It isn’t likely that your child will understand the concept of allergies, since even most adults don’t really get how the immune system works. Baby probably can understand the idea that certain things can be harmful, however, so you’ll want to start there.
When all the other kids get to eat peanut butter, for instance, a child with an allergy may start to see his allergy as a punishment. You’ll want to find some delicious and fun alternatives to keep him in high spirits as he starts to understand the dangers of his allergy.
Create consistent language
Figure out what you’ll call allergens when you’re talking to your child, like “safe” versus “unsafe” foods or “can” versus “can’t” activities, and then use those words consistently to describe allergenic triggers. If you can, use this terminology to describe only allergenic factors so he doesn&;t get allergies confused with other restrictions.
Managing your child’s allergy is something you should do together. “Protecting” him from the lengths you go to in order to manage his allergy means missing out on opportunities to educate him on how to protect themselves later. It can also give the impression that something about him is a burden, or is wrong.
Instead, keep your child informed any time you make a decision based on his allergy. Use the term “we” instead of “I” or “you” when possible. Saying things like “We need to buy this kind of milk, not the unsafe kind” or “we need to remember to take our medicine before we leave,” makes his allergy a shared experience, and teaches him about the types of decisions he may need to make to protect themselves as he grows.
Teach the adults
While your child might not fully understand his allergies, or how to avoid allergens, the adults in his life can help him out as he learns. Speak to all regular caregivers, teachers, and close relatives, and let them know about your child’s allergies so they can help him avoid them and reinforce the reference words (safe/unsafe, can foods/can’t foods) you’ve taught your child to recognize.
Allergy alert materials
It might be a good idea to get your child an allergy alert bracelet that will quickly let any adult know what allergies to look out for, and give them his emergency contact information.
If your child has more than one allergy, you might want to print some copies of an allergen list that he can carry with him to give any secondary caregivers. Consider detailing any non-obvious foods or situations where your child might come across an allergen, as well as what the allergies are.
If your child has a severe allergy, it’s also a good idea to write out an emergency care plan that lets caregivers know what steps to take in the event of an allergic reaction, and whom they should contact. This could include antihistamines or using an epinephrine injector, and either a trip to the hospital or a call to 911 or the local emergency number.
“Food Allergies in Schools.” CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 2015. Web.
“Talking to Children About Their Food Allergies.” Food Allergy Research and Education. Food Allergy Research & Education, Inc. 2016. Web.