Young children tend to believe parents are invincible, but they are also highly observant. If you have a food allergy, your kids will eventually see that you are cautious about certain foods.
Though your own good judgment will guide you about when and how to discuss your food allergy with a child, here are some helpful suggestions from Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE).
In a calm, optimistic manner, you might begin talking about the allergy in terms of foods that are “safe” and “unsafe” for you to eat—and convey that allergies are not abnormal.
You might say, “I have a food allergy. That means most food is safe for me to eat, but some food is not safe for me. I take care of myself by staying away from the unsafe food. A lot of adults and kids have a food allergy—maybe one of the kids you play with has one.”
There are also good children’s books about food allergies available that convey the seriousness of an allergy without provoking anxiety, and help answer kid's inevitable questions.
By the time your child heads off for school, he or she should have a basic awareness of food allergy, and of your emergency care plan.
Elementary and Middle School
Let your school-age child know that serious allergic reactions are rare, and if one occurs you are prepared to manage it. Review your emergency care plan with all family members of a mature age. Help each member know what to do - based on their maturity level - if they witness a reaction.
Elementary and middle school kids should also understand that accidents happen—if you eat an unsafe food you will get itchy bumps on your skin, or a stomachache, and your medicine will help. When to introduce your child to the symptoms of anaphylaxis depends on their maturity level, curiosity, and maybe the severity of your allergy.
In an emergency, a child in early elementary grades can be expected to call 911 and then locate an adult to help. You may want to keep an emergency 911 script taped on the fridge, or by the phone. Also, let your child know where you store the auto-injector so it can be retrieved for you.
Children in late elementary and middle grades, beside calling 911 and getting the auto-injector, can learn to use an injector by practicing with its training device. Knowing how to use an auto-injector may reduce any anxiety children have about a parent’s (or grandparent’s) allergy.
As children become proficient at reading, teach them to decipher food labels, and what you look for to determine whether a food is safe. You might ask your children to wash their hands whenever they return home, especially if they have eaten a food or snack containing your allergen.
Your child will be familiar with your food allergy when they reach high school. He or she should understand what anaphylaxis is, the role of ephinephrine to alleviate symptoms, and know how to use an auto-injector. A yearly review of your emergency plan, and auto-injector use, is a wise idea.
Involving children at any age in preparing safe meals is another way of helping them understand your allergy, and how to avoid allergens. Plus, knowing how to cook is a valuable life skill - allergy or not.
As you keep calm and carry on by managing your allergy proactively, your children will naturally absorb that confident attitude. Eventually, they will understand the anxiety behind your competence and respect your courage.
Photo credit: Personal Creations