Tools & Resources

Talking to Your Children About Your Food Allergy

Kids often think of their parents as invincible, so it can be tricky for parents with food allergies to determine how and when to talk to their children about their food allergies. Managing food allergies impacts the entire family, so it is important to make sure that all family members, even children, understand what it means to have a food allergy and what to do in the event of an allergic reaction. 

As your kids get older, they are bound to have questions about your food allergy. They may ask why you cannot eat certain foods or why you carry an epinephrine auto-injector. Through clear communication, you can help them understand what it means to have a food allergy. And although food allergy is something they should take seriously, they should also know that as long as you avoid the foods to which you are allergic, you will be completely fine. 

Here are a few tips for how to talk to your children about your food allergy:

Begin by explaining your food allergy in simple terms, like “safe food” and “unsafe food.” 
As your children get older, you can provide more specifics about the disease and how your body reacts to allergens. For example, you can say, “I have a food allergy, which means that I can’t eat certain foods that most other people can eat. But there are a lot of things that I can eat, as long as they are safe for me."

Let them know that food allergies are not contagious or abnormal. 
Lots of people have food allergies and more and more people are being diagnosed with them, so your children will no doubt meet people at school and on the playground who also have allergies.

When talking about your food allergy, use an optimistic and calm tone. 
Let your children know that food allergies must be taken seriously, but avoid talking about them in a way that may unnecessarily scare them.

Some examples about how to talk to children of different ages or how much information to share include:

  • Elementary/Middle School – An example of what you can say is, “Sometimes accidents happen. If I eat one of the foods I’m allergic to by mistake, I will get sick right away. I might get itchy bumps on my skin or I might get a stomachache. If I do get itchy bumps or a stomachache, I will take medicine to help me feel better. "
  • High School – With older children, it is appropriate to tell them more about your food allergy. For example, you can tell them what anaphylaxis is and how epinephrine alleviates the symptoms of an allergic reaction. 

Give your children instructions on what to do if you have an allergic reaction based on their age. 
Let your children know that you will rarely have a serious allergic reaction, and if you do, you are ready to handle it. Fill out a Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan with your doctor. This plan can make sure that you get the appropriate treatment and help others know what to do when you have an allergic reaction. Review this plan with your family, including your children, when you believe they are at a mature age. If you have a reaction and your children are with you, they can help by listening to your instructions and doing the following, based on their ages and maturity level:

  • Elementary School – They should call 911 and find an adult as soon as possible. Let your children know where you keep your auto-injector in case they need to retrieve it for you as you wait for help to arrive.
  • Late Elementary/Middle School – In addition to calling 911 and knowing where you keep your auto-injector, show your children how your auto-injector works and have them practice using it with a training device. Tell them that it would be very rare for you to need their help giving you an injection, but showing them how to use it can help reduce your child’s anxiety.
  • High School – At this age your kids will most likely be familiar with your food allergies and may have seen you having an allergic reaction. Plan a yearly reminder on how to use an auto-injector and review your Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan for what to do in case of an allergic reaction.

There are also a number of ways that you can help kids understand food allergies.

  • Involve your children in cooking and making meals that are safe for you to eat.
  • Read them children’s books about food allergies.
  • Get your children involved with community activities and events, such as the FARE Walk for Food Allergy, so they can meet other adults and kids with food allergies.
  • Encourage your children to ask their peers if they have food allergies before sharing food.
  • Teach your children about label-reading and what to look for on a label that might indicate that it is safe or unsafe for you to eat.
  • Remind your children to be careful if they are eating something with your allergen in it (e.g. if they eat a lunch at school that contains your allergen or they have a snack at the movies). You can ask them to wash their hands, brush their teeth when they get home, etc.

Adults with food allergies may feel that they do not want to burden their family or children with their food allergies, but by getting your family involved and preparing them for what to do if you have an allergic reaction, you can make them feel included and confident that your food allergies are well managed. 

 

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