Talking to your child about food allergies

At this point, you have a lot of control over different parts of your toddler’s life, whether it feels like it or not. From setting up her playdates to hiring her babysitters, picking out her daycare and preparing her dinner, in a lot of ways, you get to make sure that no allergens cross her path.

That’s not always going to be true, though – the older she gets, the more independent she’s going to be. That means that, if your child has been diagnosed with a food allergy, as she grows, it’s going to become more and more of her job to make sure there are no allergens in her food.

That means that right now, when she has learned enough language to know what you’re saying to her, but is still figuring out a lot of the ways she thinks and feels about the world, is a great time to start teaching her about how to keep themselves safe from allergens.

Explaining and narrating 

As you shop at the grocery store, and as you cook, or pack your child’s lunch before daycare the next day, you can teach her a lot about what she needs to do to keep themselves safe from allergens just by telling her what you’re doing, and explaining why. Something as simple as “We’re going to read the ingredients on this before we buy it, to make sure it’s not made with peanuts,” or “This recipe asked for milk, but milk isn’t good for you, so we’re going to use this soy milk instead,” might feel like overkill, but just hearing it can start to make an impact on how your child thinks about food.

Restaurants are also an environment where it can be good to model the things she is going to do when she is older – like ask if the dish she wants to order has anything she’s allergic to in it. For common foods, like dairy or peanuts, it’s important to ask even about dishes that might not seem like they’d have the allergen in them, because they can be included unexpectedly.

Talking to your toddler about talking to other adults

One frustrating truth is that not all adults take allergies seriously, which is why it’s important for your little one to be able to advocate for themselves about her allergies from as early an age as possible. Talking to your child about how she needs to be responsible for making sure anything she eats that you haven’t packed or prepared for her is safe is a great place to start.

If your child has an emergency response plan, or carries medication with her, it’s important to talk to her about telling teachers or adults where they are. It’s also a good idea for her to carry an emergency response plan with her. An effective emergency response plan includes:

  • What your child is allergic to
  • The severity of the allergy
  • Whether epinephrine (or an Epi-Pen) should be given if an allergen has definitely been eaten, even if there are no symptoms, or if it should be given if there is any chance it might have been eaten, if symptoms are showing
  • What medication your child has been prescribed, and how it should be given to her
  • Whether or not to call 911 or emergency services

It’s going to be years before your child can be fully responsible for her food allergy, but the sooner she gets started, the safer she will be.

  • Jordan C. Smallwood. “All About Allergies.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, October 2016. Web.
  • “Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan.” FoodAllergy. Food Allergy Research and Education, Inc, 2016. Web.
  • “Sending Children with Allergies to School.” PBS. PBS. 2003-2016. Web.
  • “Talking to Children About Their Food Allergies.” FoodAllergy. Food Allergy Research and Education, Inc, 2016. Web.
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