful picture make you worry just a little bit? It only highlights how important it is to teach our young children about their food allergies. And while we obviously can't count on them to take on the responsibility of protecting themselves, it is our job as their parents to teach them how to stay safe.

Learning Should Be Gradual and Age Appropriate

Now that my son with food allergies is 7 years old and has successfully been through a few years of school, I am feeling especially grateful for the time we spent teaching him about how to manage his allergies in an age-appropriate way.

He was diagnosed at just 8 months of age with milk and egg allergies, and unfortunately, the list of dangerous foods has only grown for him. We began our education on day 1, and have adjusted the amount and type of information we share as we learn, and as he grew, understood more, and became more verbal.

This does not mean holding them responsible when they are too young, but gradually building their awareness, knowledge, confidence, and ultimately, their self-advocacy.

It's Never Too Early To Start

Source

Just like babies have to be exposed to language to comprehend and to learn how to speak, our kids need to gradually see and hear about their allergies and how to stay safe. They observe and take in everything you do and say, so take advantage of this time and talk about why you do what you do.

Narrate as you read food labels, wash/wipe hands, and cook certain foods separately, explaining why. Use the terms "safe" and "unsafe" to describe foods, and explain why. Over time, it will stick. One of the first phrases my son said to me was "check label, Mommy" before I would open a new package! He also at an early age would point to things we were eating and simply ask, "safe?" I will never forget how much that touched my heart to see such a little toddler learning how to protect himself.

"Safe" Foods & The Use of Generic Terms

Source

Confusion can easily happen among adults, but especially among young children. This is why we need to be careful about how we refer to products. I can't stress enough to use the term "safe" when describing foods and products to our very young children.

One great example is the term "butter". I would always go out of my way to show my son the packaging for the dairy-free "butter" spread that we use and refer to it as his special safe butter, because if he saw or heard about any other kind of butter (the dairy kind) from family or friends, I wouldn't want him to assume it is safe for him and reach for it. This can apply to any product, such as "milk", "bread", "cheese", etc. Ask about the safe brand's colors, and point out any unique pictures or logos to help it stick.

One great way to teach about this is to take a young child to the store and carefully show them the section of butter or whatever the food category is (being careful not to allow them to touch or inhale the actual allergens). Ask them to point to the safe products and the unsafe products. It can be a fun little game! Then reinforce them to ask you to always check the label, since we know that our brand is not always guaranteed to have the same ingredients, and that we must read every label, every time.

If you're not comfortable doing this at the supermarket, the internet can be used to pull up pictures of foods. There are even apps available to create your own coloring pages using saved pictures. The library is also a great resource for finding picture books about certain food groups. Regarding peanuts and nuts, it is wise to distinguish between shelled and unshelled since they appear different. It is also recommended to teach about the different types of nuts (for example almonds versus walnuts), rather than just referring to them all as nuts.

Another idea is to show your child or talk about the most common types of foods that can potentially contain the allergens. For example, common foods that can contain peanuts are chocolates, ice cream, granola, and baked goods, to name a few. Play a guessing game, for example, which food do you think has peanuts? This can even be expanded to personal care products, which can surprisingly contain all kinds of major allergens. Imagine the surprise of my then 3 year old when I told him hand soap can contain milk and nuts!

Source

Only Take Food From Trusted Adults

The number one most important rule to teach your young child is to NEVER share food or take food from anyone else but you or your other designated, trusted adults. Teach them to say "no thank you" and to feel comfortable with it. Related to food sharing, this extends to drinks, but also to cups, straws, plates, utensils, and napkins. Sometimes color coding, labeling, and /or using certain character or themed cups and plates can help the child not confuse his or her food and drink with someone else's.

Remind your child that those trusted adults have to check every food and drink to make sure that it's safe. As the child gets more verbal, teach him/her to always ask the designated trusted adult to check the label before eating any unopened package of food/drink or item that has not been vetted yet. The trusted adult can reinforce this each time by narrating, "Oh, I see this is a new box of cookies that we haven't checked yet. Let's read the ingredient label to make sure that they are still safe for you!" The key is to avoid them being dependent upon that person to always know to check the label. At some point, they need to remember to do this on their own.

Ingredient Label Reading & Sight Words

Source

Our pre-school aged kids can and should be exposed to sight words. Show your child what the ingredient panel looks like and what are some of the words that we look for that would make the product unsafe to eat. Do a simple word find with words cut out or even just on a sheet of paper. Have them find and put the allergen words in the unsafe pile with a frowny face, or color them red. Kindergarteners and 1st graders can practice writing the words. Not only does this teach them what the words look like, but it also helps them remember what the foods are that they need to avoid.

Staying Involved

In general, keeping our kids involved in the day to day management will only benefit them in the long run. Recruit their help reading labels, going grocery shopping (if you're comfortable with this), preparing food together, and (depending on their age) either carrying or remembering to bring their epinephrine everywhere they go. Reward them for their efforts in helping to keep themselves safe. This will shed a positive light on their abilities to be responsible.

Speaking Up

Explain the symptoms and instruct your child to tell or sign an adult if he/she isn't feeling well. When a reaction or symptoms do happen, talk about them so they can learn to recognize the symptoms. Show them what hives can look like and talk about how they feel. Reward them for coming forward and speaking up to an adult when they aren't feeling well. When my child complains about something bothering him, I calmly go through my symptom checklist with him to determine if anything else is going on that might be allergy-related. This helps teach what the symptoms of a reaction are. Show them the epinephrine auto-injectors, and practice with the trainers at an early age so that your child can get familiar with them (yet keeping them out of reach until the appropriate age recommended by your allergist).

Staying Positive

Source

It is so important that we stay calm and positive throughout all of this modeling and teaching. While food allergies can be very stressful and emotional for us as our children's caregivers, we must stay positive. I try to highlight the aspects that I am most grateful for: the effectiveness of epinephrine when given promptly, the availability of food options out in the marketplace now, how much healthier we have been eating as a family, and the increase in awareness, understanding, and accommodations in the greater community.

How confident do you feel about how well you have taught your young child about his or her food allergies?

See results

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Jillian Erin

    What has worked for you? Please share any other ideas you have to teach our children about their food allergies! Feel free to share this with a friend, family

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • myfood4thought profile imageAUTHOR

        Jillian Erin 

        11 months ago

        I know exactly how you feel, MommaStu. It's a constant learning process. I try to think of each incident as something that shapes us and makes us stronger, even though through our vulnerability we sometimes feel the opposite. Think back to where you were on day 1 compared to now, and how far you've both come. My son is close in age to yours. Every day that we get through without incident, I thank God and I give myself a little pat on the back. We have to take it day by day, and find support where we can. You're doing a great job, and he has the one mother that can do this! Hang in there!

      • MommaStu profile image

        Mindy Studer 

        11 months ago from Sunny South Florida

        Thank you for this. I, too, am a food allergy mom. My son has anaphylactic reactions to eggs and a minor intolerance to soy. It is SO difficult. All the time. Stressing all the time. He is 8 and we discuss it often... unfortunately though it seems to have gotten worse. We made 3 ER trips in 2017 because of unintentional contact with egg/egg product.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wehavekids.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://wehavekids.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)