Tips for Coping with Your Child’s Food Allergies

You’re sitting in your child’s doctor’s office when your worst fears are realized: your kid has a severe food allergy. Whether it’s peanuts, wheat, soy or something else, the same mind-boggling questions are sure to arise: Will we ever be able to eat out again? What are we going to do during birthdays and the holidays? How will we explain this to his or her teacher? First of all, don’t worry—you are not alone, and you and your child will navigate through this together more easily than you realize. Below are some tips that we’ve put together to help you and your child get started on not only coping with food allergies, but also thriving. Note that many of these tips apply to children with similar conditions, such as severe food sensitivities and celiac disease. Join a community – Did you know 6 million children in the U.S. have one or more food allergies? That’s one big community! You’ll quickly find that joining a support group near you, either in your town or virtually, will go a long way in helping you cope with this new life change. Get cooking – Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a take-out kind of parent, living with food allergies has a way of making all of us better cooks. There is no better guarantee that a meal is allergen-free than making it yourself—and, as a bonus, it’s much cheaper. No matter your current skill level, allergy-friendly cookbooks abound, both online and in print, give one a try! Go out and find a few you like and start developing a list of your family’s favorites. Teach your child about food allergies – Your child is the first, and often last, line of defense against an allergic reaction. Teach kids which foods and ingredients to avoid, and what it means to live with food allergies. Videos, songs and books can help with this. Tumptin’s Sneeze, for example, is an excellent illustrated children’s book on allergies that provides a fun and educational way to introduce the concepts of living with food allergies to young children. Reach out to teachers and school officials – It’s very important that your child’s teacher, principal and other school officials are made aware of your child’s food allergy. Nearly one in five allergic reactions happens in school, and the growing number of students with food allergies—two in each class, on average—has led many public schools to develop sound policies in managing food allergens on school property. Contact your child’s school and set up a meeting, if needed, to address any concerns and to learn more about your school’s particular policies. For more information, the National School Boards Association offers a policy guide on food allergies at school. Reach out to families and other parents – No one wants to see your child suffer emotionally or physically, you’d be surprised at the lengths some will go to make sure everything is food allergy safe. For those who seem resistant, be patient; the dangers of food allergies are not fully understood by everyone, and most just need some gentle education on the subject. Keep baked goodies on hand – The disappointment of feeling “left out” during parties or school activities is one of the most common challenges that children with food allergies report. And it’s no wonder: eating is a community activity, and even young kids are aware of this. On many occasions you will have plenty of time to whip up your child’s favorite allergen-free cupcake or cookie, but other times you might not know in advance. A classmate may bring goodies to share with the class, for example, or someone might throw a surprise party without telling you first. Don’t let these little moments catch you unprepared—keep a few containers of tasty allergy-friendly goodies in the freezer at home and at school, if the teacher allows it (many schools allow parents to keep goodies in a small freezer in the class, or even in the teachers’ lounge). Set up a medical kit and emergency plan – “Fortune favors the prepared,” as the saying goes, and this is certainly true for managing food allergies. Gather together an emergency kit, keep at least one EpiPen handy, and keep copies of your child’s medical info at home, in the car and at school. Plan ahead before eating out – It’s true that some restaurants will prove to be too risky to enjoy as a family. If your child has a severe allergy to wheat gluten, for example, the local bakery is probably off limits. You’ll find that many other places, however, are allergy-friendly or are willing to work with you, so long as enough notice is provided. Make sure to always call ahead, and if you’re worried, consider bringing along a home-cooked meal for your child, just in case. Plan ahead when traveling – No, you probably don’t have to cancel that family vacation! Traveling with food allergies may take more planning, but it is definitely possible. Many hotels, amusement parks and airlines will happily accommodate food allergies if notified in advance. Of course, leaving your hometown also means leaving behind your child’s doctor and local hospital, so make sure to bring that EpiPen and medical kit, and make an emergency plan ahead of time in case an allergic reaction does occur. Take care of yourself – Living with food allergies can be stressful, but food allergies don’t have to define your child or your family. Remember to take special time for yourself and your child. Schedule in plenty of fun food-free activities: participate in sports, take up a new hobby or discover something new in your town every weekend. Teaching your child how to cope with stress in a healthy way is also a good idea. From regular exercise and yoga to meditation, lowering stress levels is a skill that can be learned at any age, and will surely give your child a head start. As always, contact your child’s doctor with any questions or concerns that you have, and remember: children with food allergies grow up to live perfectly happy, fulfilling lives. Coping with a new food allergy is a process, but it is one that often leads to more family meals together, healthier eating habits and improved hygiene—all of which are sure to help your child succeed throughout his or her life.
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