How to Teach Your Kids to Speak Up About Their Food Allergies

Teaching your kids to speak up for themselves is something most parents only dream of, but for those whose children have food allergies, it is a must. As babies and toddlers, it is safe to say that you can read every label, dish up their food, make the decisions on what they will eat. However, in no time at all these same kids will be sent off to school, to make friends, to play dates and they will have to make smart choices.

It is never too early to get the message out that “straight from the mouths of babes” they need to advocate for themselves when it comes to their food allergies.

It is never too early to educate your kids on understanding what they are allergic too, what it means to have a food allergy and how to make smart decisions. The most important message you can give them is that they must have a voice when it comes to making food decisions. Empowering them early on will allow them to speak up and stay safe.

Starting with these practices will help your kids to get a handle on living safely with food allergies:

  • Say It Simply - Use age appropriate language when you educate your child on their food allergies. Remember the words you use for a 5-year-old will vary greatly for that of a 10-year-old. Also, be sure you keep the message simple so that they understand the bottom line.  Sometimes too much conversation about the science behind an allergy can cause them to miss the message. Choose simple wording about what they are allergic too and what they need to know.
  • Share It - Be sure that your child knows it is very important that they share the fact that they have a food allergy with their friends. First of all, you don't want them to feel embarrassed or misunderstood so being open and honest with friends will help. Second, they should know that it is always helpful for others to be aware of your allergies so that someone is looking out for them as well. And in the event of any type of reaction, the friends will know what to do to help get your child to safety. It is important that your child convey this to their friends, as well as the adults who may also be responsible for them.
  • Read About It - Spend time together reading about food allergies so that your child recognizes that you are in this together. Helping your child to recognize that they are not alone as there are many other kids with food allergies is very important. Reading articles about food allergies, joining support groups and cooking together are all ways to help your child feel empowered regarding their food allergy.
  • Read, Read, Read the Labels - It takes tons of practice to understand how to read labels so be sure to practice over and over with your child. Remind them that labels change all the times, as companies revamp recipes and change ingredients. For this reason, make it a habit to review the label each time you go to open a new package, or even if you have a familiar product at a friends house. Fortunately, new laws require manufacturers to list common food allergens on their packaging. This helps make it somewhat easier for those with allergies to identify these common allergens. However, it remains important that children and parents continue to practice reading the labels together so that it becomes commonplace so that when your child is not with you, they will continue to do so on their own.
  • Be Prepared - For those with food allergies, it is always important that they are prepared in the event of an allergic reaction. Your child should be aware of the protocol that is to be followed in the event of a reaction. Children who have been prescribed medications, such as an EpiPen, should always have this in reach and know how and when to use them. Be sure to run through what to do in case of an emergency every few months as a refresher. This is a very important step in keeping your child safe in case of an allergic reaction.

Putting these strategies in place will enable you to empower your child to have a voice. Having food allergies maybe a serious matter but with the right tools, your child will not feel different than their peers.  In fact, this will give them an opportunity to use their food allergy as an effective way to advocate for themselves, speak up and truly take charge of their life.

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