Updated November 2022
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. It can be an overwhelming time to say the least!
While all of these things are important, perhaps the most important action a parent can take is talking with 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—like I was many years ago!—here are a few strategies I learned to help 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. Believe it or not, many young children can tell you what they’re allergic to but may not be able to identify the allergen when it’s right in front of them! 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. As the adult, it’s also important to understand kids may have a different or seemingly funny way of describing their symptoms—for example, “My tongue feels like there’s hair on it,” or “My throat feels thick.” Understanding their descriptions may be key to identifying a reaction.
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 (i.e. epinephrine and antihistamines) when leaving the house. Involving your child provides another layer of education. It’s also important to ensure 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 own experiences, and help them understand a food allergy is a unique part of who they are. Role-play scenarios they might encounter at school or with friends. 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 for newly-diagnosed families. A great place to start for younger children is with a book! There are many great allergy-themed children’s books out there:
Food Allergies and Me
Nutley the Nut-Free Squirrel
BLUE the monkey who was allergic to bananas
Daniel Has an Allergy
The Bugabees: Friends with Food Allergies
You can also purchase a medical ID bracelet as many brands now carry fashionable and fun medical jewelry. Or learn about allergies on TV! The beloved PBS Kids show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood 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! One in 13 children in the U.S. has a food allergy, and there are numerous groups and support networks for families managing a food allergy. Many of these groups host allergy-friendly gatherings, share tips and recipes, and inform members of events for food allergy families. Spokin, the Food Allergy Counselor, and AAAAI’s Food Allergy Stages handouts are all great resources as well!
Of course, our team at Allergy Amulet is here to help too. We’ve written hundreds of articles about a diverse array of allergy topics. Or, visit our media library where you’ll find webinars, podcasts, and free downloads to support your food allergy journey!
Regardless of which approach you take, remember to strike a healthy balance between managing your child’s food allergy and ensuring your little one takes advantage of all that childhood has to offer.
Do you have any tried-and-true strategies we haven’t mentioned? Drop a note in the comments below to share your success stories and top tips!
— Meg and the Allergy Amulet Team