Growing is tough, but growing up with food allergies and health complications can be even harder. Here are tips for parents of kids with food allergies
Do you remember the day you brought your baby home for the first time? Who could forget! When my daughter was born I was so worried about how fragile she was. Over time, and with our second child, we learned that children are a bit stronger than we think, but their safety is still important to us.
As my children grow older, we face new types of challenges, especially now that our kids have severe food allergies and are away at school quite a bit of the day.
Regardless of what health complications your family may or may not have, as parents we can all agree on one thing: raising kids can be tough! Add serious health conditions or severe food allergies into the mix and life is adventurous to say the least.
As much as we would love to have an owner’s manual for our kids, that isn’t the case. Instead, we often rely on shared wisdom from other parents who have been in our shoes.
Both of my kids have severe nut and peanut allergies so I am familiar with navigating their particular allergies, but they can still eat gluten. I wanted to get some different perspectives on food allergy parenting, so I talked to several parents of kids with food allergies to get some valuable input on their biggest concerns. Here are 6 things parents of kids with food allergies should know:
1. Your child will likely become the target of some sort of bullying and/or peer pressure
According to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education, Inc.), almost 1/3 of kids with food allergies report being bullied because of their food allergies1. Others may see them as “picky”, “fragile”, “weak”, etc. As parents, we want to make sure our kids are prepared for scenarios like this.
Talk to your child about the possibility of this happening to them. Give them advice on how they should handle those situations. Tell them to not take it personally, and to look at it as an opportunity to teach and help others understand their condition.
Remind them that sticking to a strict allergy friendly diet can be tough, but they are strong and can make it through those challenges. for sticking with it.
2. If your child has celiac, they will likely cheat on their gluten free diet when they’re away from you.
It will happen. Whether it’s by accident or on purpose, it will happen. We know that even the smallest deviation can derail progress, but they’re kids. Find portable allergy friendly foods that they love so they’ll feel like they’re “cheating” when they’re eating those foods.
3. Your child will often feel left out.
During parties, social functions, and special events, your child will often feel left out when they can’t eat the same foods as everyone else. Feeling left out will happen even in the absence of peer pressure or bullying: kids don’t like to feel different.
They want to be like other kids. Help your kids remember that their health comes first in these situations, and feeling awkward is better than feeling sick later on. If they are attending a social function, call ahead to find out what kinds of foods will be served and prepare or buy your child similar foods that are allergy friendly so they won’t feel left out.
4. Your child may periodically forget about ingredient changes in packaged foods.
Companies routinely change their ingredients, manufacturing techniques, and processing facilities, so it is important to continue to read the ingredient labels on foods that they think are “safe”.
Take some time to explain to kids the basic manufacturing process and how companies will change their recipes and processing procedures periodically. It is good to get your child into the habit of reading labels on everything, and getting them familiar with the various forms of gluten so they can easily spot them on a label.
5. Your child’s allergy friendly diet will be misunderstood and dismissed by others.
It is one thing for kids to be bullied, but it’s another thing entirely for others (mostly adults) to completely misunderstand the importance of a special diet for kids with food allergies. Many adults dismiss allergy friendly diets as a fad and don’t fully understand health conditions necessitating changes in diet.
When people dismiss an allergy friendly diet, they will often say “just a little won’t hurt” or “it can’t be that bad”, minimizing or dismissing serious medical conditions. Educate your child about the research on their food allergies in a way that is easy for them to understand and easy for them to explain to others.
Also remind your child again that regardless of what other people say, their health comes first. The person telling them “just a little won’t hurt” doesn’t have to deal with the repercussions of food allergies – your child does.
6. Your child will deal with mental & emotional repercussions after reactions.
Some parents have noted that in addition to the physical effects of food allergens on their child’s system, their kids also suffer mental and emotional side effects like becoming extremely emotional, having fits, or throwing tantrums. Combining this with physical side effects, this can be a difficult and scary time for kids.
Prepare your child for moments like this by helping them stay objective. Explain that these are normal reactions that will eventually subside; it’s not an emotional or mental defect on their part. Help them to be easy on themselves: explain that having allergic reactions happens to others and it’s okay to take sick days from school or work as needed to recuperate.
Dealing with chronic health conditions and food allergies can be unsettling at first, but as challenges grow, so will your family’s ability to tackle them. Trust that your children will rise to meet the challenges ahead of them by giving them the resources and support to navigate their health conditions and special diets with confidence. Working through health challenges can also give kids the tools to approach many other life challenges with fortitude.
1 “Food Allergy Bullying: It’s Not A Joke”. Food Allergy Research and Education, Inc. http://www.foodallergy.org/its-not-a-joke#.VN_1QC78NSm
Sarah Jane Parker is the founder, recipe creator, and photographer behind The Fit Cookie. She’s a food allergy mom and healthy living blogger based in Wyoming. Sarah is also an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, ACE Certified Health Coach, Revolution Running certified running coach, and an ACE Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist