Nut Allergies: Teaching Your Child to Steer Clear

Having a child with a nut allergy (or any food allergy for that matter) poses particular challenges when they start choosing foods for themselves.   When Maya was diagnosed with a peanut and tree nut allergy last year that was one of the first things I worried about.  I knew that for the time being I would be able to protect her, for the most part, by choosing her foods for her, being diligent about reading labels and directing others about what she could and could not eat.  But, what was I going to do when she started being places on her own, choosing her own foods, being exposed to foods that I didn’t pick out or read the labels of before hand?

For children with life threaten nut allergies the consequences can be devastating if they inadvertently eat something that contains nuts.  My daughter has an epi-pen that we can use if she happens to have an anaphylactic reaction, but still.  The best approach to helping avoid potentially dangerous exposure to nuts is to teach your child from a very young age what to ask and what foods to avoid so they can be their own advocate.

We’ve already started teaching Maya that she can’t eat nuts.  She is still to young to really get it, but slowly I see it sinking in.  Sometimes I say she can’t have something at the store and she’ll respond by saying “ya, nuts, no nuts.”  I guess after hearing it so many times she’s starting to get it.

A few of the things I’ve started doing already to help Maya learn about her nut allergy and what she needs to do are:

  • Telling her whenever I can why she can’t eat something.  If she can’t have a piece of chocolate or a cookie because it may contain nuts I tell her that.
  • Telling her that she can’t eat nuts and why.  I try to explain that nuts are dangerous for her and her body will have a bad reaction if she eats them.
  • Showing her what nuts look like and telling her she can’t eat them so that she will recognize them if someone offers one to her.

A few things we plan on doing as Maya gets a little older to help her learn what to ask and what to avoid:

  • Teach her to ask if something has nuts.
  • Continuing to teach her about the foods she must avoid and those she needs to be careful about.
  • Teach her to use her epi-pen when she is old enough.
  • Teach her to tell people who are offering her food that she is allergic to nuts so hopefully they will help her avoid dangerous foods.

I think that teaching your child to be their own advocate is very important.   You tell those caring for your children about the nut allergy, how to use the epi-pen, etc, but teaching your child about their allergy and making them an advocate for themselves creates another line of defense.

Do you have a child with a food allergy?  What things have you done with your child to help teach them about their food allergies?  Have you found some things work better than others?

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