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Talking to Children About Their Food Allergy

Through clear communication, you can help your child understand what it means to have a food allergy and how to stay safe.

Dad and boy

A food allergy diagnosis can be overwhelming enough for an adult. This experience is even more daunting for a child. Young children may struggle to comprehend what is going on with their bodies and not have the words to fully describe how they feel physically or emotionally.

Through clear communication, you can help your child understand what it means to have a food allergy and how to stay safe. This is a skill that will serve him or her well in the future.

Start Simple

For young children, introduce a few concepts at a time. Start with the most important things they should know to be safe:

  • First, explain that certain foods can make them very sick. Use simple terms such as “safe food” and “unsafe food.”
  • Next, teach them the names of unsafe foods and what they commonly look like. Point out gallons of milk, cartons of eggs or bags of peanuts in the grocery store. Show them pictures of foods that are unsafe foods online, in books or in magazines.
  • Then, teach them to only eat foods given to them by their parents or other trusted adults. These other people can be a babysitter or grandparent—anyone who knows about their food allergies and is trusted to care for them.
  • Finally, they should know to find an adult if they feel sick or need help. You can also explain your emergency plan in case they have an allergic reaction. Tell them this means giving them medicine and then going to the doctor.

Involve Your Child

It’s tempting to manage food allergies for your child in a “behind the scenes” fashion. But it’s important that children appreciate why you do certain things to keep them safe.

Involve your child from an early age. Openly model food allergy management behaviors, such as reading food labels and always carrying epinephrine auto-injectors. This will help them learn from your behavior and teach them skills they will use as they grow older. For example:

  • Use “we” rather than “I” statements: “We should read the ingredients to be sure this food won’t make you sick.”
  • Explain food allergy management out loud. A simple statement before leaving the house such as “We have our medicine kit with us, so now we’re ready to leave!” can help reinforce that you do not go anywhere without their medication.
  • Involve your children in grocery shopping and making meals that are safe for him or her to eat.
  • Prompt your child to show others his or her medical identification. This is a good way to get him or her used to telling others about food allergies.
Things to Remember

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