Teaching your child to care for his food allergies

Teaching your child to care for his food allergies is like creating a stepping stone path. Parents and caregivers take a highly complex topic (food allergy care and independence); break it down into incremental steps to meet the child where he/she is – physically, mentally, emotionally and developmentally.

My life with food allergies began almost 11 years ago with the birth of my son. He was vomiting before we ever left the hospital from delivery and I was told that was due to a poorly developed digestive tract. Fast forward 11-months later, after struggling with reflux, transitioning to baby and table food, unexplained hives and eczema and labeled as borderline failure to thrive; we finally had a diagnosis of food allergies to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts and sesame. I’ve learned a lot along the way, so I thought I would share some tips on how to steadily grow your child’s independence in an age appropriate way.

THE BEGINNINGS: Teaching Your Child to Care for His Food Allergies

Teach your child what he/she is allergic to using different methods.

Teaching Your Child to Care for His Food Allergies

Image courtesy of photobucket / How to Ask Me

Teaching your child to care for his food allergies means bringing it down to your child’s level. Place pictures, along with the words, of your child’s allergens onto a piece of paper and tape it to the back of the headrest in the car. This teaches a child in two ways (1) visually seeing the pictures and words and (2) verbally, by periodically asking, “What are you allergic to?” My son rattled off his list of allergens in no time. This is also a great tool for learning a home address and phone numbers. Google Images and Photobucket are great places to gather images.

A second way is to casually, and by casually I mean in a non-alarming way, introduce your child to his allergens while you’re at the grocery store. It’s important for him to see the allergen in the bag, e.g., these are peanuts. The jug on this shelf is cow’s milk. The cartons in this display case are eggs, etc.

Explain to your child why his food is sometimes different than what other people are eating.

It’s natural for your child to see certain foods and want to try them, even if they are unsafe. At a very young age, explain that certain foods are not good for him because it will make him sick, and then divert him to the large variety of foods that he can partake of. It’s important to focus on what one can have rather than what one cannot have, concentrating on the positive versus the negative. For example, instead of saying, “You cannot have that ice cream because you’re allergic to milk.” Say, “That ice cream does look delicious, but this soy ice cream is just as yummy and safe for you.” 

At a young age, teach your child how to read labels because it’s confusing and takes some time to learn.

Teaching Your Child to Care for His Food Allergies

Teaching your child to care for his food allergies means discussing how to read ingredient and manufacturing labels at a very young age. When the time comes for him to take the reins…HE’LL BE READY! : )

Reading labels is confusing for parents, let alone children. Show labels to a child early not only to instill the habit of looking, but learning the variety of names for an allergen, i.e., milk isn’t just milk, it’s casein, whey, etc. Your child will be able to help make educated decisions, along with your help, so that one day he will make well-informed decisions on his own.

In addition, it’s just as important to understand how to read manufacturing labels. Your child needs to know that anything “manufactured on shared equipment,” “in a facility that manufactures” their allergen or “may contain” labels are not safe food options. Moreover, just because a label does not disclose their manufacturing practices, doesn’t mean it’s safe, rather it requires a telephone call to the manufacturer to inquire about their manufacturing processes. Continue reading

Food Allergy and Inclusion

Kristin Beltaos interviewed by Katja Rowell, M.D. for Extreme Picky Eating Help

Food Allergy and Inclusion: Introduction by Katja Rowell M.D.: Children may face eating challenges for various reasons. Children with extreme picky eating tend to experience higher levels of anxiety, around food and in general. Perhaps the most anxiety-provoking feeding challenge that parents face is life-threatening food allergies. Some children with extreme picky eating also struggle with food allergies, which can complicate the picture even further. Kristin Beltaos has made it her mission to help parents and children not just be safer and healthier, but thrive. We were intrigued and impressed with Kristin Beltaos’ work with parents, children, and schools (A Gift of Miles). She has graciously agreed to share some wisdom in our first guest blog post.

1. Food Allergy and Inclusion – Spotlight of Difference intrigues us. Can you tell us more?

First off Katja and Jenny, thank you for the opportunity to communicate with you and your followers.

food allergy and inclusionUsually when you think of placing a spotlight on a child you think of something positive, i.e., accomplishing an awesome grade, playing a great sport game, writing a wonderful paper or doing well in a recital. These are all great ways to shine a positive spotlight on a child.

It’s fascinating how when we are confronted with a challenging situation, such as creating a safe environment for a food allergic child, our initial instinct is to determine how a child will adapt to our environment, rather than how the situation can be modified so that it’s safe for everyone. When we only address the individual child it will almost always create a Spotlight of DifferenceTM.

In our efforts to create safe environments for children with food allergies, parents and schools alike often shine an unnecessary Spotlight of Difference TM on these children that I believe is a catalyst for anxiety in food allergic children as well as food allergy teasing and bullying. We need to understand that safety does not always equal separateness and vice versa. I believe it’s our inability to view the picture creatively and holistically that causes us to go the easy route and shine an unnecessary Spotlight of Difference TM.

When I use this in my training, I have attendees actually work through real life examples on how to create more inclusiveness and diminish the Spotlight of Difference TM. It’s really stirring to see people get creative and excited about how to make life for a food allergic child better. I think so often we don’t like what is happening, like an allergy table, but we don’t take the time to think about how we can do it differently.

2. Food Allergy and Inclusion – How does this relate not just to food allergies, but also children with extreme picky eating, and even beyond food, to other differences?

I think we shine a spotlight more often than we think. Let’s examine when treats are used for incentives, rewards and celebrations.

Food Allergy and InclusionI always like to share about the first year when my youngest son was old enough to eat Halloween candy. My youngest son sat down to Twix®, Milky Way® and Hershey® candy bars while my child that has food allergies had in front of him Starburst®, DOTS® and Smarties®. You cannot look at these treats and equate them as being in the same category. You can’t “sex up” the non-chocolate treats, there’s just no comparison, unless of course you aren’t a chocolate fan.

My point is, you wouldn’t have your child’s three friends over and provide three of the children with delicious chocolate and one child with the other variety. How do we solve this dilemma? If you’re having a school-wide celebration, then that means finding a treat that is safe for all based upon all the dietary restrictions whether that be food allergy, food intolerance, diabetes, Celiac disease, autism, extreme picky eating, ADD, ADHD, etc. If you’re having a classroom celebration then that means finding a safe treat based upon the dietary restrictions within each classroom.

Spotlights don’t always have to be related to food. Each child may learn to read or understand math at a different pace. Stickers, colors, or Popsicle sticks may be used to track progress. Peers will know what level you are at in reading based upon the tracking system utilized. Children may be called out in the hall, to at a separate table or moved to a different classroom for assistance. If a child is learning at a slower pace, he/she may feel embarrassed. I don’t have the answer to this type of spotlight, but as you can see, often times we probably don’t even know that we’re shining a spotlight on a child.

While it may require additional planning, many schools have successfully found ways to socialize, celebrate, incentivize, reward, learn and craft without food or within restrictions surrounding food. It simply takes a little extra effort, and more importantly; just imagine the difference you make in a child’s life that is dealing with a challenge.

To read the rest of the interview about Food Allergy and Inclusion, click to enter the Extreme Picky Eating Help website.