Food Allergy Independence

8 Qualities Your Child Must Demonstrate

Parents want their children to be independent, and they put a lot of effort into making it happen. After all, the goal for many parents is to raise healthy, productive, competent adults. For children with food allergies, becoming independent and able to manage their condition may be a scary prospect. But the nagging question still exists: When will my child be able to manage his food allergy?

Because children mature at different times, knowing when your child is able to handle their food allergies really depends on your child. Although children go through typical developmental stages, from toddlerhood to school age to teen, there is individual variation between and among children within each stage.

There are a few criteria in the child with food allergies you should be looking for as a gauge of readiness for independent management of his food allergy.

1
An Understanding of Food Allergies

Hives on an arm
Getty Images

One thing all children with food allergies should understand is their condition as they experience it. For example, what are the usual symptoms he or she experiences? Does the child develop hives or is swelling of the face typical? Do symptoms progress to anaphylaxis? What is the typical treatment? Does the child use an antihistamine or is epinephrine required?

The child should have a good handle on the serious nature of food allergies, as well as how they individually respond to food allergens. 

2
Knowledge of Food Triggers

basket full of eggs
Flickr/woodleywonderworks

Any child with food allergies who is able to independently manage their condition should know about their food triggers. That is, which foods to which they are allergic and where those foods are commonly found.

This includes the whole food, such as eggs, as well as ingredients that are derived from the whole food, such as albumin (indicates egg). 

3
Social Maturity

Kids eating in a school cafeteria
By woodleywonderworks/Flickr

Again, this is highly variable from child to child.

  • For school-age children, being willing to speak up in front of peers and ask questions is a sign of independence or readiness.
  • For the teen, who is naturally tempted to take risks, a maturity about the seriousness of food allergies is needed for independent management. 

4
Ability to Read an Ingredients Label

Teen girl reads food package at a grocery store

Is the child old enough to read? And can he or she read an ingredients label and pick out the offending ingredients that may trigger an allergic reaction?

The ability to understand a food label, as well as complicated ingredients listings is important for independently managing a food allergy.

5
Confidence

Smiling girl raises hand in class
Jill Castle, MS, RDN

In order to successfully manage food allergies, a child must be confident in himself and willing to ask about food. In essence, he or she must be willing to speak up, ask questions, and not be bashful or embarrassed when it comes to clarifying potential food allergens.

Encourage children to ask about how a food is prepared, what ingredients are present, and any further clarification of ingredients that aren’t well understood. Also, look for signs that the child is willing to tell someone they have a food allergy.

6
Resilience

Boy kicking soccer ball at three other boys trapped behind bike rack
Thomas Ricker/Flickr

Children who are successfully able to manage their food allergy have a resilience they can tap into should they be bullied, experience peer pressure to eat their food allergen or stand up to kids who tease, taunt or challenge them to eat something inappropriate.

7
Can Recognize Symptoms

Portrait of boy, scratching his cheeks
Elisabeth Schmitt / Getty Images

Is the child able to recognize symptoms of a reaction, and is he or she willing to promptly get the help they need? In the event of an allergic reaction, a child who is independently managing their food allergy will seek out help when they experience a reaction, or begin treatment right away.

8
Ability to Administer Medication

Girl using epinephrine pen in leg
Use epinephrine for anaphylaxis. Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Most importantly, a person who is ready to self-manage his food allergies must be able to administer medication, whether it be an antihistamine or epinephrine. Often, time is of the essence, and quick action with medication is required to stop the symptoms and even to save a life.

Resource:

Rutgers University: Empowering Children to Manage Food Allergies on their Own. http://www.foodallergy.rutgers.edu/ectmtfa.htm

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