Food allergies can be really tricky to understand. Do you remember the first time you learned about your loved one's food allergy, and how many questions you had? Now imagine trying to explain food allergies to someone else, especially someone with no knowledge or experience of food allergies. Sounds tough!
Eventually we all come to a time where we really, really need someone to understand our loved one's food allergy. Especially when serious reactions are a possibility, we can't afford misunderstandings or mistakes. Think you'll be able to protect your child at all times? Think again! What about when you have company over for a pot-luck dinner party, send your child to spend the night at a relative’s house, or have a new baby sitter? And those are just a few examples!
A lot of families think about these example milestones as exciting, but for you they might be terrifying. When you hit these for the first time it becomes absolutely essential that you explain your child’s food allergies. Relatives and caregivers need to know what to do to manage food allergies, and how to handle the situation if your child experiences an allergic reaction in their presence.
This conversation can be a difficult one to have. Often, relatives might not fully understand the severity of food allergies, especially when they have never experienced a reaction first hand. So, how do you go about having this conversation the right way?
Here are some tips that will make explaining food allergies to relatives easier.
Be direct. Don’t leave anything open to interpretation. Be as clear as possible when explaining your child’s food allergies. Walk through what can go wrong and how severe reactions can be so they know what they're dealing with. You know how serious food allergies can be, make sure they do too!
Be detailed. Assume that they don't know anything. Give them the most basic details you can think of, even if you think those details are common sense.
Be thorough. Let them know that certain foods have different names on labels. Write those names down for them so they know what foods to avoid buying. For example, if your child has a peanut allergy, your family should know all the ingredient names on a label that indicate peanuts, unrefined peanut oil, or peanut protein.
Give examples. Tell a story of a time your child had a terrible reaction to a certain food in front of you. Adults, especially, learn well with examples. This will help them understand how severe the allergy is, how scary it is to witness and the possibility of dangerous consequences.
Prepare them. Tell them what to do if they are caring for your child when an allergic reaction happens. It’s not just about explaining that your child has food allergies; you also need to tell your relatives how to handle an allergic reaction. They need to know what your child’s allergic reaction looks like, and when and how they should react. If your child has an epinephrine auto-injector, walk them step-by-step through how to use it. Make sure they have emergency contact information, and explain exactly when they should call 9-1-1. Have them repeat instructions back to you to ensure they get it!
Put it in writing. Even though you think they understand your verbal explanation, give them everything in writing. It's not cheating! Have you ever experienced a moment of panic where you forget what you thought you knew? Assume they might too. Giving caregivers instructions in writing isn't overkill, it's smart.
If they forget important details, they will have your written instructions to fall back on. Just make sure you don't skip the step of explaining it to them as well. Want to save time in the future? Type it out, so you can print it multiple times for additional babysitters, family members, or caregivers!
- Ask for questions. You may think you've explained everything, but you won't know what you missed until you ask! If they don't have any questions, then you should consider becoming an allergist! The more experience you have explaining your child's food allergy and how to manage it, the better you'll get.
You can’t control whether or not your child has food allergies, but you can control the amount of information the people in your child’s life have about food allergies. Talking about food allergies with your relatives and friends isn’t always an easy conversation to have, but it is absolutely necessary. Hopefully, these tips will help make that conversation easier for both you and them.
Do you have any tips on talking about food allergies with relatives and caregivers? We would love to hear them!
-The Nutrition Specialist team