Having and teaching compassion toward children with allergies

When your child’s favorite food is PB&J, but her daycare is nut-free, packing a lunch can become a challenge.

Since food allergies are on the rise, there’s a good chance Baby will have a classmate or two who is allergic to certain foods. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased by about 50% between 1997 and 2011, and an estimated 1 in 13 children are affected by this potentially deadly disease.

Baby may not understand the complexity of food allergies, but it’s important to explain to her that having a food allergy is not a choice, and she should show compassion toward her classmates who might not be able to eat her favorite foods. Taking a moment now to talk about empathy, and having compassion, will also benefit your little one in the years to come.

How to discuss food allergies

  • Stick to the basics: Like any medical condition, food allergies aren’t a choice, and are different from not liking a type of food. It can help to explain to Baby it’s not that her classmate doesn’t want to eat the ice cream, but that doing so will make her friend sick. It’s more effective to keep the conversation simple, and explain in terms that your little one will understand than it is to give a more detailed explanation.
  • Explain that everybody is different: It’s important, even at an early age, to teach Baby about differences among her peers and encourage her to include everyone in her social circle. This is a good lesson that differences are things to celebrate, not to mistrust.
  • Turn it into a positive: Many toddlers are resistant to change, but use this opportunity to encourage Baby to try food that’s different from what she is used to. Instead of her favorite peanut butter cookies, the two of you can bake up some nut-free chocolate chip bars for the class. She will enjoy spending time in the kitchen with you, and she and her classmates will be grateful for the treat!

Experiencing an allergic reaction can be life-threatening, and witnessing one can be traumatic. That means it’s critical to stick to the policies in place at Baby’s child care facility for the protection of everyone in the classroom, and to take care about snacks if Baby has a friend with an allergy over to play. With food allergies on the rise, this issue may come up again throughout Baby’s years in school, and starting to talk about the subject early on can help your little one empathize with classmates and friends later as she grows.

  • “Food Allergies in Schools.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, June 17 2015. Web.

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