It can be terrifying for parents and children alike when it’s discovered that the child has a food allergy. Initially, they’ll be confused and frustrated in addition to the physical reactions they’ll experience. Once that initial reaction is over and the cause is identified, it’s important to educate your children about their food allergies, including what they can and can’t eat and why.
Like everyone else, kids want to enjoy what they eat, but they need to understand that some delicious foods can be dangerous to eat. This is especially true of peanut allergies, which can cause such severe—sometime even fatal—reactions in people with nut allergies. And peanuts are contained in a variety of readily available, kid-friendly foods like peanut butter. Here are some ways to talk to your children about their food allergies in a way that both comforts them and makes a lasting impression.
Talking About Allergies with Your Kids
When talking about any difficult subject with our children, it’s important to be comforting and clear and to use age-appropriate language. Getting bogged down in overly-technical lingo can further alarm a child about their food allergy. They’ll be more receptive and better retain the information when expressed in the simplest terms.
Children with food allergies need to understand that some ingredients that can set off their allergies may not always be clearly indicated. Peanut allergies require a special diligence because they appear as variations in so many foods. Kids need to be very cautious about not only what they eat, but how their food is prepared. For example, peanut oil is often used for frying. While some restaurants do a good job of indicating allergen information to customers, it’s better to be safe and ask a server. Berries and fish can also be problematic in the same way, as they appear in sauces and as components in larger dishes.
Use It as a Nutrition Teaching Moment
One silver lining to discovering that your children have a food allergy is that it presents an excellent opportunity to teach your children about food in general. Depending on their age, they may be aware of food labels. However, being aware of the ingredients in everything they eat will have a new importance once an allergy is discovered. This also gives you a chance to discuss possible substitutions for allergenic ingredients and reinforce healthy eating habits.
These days, people are becoming more conscious of what they eat, how it’s made, and where it comes from. You can practice this consciousness when grocery shopping with your kids with food allergies. The more your kids understand their food will help them to eat healthier and keep them safe from allergenic ingredients.
Teaching Your Children to Tell Others About Their Allergies
A food allergy requires a responsibility that your kids should be aware of. That means being able to communicate to others. You can notify your child’s school about their allergy, but there still will be times—at a friend’s house, for example—when you’re not there and they’ll have to make sure that what they’re eating is safe.
Explain to your children that people won’t automatically be aware of their food allergy. Before eating in a new situation, tell them to let the people feeding them know about their allergy. This can be good for encouraging good manners and building good communication skills. Try play acting to help your child practice not being shy about bringing up their allergy. You can play a server at a restaurant and let your child quiz you about possible allergy concerns on your hypothetical “menu.”
Help Them Make Smart Decisions
If your children are allergic to food they enjoy, trying to steer them away from it can be difficult. Sometimes people are willing to risk allergic reactions just to enjoy the foods they love. It might be helpful to actively encourage an alternative or substitute food to wean them off the allergenic one (grapes instead of strawberries, for example).
This can also be a great opportunity to try out some new foods. Let your child help you find some new and exciting food possibilities. This can be a great way of reassuring them that their food allergy isn’t anything to be shy about—and it’s a good excuse to get adventurous with food.