You are a role model for your child. Help your child to feel confident in daily life, and in managing his or her food allergies. Remember that your own emotional relationship towards allergies will influence your child. If you approach food allergies with strength and awareness, taking a “careful, not fearful” approach, you are setting an example for your child as he or she grows up and develops more independence.
Being a role model
Teaching your child about food allergies is necessary for their safety and confidence. Your goal is to empower your child with the knowledge and skills that will help them safely participate in all daily activities.
- Be reliable. When you always read ingredient labels and carry epinephrine auto-injectors, your child will learn that this is important to do in order to stay safe. Even young children are watching and learning!
- Teach your child why it’s important to follow allergy rules. Try to teach in a way that they can understand. This will differ by age and development. Routines give your child a sense of comfort and security. Use children’s allergy books as teaching tools to encourage habits such as hand washing. Even toddlers can learn this practice.
- Plan ahead for food-related events. Children may enjoy preparing for events like birthday parties. Help them to find ways to deal with common problems that may arise.
- Teach your child how to say “no thank you” politely. If they are not sure if a food is safe, they should feel confident about saying “no thank you”. This skill should be taught as early as possible. Use role playing to practice the words that they can use so that they feel confident in real situations.
- Encourage honest and open communication. Your child should feel able to share their feelings and information, without fear of being punished. This includes situations where allergy rules were broken. If a child is afraid, they may hide this information from you and you will lose the chance to problem-solve together.
- Try not to use terrifying words to describe allergy. Your child is listening to conversations that you have with others, so try to avoid using words like “deathly allergic”. For young children, phrases like “eggs can make you sick” or “peanuts are not safe for your body” may work. As children get older, they may be able to understand the role of the immune system. For example, “the immune system, the part of the body that usually fights germs, mistakes the food for something harmful. When the immune system fights back, that causes the allergic reaction”.
- When you feel empowered, so will your child.
When children feel different or frustrated
Sometimes children may feel different because of their allergy. It is normal for them to want to be just like other kids. You can help your child when they go through a difficult time.
- Listen to your child. When your child is upset or worried, listen without interrupting them. You may want to say, “It will be fine” or to try to fix the problem but remember that it can be helpful for them to talk about their concerns and let them know you “get it”.
- Help them come up with solutions to problems. Children can feel more in control if they participate in making decisions. Even young children can be involved in decisions such as choosing safe snacks.
- Teach your child how to handle bullying and teasing. These are serious matters that should never be ignored. Tell your child to get help from an adult if they ever feel threatened. Let them know that it is their right to be safe and treated with respect by others and they are not tattling. Speak with the teacher or principal about your child’s situation when necessary.
- Thank your child for coming to you with their concerns. Tell them that you always want to know if they are having a difficult time.
- Remember that there is more to your child than just their food allergy. Do your conversations focus only on their allergies? Make sure that you talk about their achievements.
- Let your child know that you are proud of the choices they make. The opinions of their friends and classmates matter, but yours does too! For example: “I know it was hard when you couldn’t eat the treat at school today, but I was so proud that you said no thank you. Let’s pick out a great snack now.”
- Role play with your child to practice what to say in common social situations.
- Show them how to teach their friends about their food allergies. When friends get involved, they are usually helpful and want to choose activities that include your child. This helps your child feel supported and confident.
- Use children’s books, videos and other resources to help your child and their friends learn the facts about food allergy.
- Encourage your child to participate in a wide variety of activities. This is important for all children to reduce stress and feel good about themselves.