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How can I help my child manage a food allergy?

Dr. Heather Wittenberg, PhD
Psychology Specialist

Having a child with food allergies is tough. First, there are the obvious safety issues involved. You don’t want your child to accidentally eat something that may make him sick, or even kill him. Then there are the practical challenges; finding acceptable, palatable food substitutes for the things he can’t eat. I know many families who have to spend tons of time planning and making separate meals for their allergic kids, and strategizing about “dangerous” situations like birthday parties and school lunch rooms.

But it doesn’t stop there. The doctors and nutritionists who diagnose the allergies, and prescribe the necessary diets, unfortunately don’t often have the time to get into the psychological aspects of food allergies and leave the parents wondering how to handle this very tricky aspect of the allergy.

The behavioral and emotional effects of the allergy and related diets include the resentment caused in the child by not being able to eat foods his friends can eat. The feelings of deprivation and being “different.” The parents’ worry that these food issues will lead to eating disorders in adolescence. All of these problems are very real challenges of raising a child with a food allergy.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Talk to your child, even if she’s very young, about her food safety issues. Empathize with the fact that she can’t have what she wants; you understand that it’s hard. Give her examples in daily life of you and others saying “no” to themselves in order to be healthy and successful. Explain that it’s hard for all kids to say “no” to themselves, and you’ll help her to do that until she’s able to do it for herself.
  • Try not to feel guilty about “depriving” your kids of the junk they can’t have. It’s your job to keep her safe. She’ll understand your reasons as she gets older.
  • Don’t hesitate to tell everyone at your child’s school, and playdates, about her safety issues. Use your child’s pediatrician as a backup if the school doesn’t take your child’s safety seriously.
  • Use this experience as an example of how the whole family can effectively deal with one of life’s challenges. This is only one of many that will be faced by you and your child, and you have the opportunity of making it a learning experience for everyone!

Teach your child to control his or her food allergy by:

  • Knowing which foods are safe and which foods are unsafe
  • Avoiding unsafe foods
  • Knowing his or her allergic symptoms
  • Knowing how and when to tell an adult when he or she has an allergy-related problem
  • Learning to read food labels
Ms. Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

As a registered dietitian specializing in food allergies and mother of a child with severe food allergies, here are some tips:

  • Start by educating your child on his/her specific food allergy.
  • Discuss "safe" foods and foods to avoid.
  • Practice label-reading and have a plan for parties, school holiday events, food-related projects, etc.
  • Depending upon the age of your child, consider doing a food allergy awareness program at the preschool/school to educate others in supporting your child. Involve friends and family members in the process to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for your child.
  • Consider scheduling a session for your child and you with a registered dietitian specializing in food allergies. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network is good resource.
Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, MD
Allergist & Immunologist

 

Here are some tips and strategies that may help to reduce the risks during Halloween if you have children and adolescents with food allergies and/or asthma:

  • Discard foods, candies, sweets that have been prepared in neighbors' or friends' homes.
  • If food and/or candy are not wrapped with labels, and in doubt, throw it out!
  • Always best to remove small items such as hard candies, small toys, to prevent choking hazards for the "little ones."
  • Remember many chocolate candies may say: "may contain peanut or nuts", take it seriously and avoid these foods!
  • Before the Halloween holiday consider pre-giving "safe" snacks to your friends and neighbors ahead of time, for your child. This will help you and your child feel more comfortable and at ease.
  • Instead of giving out only food and candies, consider having an alternate themes, games, pumpkin carving and use of costumes.
  • Did you know that smaller sized candy for Halloween may contain different ingredients than their regular sized counterparts?
  • Teach your child to politely say "no" to home-baked cakes, cookies, especially when the ingredients cannot be 100 percent confirmed.
  • Don't forget to read costume labels, check for products that may contain latex rubber, if an allergy exists.
  • Egg may be used to provide a "shiny" coating in a variety of baked foods as well as in bagels, pretzels.
  • Try and avoid "tight fitting" masks that can be smothering, especially if you have a child with asthma.
  • Avoid harsh "face paints" that may cause a rash, especially if your child has "sensitive" skin, like eczema. It is recommended to have a simple allergy test performed if your child will be wearing face paint for Halloween, to avoid unexpected allergic reactions. Try a "loose fitting" mask that does not impair vision, instead.
  • Have an early pre-Halloween dinner for your child with a food allergy. This may help to reduce temptation to try "unknown" or un-labeled foods.
  • Keep safe snacks on hand and with you.
  • Bring emergency medications such as asthma inhalers or an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) if prescribed, during trick or treating events. Have an asthma action plan in place for optimal control now, and throughout the year.
  • Use non food items such as stickers in lieu of food and candies.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.