Teaching Kids about Food Allergies in Children
I remember when I was a kid, surrounded by many friends and cousins, especially during festive seasons, I was always told that some of my friends were not allowed to have certain foods. I even have a vivid memory where my aunt would say very adamantly not to share peanut candy with my cousin. I could never understand why seeing we both shared everything and since peanut candy was and still is one of my favorite go-to comfort snacks, it always made me felt guilty eating it only when she was not around. No one told me why she was not allowed to have it and the concept of candy making my cousin sick felt improbable.
As I grew older, my mother sat me down one day to explain why my cousin was not allowed to share some foods with us. She believed that it was vital for me to understand even at an early age. She thought by educating me I would understand why and in turn, become another “protector,” making sure she does not consume foods that contain peanuts.
Food Allergy Education
The diagnosis of a food allergy can be disappointing and overwhelming for an adult as there can be so much that one misses out on. For children, it can be especially hard for them to understand why they are different and may not necessarily voice out on how they feel about it. However, through education, you can help your child understand the “why’s, what’s, how’s” and more. This will be a crucial part of their life that can make a big difference.
If you have a food allergy, the body reacts as if an allergen (the thing in food that causes the allergic reaction) is harmful to it. This causes the body’s immune system to go into overdrive, creating antibodies to fight the allergen. When the affected individual comes into contact with the allergen, the body releases histamine to protect itself. The histamine is what causes symptoms such as hives, itching, rash, breathlessness, swelling, and such. Another severe reaction is anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction where your airway swells close, leading to breathing difficulties, shock, and even death.
Talking to the Children about other Kids Allergies
When you explain new concepts to the children, start by knowing their age, and level of understanding. Some children are naturally smarter and understand faster. Be patient, and introduce them to the topic with the most crucial points that they should know:
- Explain that everyone is different, and just like how some of them may like certain fruits, others may not like them as well. Tell them variation is okay, it is just who they are.
- Move on to explain that since everyone is different, some of them may have adverse reactions when it comes to certain foods, and that is why they should avoid it and report it to their teachers, parents, friends, or adults when they feel bad after eating certain foods.
- Then, teach them the concept of “safe food” and “unsafe food” and how it differs for everyone.
- Show them names of foods that they are allergic to and what they look like. Always tell them to let an adult know during events such as school field trips or birthday parties that there are certain foods that they should not consume.
- When you go grocery shopping, bring your children along with you and make it an educational experience by pointing out the types of foods and pictures that could be potentially harmful to them.
- Let them know that you are always there for them, and if they have any questions, they can feel free to check with an adult before eating food they are unsure of. Notify the school and teachers in charge of them.
- Teach them to eat foods only given by their guardians such as parents, grandparents, babysitter, or anyone that can be trusted to understand their condition and is responsible enough to care for them.
- Last but not least, make sure that they know it is okay to ask for help from an adult if they feel sick. If you have an emergency plan, ensure that the school nurse is aware of this, and if necessary have medications on standby just in case, it is needed.
- Also, videos, books, and websites will help increase your child’s understanding of their condition.
It is understandable to worry about your child but remember that it is also essential for your child to live as normal a life as possible. Remain calm when discussing these issues, involve your child from an early age, let them know what to do if they feel sick, teach them to read labels and recognize “harmful” foods, and tell them that they may not be so different after all since 4 out of every 100 kids in the United States have a food allergy!