Food allergies and digestive sensitivities are sadly becoming more common than when we were young. In fact, they’re up over 370% since 2007 (source). Food allergies are undeniably scary, and pose a massive lifestyle change for the whole family. If your little one has recently been diagnosed with an allergy, read on for some helpful tips on how to help them through this challenging time.
Consult a Professional
We can’t stress this one enough. It’s incredibly important to work with your pediatrician and allergist to accurately diagnose your child. It’s impossible to self-diagnose your child with a sensitivity to a particular food, even if they display some symptoms or warning signs. Inaccurate diagnoses and speculations can lead to serious problems down the road. The best course of action is to temporarily eliminate the food or foods you suspect are responsible for your child’s discomfort until a professional diagnosis and treatment plan is in place.
Clear it Out
Once an official diagnosis is in place, clear out any foods that contain your child’s allergen from your home. Depending on the severity of the allergy, this may include tossing foods that may have been cross-contaminated during production, too. Next, go to the store together to pick out new snacks and foods they can eat. Make it as fun as possible, but also treat it as moment to teach them what foods are safe, and which ones they should skip. As kids get older, teach them how to read nutrition labels and what words they should look out for when selecting a snack.
New Food, New Rules
This one is a no-brainer. Make sure your kid clearly understands exactly what they can and cannot eat with their new diagnosis. Chances are they’re not going to try to eat foods that have made them sick, but accidents happen, particularly from cross-contamination situations or hidden ingredients. Teach them to air on the side of caution if they’re not sure about something, and to eat foods with ingredients they can see. For example, if your child has a nut allergy, help them understand that snacking on a piece of fruit or a string cheese is better because they can clearly see that there are no nuts inside.
Be the Advocate
It can be tough for young kids to speak up for themselves, especially when their allergies is very new. Work with your child on self-advocating with phrases like “I’m allergic to peanuts. Do you know if there are nuts in this brownie?” or “Dairy makes me very sick. Please don’t put cheese on my pasta.” Help them anticipate situations where they may need to ask questions about ingredients, and practice at home so they’re more comfortable when you’re not there. If they’re visiting a friend’s house, make sure their parents know what your kid can and cannot eat and the severity of their allergies ahead of time. Better yet, pack safe snacks from home to nearly eliminate the risk.
Chances are your two-year-old isn’t going to be articulate enough to inquire about the ingredients of their granola bar. If this is the case in your family, you, as the parent, need to be extra vigilant with informing your kid’s preschool or daycare about what they can and cannot eat. Chances are they’re not going to be the only kid in their class who has an allergy, so the staff should have a pretty good grasp on how to handle the situation. Ensure a solid plan is in place so your kid won’t come in contact with their allergen, and staff knows understands the severity of their allergy. Some parents print out cards that have their child’s allergens clearly spelled out to send with them wherever they go. This way, there’s no grey area about what they can and can’t have.
Grappling with a new food allergy diagnosis is tough for any family, but with a little patience and some big changes, you’ll be back in the swing of things in no time.