Teach children to be their own food allergy advocate
Tips to follow to teach children to be advocates for themselves and their allergies at an early age.
During preschool snack time a boy refused his snack. His teacher encouraged him to eat. He told the teacher he could not eat the crackers because they had peanut butter on them. The teacher recalled that the boy had a peanut allergy and had accidentally given him the snack. The boy, even though he was only preschool age, had been told to tell people he couldn’t eat peanuts and to ask if foods were made with peanuts or peanut butter. This is an example of how teaching children, of all ages, to be advocates of their food allergies can help them stay safe. Michigan State University Extension encourages teaching children to be their own food allergy advocate.
Food Allergy and Research & Education (FARE) offers a few tips to help young children become their own food allergy advocate.
- Explain to young children that certain foods can make them very sick.
- Use simple terms to describe non-allergy and allergy foods as “safe food” and “unsafe food.”
- Teach children the names of unsafe foods and what they commonly look like.
- For example, point out gallons of milk, cartons of eggs or containers of peanuts or peanut butter in the grocery store.
- Show children pictures of foods that are unsafe.
- Teach children to eat only foods given to them by their parents or other trusted adults.
- Other trusted adults may be a babysitter or grandparent or anyone who has an awareness of the food allergies.
- Children also need to be taught to ask questions about the food prepared for them, as the story above showed. They should know to find an adult if they feel sick or need help.
- Explain and have an emergency plan in case they have an allergic reaction. Tell them this means giving them medicine, like an epinephrine injection, and then going to the doctor or hospital.
Food allergies are serious even though it may not be clear how a child will react to the allergen. The best way to prepare children and the adults who care for them is with education. Education about the food or foods that may cause a reaction, what the reaction may be and what to do if there is exposure to the allergen. A clear plan and roles during an emergency will help to keep everyone calm. Young children can be well informed of their food allergies and can learn to be their own food allergy advocate.