Food allergies are a genuine part of our lives. Whether you, your child, a friend or a family member, countless people deal with them daily. Given this, providing your child with knowledge on this life-threatening reality is vital. However, explaining to your child why they are no longer able to eat their favorite food or have their favorite cake at their birthday party is never an easy conversation. That is why we must always remember the importance of open communication. Most children are more mature than we give them credit for and are eager to understand and help. That is why, when it comes to food allergies, clear communication is the best option.
Start Young and Start Simple
If food allergies are a part of the child’s life from an early age, that should not be hidden. While there is no need to pile on an EpiPen's responsibility or the severity of an anaphylaxis attack, the conversation in the home should be open. In the beginning – especially with younger children – focus on using smaller words like ‘safe’ and ‘clean.’ By speaking to the child in a language, they can understand, you are more likely to get the message across effectively. Additionally, please focus on the difference between the safe and those that aren’t so that they can recognize the difference between them while also learning about all the wonderful treats that are completely allergy-free.
Create a Community
For children with food allergies, the restrictions can often feel isolating. Whether this is because of the events they have had to sit out of or the parties they’ve had to avoid, allergies can leave children feeling out of place. Given this, when speaking to your child about their food allergies, it can be a good idea to introduce them to other children and families dealing with the same things. By creating a community for your child, you can get your message across without them feeling different or isolated.
Help Your Child Educate Others
To keep your child from feeling alone, help them make friends by teaching them to educate others. For many children, food allergies are a complete mystery – something they don’t understand. By speaking to your child about what to say to their friends about their food allergies, you provide them with the voice they need to stay safe. Teach your child to be firm and educational with their friends, allowing them to grow comfortable with their allergies and start a conversation amongst their friends.
Stay Calm to Stay Safe
Having life-threatening food allergies can be terrifying. Whether you, your child, or just a friend, the fear surrounding anaphylactic attacks is genuine. However, when it comes to teaching your child about food allergies, it is smart to stay calm. Children very often learn from example, meaning that there are many times that our children are observing us without us even knowing it. Given this, if you allow your anxiety to get the best of you, your child will begin to associate food allergies with fear. It may not be easy, but you need to stay calm to get the clearest message across to your child.
Show Don’t Tell
As parents, it is all too easy to take control of our children’s lives. However, when it comes to food allergies, this obsession with controlling can become terrifying. As our children grow and begin to lead independent lives, it becomes increasingly difficult to control them – forcing us to trust their judgment. Given this, when raising a child with food allergies, they must be shown how to check for safe foods from an early age. It is not enough to tell them they are allergic to something. You must also show them where and how to look through the ingredients and allergen information.
Make it Fun
Talking about food allergies can quickly become a serious conversation that most children are not interested in. Given this, to ensure that you are getting the message across and keeping your child-focused, it may be a good idea to make these conversations fun. By integrating books, games, drawing, and other activities into the conversation, your child is much more likely to stay focused and on topic. While food allergies are in no way a joking matter, we need to remember that children are still just children.
In the past few decades, more and more children are beginning to be diagnosed with different food allergies. Today, these life-threatening allergies affect huge percentages of our communities, making it increasingly important for there to be open conversations on the subject. When it comes to speaking to children about food allergies, many parents struggle to broach the difficult topic. At the end of the day, each child will need to be addressed in the manner that best suits them, but by following these few tips, the conversations may go a little bit smoother.