Teaching Your Child About Their Food Allergy Condition
You need to teach your child about his/her specific condition as soon as your learn about their condition. Start talking to them about it at an age appropriate level. I will use Sunflower Seeds as an example simply because my experiences are with this Allergen. The concepts are easily transferable to other Allergens.
Although a preschool child may not be able to comprehend the severity of his/her condition, they should be familiar with the consequences of eating the wrong food. This is probably how the Allergy was detected. Your child needs to learn this information and so do you. You are the one to teach him/her.
- Discuss the physical reactions your child will experience during an Allergic reaction. My son experienced a fizziness in his mouth when he ate Sunflower Seeds. He described it as similar to eating cotton candy. When he is not feeling well, this might be a question I will ask him. Talk about who your child will contact immediately when your child starts to feel bad. This might be a parent, a teacher, or a designated adult.
- Show your child the epinephrine shot. Teach them how to use it and let them practice with the trainer. Show them where to place the shot and how to jab it right thru the clothes. If and when the real situation does come, your child will have some familiarity with the procedure. Your child should be able to recognize his/her own emergency and to dial 911.
- If your child has a habit of sucking their finger, then this habit needs to be broken asap. Small bits and pieces of everything your child touches stick to their fingers and make them even stickier. This includes germs, unknowns, and Allergens. They have an easy path into your child’s mouth and this has to be stopped.
- Have your child develop the healthy habit of washing their hands frequently. Hand sanitizers are said to get rid of Allergens, but I don’t see anything leaving the hands after hand sanitizers are used. Allergens are not germs that need to be killed. They are proteins that need to be washed away.
- Shopping trips. Find the snack aisle. If it is ok, point out a bag of Sunflower Seeds. You don’t need to touch the bag nor handle it. Just look at it. Show, look, and talk about bags of Sunflower Seeds and shelled Sunflower Seeds. They look different, but have the same effect on your child. Shells by themselves look even different, but probably have traces of the Sunflower Allergen on them, so take this opportunity to study them. Now your child knows what Sunflower Seeds and their shells look like and to avoid these at all times.
- Show and discuss foods that may contain Sunflower Seeds or Oil. i.e. breads, cheesecakes. The pictures are often right on the package so the child knows exactly what food to avoid. This practice builds your and the child’s knowledge and vocabulary about good foods and bad foods. If your child really likes potato chips but most are made with Sunflower Oil, grab a bag that isn’t made with Sunflower Oil. Constantly remind your child they can only have that brand and that flavor. You will learn that different flavors of the same brand might contain different ingredients and oils. Different batches contain different ingredients so please do not become instantly and forever loyal to any one food item. Some surprise foods that contain Sunflower Products are goldfish crackers, margarine, and chocolate sauce. The more thorough the search, the better your knowledge of potential Allergens.
- Read thru the various ingredient labels in order to learn the safe and unsafe products. You will be surprised to learn that many everyday food items contain Sunflower Products. Even if your child cannot read, they see you reading the package and looking for information. You are their role model. It is important to note that your child not only learn the safe foods but also the unsafe foods.
- Encourage your child to ask loudly if the food on their plate contains Sunflower Products “because I am allergic to Sunflower Products”. This phrase is a good attention getter and this habit will keep your child safe when you are either not around or happen to be looking the other way at just the wrong time. For me, it was that I often had to go change a diaper. A few minutes usually never hurts anyone unless someone is feeding your child an Allergen-laced snack.
- Explain that other animals eat Sunflower Seeds too. i.e. monkeys, cardinals, etc. Wild bird seed mix usually has a large dose of Sunflower Seeds. This means the child should avoid bird feeders and people who have birds. Birders might not wash their hands and this can present a dangerous situation of cross-contamination.
- Show Sunflower Seed shells that have been dropped on the sidewalk, playground, train. Take a walk around the block and you might find some shells on the sidewalk. This usually alerts you to either a nearby Sunflower or a bird feeder. Either way, this is useful information and should put you and your child on high alert. Ask your child to double check that you have the epinephrine shot and your phone, because you are now in a heightened level of potential Allergic symptoms.
- Ask at restaurants. We asked one restaurant if they use Sunflower Seeds or Oil in the plate my son wanted to order. Without checking, the waiter told us not to eat there anymore. Surprisingly, this happened to us twice at the same place with different waiters. I was asking myself why did we go there again after the first episode, and did not have a good answer. This must be their practice, and we will not be going back there anymore. I placed this useful tip on Foursquare and Yelp. One waiter from a prestigious restaurant humorously asked, “Who uses Sunflower Oil anyway?” In fact, he’s right. Sunflower Oil is considered a junk oil by many chefs. When you ask for Allergens in front of your child, you are modeling appropriate behavior. They will follow your example and slip into a healthy routine of asking questions at the appropriate times.
- Sunflowers are a popular summer specialty in people’s gardens and tables. Teach your child what they look like and to stay away from them. Show your child pictures of the various Sunflowers with the variety of yellows and golds. Depending on your perspective, you might show them the huge Sunflower leaf and talk about its size, color, and discuss any other special features they might be able to recognize and remember. Sunflower Allergy children are to stay away from all Daisy-looking flowers. Show your child pictures of these types of flowers and ask your child to describe them in their own words. This will help them remember. When driving in the car, you might see such flowers on the side of the road. Pull over if you are able to, point out the plants, and discuss them. You don’t need to leave the car. My son thinks Sunflowers are gorgeous. I can’t help but think that they give him some sort of physical tingling reaction that he associates with beauty. It’s best to talk about these issues and address them. This way everyone is clear. I wouldn’t let your child touch the actual plant, and in some cases maybe just looking at pictures will be adequate.
Pound this information into their heads. Take every single opportunity to remind them about the Sunflower and its characteristics. Keep reminding your child till you are sure they know the Sunflower plant very well. Someday, their life may depend on it.
When you are done talking, ask the other parent to talk to your child till they are sick of talking about it too. Then ask aunts, uncles, grandparents, anyone who has an interest in keeping your child safe from an Allergic reaction. The child needs to know this information very very well.
If you know of anyone who would be interested in reading this blog, please copy the URL address and send it to them.