How Children Can Explain Their Food Allergies

Many parents of children with food allergies and related conditions figure out over time how to explain the condition to others. Do you remember trying to explain your little one’s medical condition to someone for the first time? I remember the first time I tried to explain a rare allergic condition to someone: lots of head-scratching!

If it’s hard for us as adults to figure out how to explain complicated medical conditions to other adults, think about what it must be like for a young child to try to explain them on her own to someone her age. Today, we’re going to share some ways you can help prepare your child to explain food allergies to other children.

1 – Be a good role model and set an example

Children are like sponges, in that they learn a lot by listening to adults. Think about how toddlers are experts at repeating what we say. Good words, bad words, silly phrases – nothing gets by them!

Set an example for your child to follow by letting him observe how you explain his food allergy or related condition to others. Try to come up with a consistent way of explaining the condition, and include a metaphor if you can. (“Peanuts are like heat-seaking missiles that cause my son’s throat to swell up.”) By setting an example with an explanation that others find easy to understand, your child already has a good chance of success!

2 – Role play

It may seem simple, but one of the best methods to prepare your child to answer questions is to practice. As a first step, you can pretend to be a child with food allergies to give your little one a chance to see an example. Then give her a chance to explain it to you. If she isn’t super excited to practice on you – lots of us don’t like to role play when we know it’s a role play – you could recruit a relative or neighbor to ask your child the question, so that it’s a more natural scenario.

We got this idea from Linda Cross in a blog post that was originally published by Kids with Food Allergies (KFA) ‘Raising a Well-adjusted Child Who Happens to Have Food Allergies’ and reprinted with permission here. It’s full of a lot of other great, practical tips – we highly recommend! Linda also partnered with KFA for a free online class with the same topic, available here.

3 – Read all about it

Children love being read to from a young age. I can’t tell you how many times my 2-year-old nephew has asked me to read a book – any book – over and over! The more we read to them, the more likely they will be to want to read on their own when they’re older.

Why not start from a young age and read a book together about a young boy’s food allergy? Nadine Reilly wrote the book Peter Can’t Eat Peanuts to help other families work through the same experience her family had. We learned about this great book through a blog that Wendy Mondello wrote that’s full of a lot of other great tips about managing food allergies as a family, especially emotions.

We know this isn’t the only book about children who have food allergies. Why not look for several, at different reading levels? You can also find books for many other complex medical conditions, such as ‘Gus the Esophagus‘ to help understand eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) and ‘Purcey’s FPIES Surprise‘ to understand Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Synrome (FPIES).

4 – Share a video

Videos can be excellent teaching tools, for children and adults. For young children, this video from Sesame Street helps to define the word “allergic” and could be a good introduction to the topic of food allergies. Or your child could share this video, narrated by a pair of pediatric allergists, with others. For EoE, we’re big fans of this video to help young children to understand the condition, and this longer video to help older children understand EoE.

How about sharing one of these videos with his/her classroom during ‘Show and Tell’ – a great way to share an important concept with the full classroom? Or children can share it with a friend when asked about why certain foods are ‘off-limits.’ Other parents might appreciate having a video to show their family before your little one comes over for a play date or a sleepover!

We’ve shared some of our favorite ideas for how you can help your little one to explain food allergies and related conditions to others. What other activities have you found helpful in empowering your child to explain her medical condition to other children?

Rob McCandlish, RDN

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Published: 11/19/2014
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