As I mentioned in previous blog posts, my daughter was diagnosed with food allergies when she was just 6 months old. Once my husband and I learned the basics of how to deal with Meredith's food allergies, the next step was to educate her and the other people who came into contact with her about the condition and the necessary precautions needed to prevent an allergic reaction. This article is the first of a two-part series in which I'll write about:
1) Educating your child
2) Educating family, friends and teachers.
One of the most important things you can do to protect your child is to educate them. I once heard a story from a school secretary in which the mother of a child with nut allergies told the teachers to "watch every bite her son put into his mouth because he'd eat nuts if they were offered to him." When the teacher questioned the mother about why the child hadn't been taught about his condition, the mother replied that she didn't want to scare him or make him feel like he's different. This story blew me away! I couldn't believe it.
Knowledge IS power, and if you deny your food allergic children the knowledge they need to protect their health and life, then you are taking away your children's power to protect themselves. If your child has a food allergy, he IS different, and it's a fact you have to come to terms with before you can help your child cope with it, too. None of us wants to see our child suffer emotionally, and I won't lie and say it's not difficult when Meredith looks at me with sad eyes and says, "I just want to eat what the other kids eat," or "Why can't I be like all the other kids?" Like all parents, when my child hurts, then I hurt, too. I approach these moments with consoling and positive statements, and try to remind her (and myself) of all the things we have to be thankful for in our lives. I also tell her about how God has made us all unique and with different abilities, and mention things that she's really good at doing so she'll walk away from the conversation feeling good about herself again.
I can't stress enough the importance of teaching your child about their allergies. From the time Meredith was old enough to eat table food, I would correct her if she was reaching for something that would cause an allergic reaction. I wouldn't just say, "No, you can't have that," but would say, "No, that will make you very sick. You're allergic to cow's milk." Even though she wasn't old enough to speak yet, I wanted her to start hearing these phrases as early as possible to improve the chances of these words becoming part of her early vocabulary. As her language skills developed, I taught her about food allergies and explained to her what she couldn't eat and why. I kept the sentences simple, and put them in terms she could understand.
As it turned out, my efforts weren't in vain. When Meredith was 2 ½ years old, another child offered her a sippy cup full of milk at a birthday party. I had barely opened my mouth to speak when Meredith told the child she couldn't have it because "cow's milk makes her sick." That particular situation was proof that educating my child at the youngest of ages could help protect her from an allergic reaction. Please don't assume your child won't understand. It's very important for you to arm them with the knowledge that could literally help save their life.
Of course, you also can't expect a small child to be as vigilant as an adult when it comes to the food they eat. That's why I'll be discussing ways to talk to the other people who will come into contact with your child in my next post.
Published On: May 21, 2008