While a food allergy diagnosis can be overwhelming for anyone, it especially can be difficult to grasp for children who may struggle to understand why they need to avoid certain foods, and what that looks like day-to-day. But, with some clear communication, positive encouragement, and consistent education it is possible for parents to help their child understand what it means to have a food allergy, and how their child can stay safe and enjoy everyday life as a kid.
Engage Your Child In Conversation and Start Simple
Especially with young children it is important to focus on only introducing a few things at a time. Start with what is most important and that they should avoid, and focus on keeping the way you explain your child’s food allergy as simple as possible. Use easy to understand words such as “safe” and “not safe”, and begin by teaching them the names of safe and unsafe foods so that they know the difference between them, and still know that there are many wonderful foods they can eat.
Connect With Other Parents/Kids With Food Allergies
Having a food allergy can be isolating, and kids can sometimes feel like they are different and all alone. Connecting with other parents of kids with food allergies at your kids school or in your local community can help them feel like they have a buddy, and aren’t so different after all.
Give Your Child A Script
Kids just want to be kids, and sometimes having a food allergy can make them feel different, and uncomfortable in social situations. To help your child feel more confident speaking up about his/her food allergy practice using a script and playing different roles. Pretend that you are a teacher asking your child if she wants a cookie she is allergic to, or a friend wanting to share their lunch box. Helping your child practice getting comfortable responding to these questions will help your child feel more confident and prepared in real life.
As a registered dietitian specializing in food allergies, I have seen time and time again how parents can have the best intentions, yet can unknowingly project their own anxiety about their child’s food allergy onto the child. While no parent wants to do this, children are very perceptive and will easily pick up on your nervous energy. If you are always nervous around food with your child, your child is going to be nervous as well. Instead focus on staying calm, and encourage your child to enjoy their food and social engagements. Be confident knowing that if something was to happen you have an emergency plan in place that you or someone watching your child can implement.
Make Educating About Food Allergies Fun
Kids like games, so make learning about your child’s food allergies, and how to stay safe a fun game. Use books, toys, and interactive online games to help educate your child and engage them in learning about their food allergy. They will be more receptive to learning about their allergy if it doesn’t seem like such a chore.
Ultimately, talking to your kids about food allergies is really going to depend on the type of kid you have. Some may be a little more nervous or shy than others, while other kids will be confident and take control of their food allergies right away. The main thing to remember is just to keep the conversation open and positive to help educate your child about his/her food allergies in an effective, but calm and enjoyable manner.
Megan Faletra, MS, MPH, RDN, is a integrative dietitian, food-allergy specialist, and founder of The Well Essentials, a sustainable healthy living brand dedicated to empowering people to change the way they choose to consume to support a healthier body and planet. Megan also runs a virtual nutrition counseling practice from Boston, MA where she works to help improve her clients health and relationship with food through personalized nutrition counseling. She has been featured in countless publications including: Forbes, Rodales Organic Life, The Huffington Post, and many more. When she is not working you can find her traveling, hiking, doing yoga, and cooking something up in the kitchen…her favorite room in the house.