How Do I Help a Young Child Understand and Tell About Food Allergies?

Published: November 13, 2018
Photo: Getty

Q: I want to get my 2-year-old to start to learn about his food allergies, but I don’t want to scare him. His speech has now moved into sentences. Can you suggest any age-appropriate phrases to help a child get started on understanding? Plus also communicating to others: I have to avoid peanuts and eggs?

Dr. Sicherer: The responsibilities placed on children to manage their food allergy vary by age and individual ability. Children must also prove what they can do to increasingly manage their own safety, in order to allow less supervision and gradually transfer more responsibility.

Ultimately, adults should be responsible for children, in case they are reluctant or make an error.

For communicating the allergy to the child, I prefer to introduce these concepts using a phrase like “peanut can make you sick, and mommy and daddy don’t want you to be sick.”

This is far less scary than saying, ‘You can die from peanut.’”

Communicating: Who Can Give You Food?

Although your child may be able to communicate their allergies to others, it may be easier, and possibly safer, to teach young children that they should never take food from other children or any adults other than specific adults.

For example, “only mommy, daddy, Aunt Emily and your teacher Ms. Jane know what you can eat.”

Obviously, the child’s communicating of their food allergy should not be a sole source of protection. Teaching others, ensuring supervision by knowledgeable adults with epinephrine training, having medical identification jewelry, and other preparations and safeguards should be included to ensure protection.

See also: When is a Child Old Enough to Self-Inject?

Dr. Scott Sicherer is a practicing allergist, clinical researcher and professor of pediatrics. He is Director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute and Chief of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. He’s also the author of Food Allergies: A Complete Guide for Eating When Your Life Depends On It.

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