Diet

How to teach a child with allergies to be responsible

From experience, after controlling the risks in our child's environment as much as possible, the greatest reassurance and the best investment are to empower the child… by this, we mean that teaching the child to be responsible and to understand their allergies is crucial.

My daughter had her first allergic reaction to peanuts at age 3. She is now 6 years old and she still remembers very well. She heard us telling the story to so many people that she could not forget it even if she wanted to. And this is a good thing. To make an allergic child more responsible, you will need to pay close attention to what seems to grasp their attention; then use it to make concrete connections so that they understand the importance of their allergies. Talk to them about the real consequences of allergies. Adjust your language level; be clear and leave no grey area. The smaller the child, the more brief and precise explanations must be. Do not be afraid to talk about allergies with your child.

Here is a good trick: invent possible scenarios and see what they would do in different situations. Kids love playing roles, so make this learning experience into a game. For example: If we go to the store and a lady is giving out chocolate, what are you doing? If the child gives a wrong answer, tell them the right answer nicely and explain why. Propose another similar situation immediately so that they can quickly succeed in the exercise, which will make them want to continue the game. Do not forget to congratulate them when they give a good answer.

Trust is crucial

Your child should be able to clearly understand who the people are (eg Dad, Mom, Caregiver) who are the best informed about his / her allergies and who are able to check the food they are going to eat. The trust your child has in you is very important. They must know that under no circumstances will they have to trust anyone else for food. It does not matter how much they like the person or how much that person loves them. Give them some examples to ensure they understand. One day, I had a discussion with my daughter about it and she did not understand why she should not trust her teacher for food. I told her about the time Grandpa, who loves her more than anything, was happy to have bought peanut-free cookies and wanted to give her some. She is also allergic to nuts and these cookies contained traces of nuts. I explained that even people who love her wholeheartedly are not as informed as Mom and Dad and are therefore unable to protect her from potential dangers. Also, both parents must have the same speech with the child. The information and instructions must be very clear in the child's mind.

Set the example

By informing all the people who can be in contact with your child, you are helping them learn to take responsibility. They will see how you inform their entourage and how seriously you do it. By having several examples from you about how to inform people about their allergies, your child will understand more and more the importance and it will be easy to encourage them to do it for themselves, whether you are present or not.

Should we talk about death with a young child?

My answer: It depends on your child and their character. I already spoke with a mom who told me that her child did not eat much because he was afraid of dying. This situation is sad but very real for some families. It is obvious that in such a situation, the parent can work hard to try to make the child understand that once the food has been inspected, there is no need for concern. If this is your case and the situation persists, I suggest you consult a specialist/psychologist for children. The latter can help you communicate with your child and give you some tips that will be very useful. On my side, my daughter has a rather confident character. I always told her the truth by telling her that she could be very sick and even die if she ate nuts or peanuts. I think she takes her responsibilities to heart, but she does not make it into an obsession. I made her understand the importance of not being afraid to ask questions when she has a doubt about food given to her, even by my spouse or me. She surprised us several times and she often pushed us to check some food that could have been fatal if she had not asked the question. The embarrassment should never take over when it comes to her life and she learned this concept well.

At school

When it comes to school, you will, of course, do your homework by informing the school staff. But you will quickly realize that there are many people with whom your child will be in contact and to whom you will not have direct access. You must teach your child that whenever they meet someone new, they will have to tell them about their allergies. The same law should apply when attending a party, at a friend's house or in any place where someone might not be aware of his or her allergies. This is where your training with your child will become extremely important. For a parent who does not have an allergic child, this method may seem exaggerated, but informing all those around the allergic child is one of the methods of protection. They must also understand the importance of never sharing food or dishes. They must wash their hands before and after each meal and snack.

When your child knows how to read, you can print the list of keywords to watch in the lists of ingredients for their allergies (see AQAA). They will be able to keep this sheet with them during their day, no matter where they go or who they will be with. This is just another tool and it could help in your absence.

Do not be afraid to repeat. Over time, you will have new scenario ideas related to the evolution of your child's life. Do the exercise from time to time. All important notions must remain fresh in your child's memory. As soon as possible, have them take their epinephrine auto-injector on them. Also, teach them to recognize the signs of an allergic and/or anaphylactic reaction. Tell them to warn you or warn the person who is taking care of them as soon as they think they feel the signs. This way, they will be able to receive the appropriate care on time. This concept is very important since the majority of deaths from anaphylaxis are due to the fact that the person in distress has not received an epinephrine injection quickly or receives it inadequately.

Some things to remember
  • Create role play games
  • Be generous with congratulations
  • The younger the child, the more short, clear and precise the instructions
  • Clear identification of resource persons
  • Both parents must have the same speech
  • Set the example and inform the entourage of their allergies and encourage them to do it as well
  • Do not be afraid to repeat, it could save their life!
  • No sharing food or dishes with other people
  • Must wash their hands before and after each meal and snack
  • As soon as possible, have them take their epinephrine auto-injector
  • Make a keyword card to watch for
  • Teach them to recognize the signs of an allergic and/or anaphylactic reaction
Courage, you are not alone!

Some helpful resources:

The Association of Allergists and Immunologists of Quebec website

The Food Allergy Canada website


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