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Wag Takutin: How To Help Kids Understand Their Food Allergies

In many Filipino households, it is often brushed aside and children are taught to 'just ignore it' which makes the battle a little harder.

One of the many silent battles children fight is food allergy. In traditional Filipino households, it is often brushed aside and children are taught to “ignore it”. Which makes the battle a little harder. 

In a study about the prevalence of allergies in Southeast Asian countries, young children below two years old are more prone to cow’s milk and egg allergies. Other causes of allergies include wheat, crustaceans, fruits, and peanuts, though they may appear in the older age group. 

“More than likely, your child knows someone with allergies or may even have allergies themselves. According to experts, about eight percent of children have food allergies or one in every 13 kids. 

“The most common allergies are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts, but there are all sorts of food allergies that people may be facing,” an article entitled ‘Helping Your Kid Understand Food Allergies’ published on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) KIDS for Parents mentioned.

Most parents don’t even know that eggs are common allergens–and only know it once symptoms start appearing upon introducing solids.

So how do we help our kids understand food allergies?

1. Educate caregivers first.

Caregivers (parents, babysitters, relatives) should learn about the allergy first. Upon introducing solids, especially if the family has a history of food allergy, the caregiver should closely observe the effect of the allergen once eaten. 

Though certain food allergens give allergy symptoms at first but also disappear after a few exposures, other times, the symptom just won’t go away. This will give the caregiver an idea on what foods to avoid and what foods to offer. 

2. Inform, don’t scare the child regarding the allergy.

Once the child learns how to communicate, explain the nature of his allergy. Inform without scaring, without labeling the food as “bad”, only his body reacts differently on certain types of food.

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This way, the child will naturally learn that certain foods can cause him itchiness, tummy ache and other symptoms–more of a cause-and-effect thing–rather than “you can’t eat this and that”.

“It’s helpful to explain to children that there’s a difference between disliking a food and having an allergy. Someone with an allergy doesn’t have a choice, and needs to avoid specific foods to take good care of themselves,” the article says.

3. Involve the family in adjusting.

It can become extra challenging for a child with allergies when he or she is always singled out. This is especially difficult when the child is young. As much as you can, involve siblings if any, and parents in changing the diet

If the allergens are present in snacks or treats, at least try not to consume it in the presence of the child with allergies. If you can go the extra mile by giving it up as a family, it will help your child with allergies to know he or she is not going through the change alone.

4. Teach your child to communicate their allergies.

Caregivers can’t be around the child all the time, and once they grow up they will eventually attend school or play dates. Children with allergies should know how to communicate that they have allergies. Teach them to tell their teachers, their friend’s parents, and other adults around them.

“While parents need to take the initiative to communicate about food items and possible allergies in a group setting, that doesn’t mean children should be left out of the conversation about food allergies.

"Explain why you are asking questions or preparing a specific food, and invite your children to help keep their friends safe,” PBS Kids for Parents says.

5. Know when to call it an emergency.

Though most allergic reactions are mild (itchy/runny nose, itchy mouth, rashes, mild gastrointestinal discomfort), there are cases that call for an emergency intervention. 

Solid Starts, a social media advocate on introducing solids (and allergens) pointed out these signs when to call for an ambulance:

- Shortness of breath, wheezing, repetitive cough

- Skin color changes: pale to bluish to ashen

- Swelling of face, lips or tongue

- Widespread hives on body

- Repetitive vomiting

- Sudden tiredness/lethargy/seeming limp

All caregivers should know these symptoms and the contact details of the nearest hospital for urgent care. As the child grows older, this can also be explained to him so he knows what can happen to him and when he needs to ask for help.

5. Coach kids about caring for others who have allergies.

Even if our child doesn’t have a particular allergy, it’s more likely that he will meet one classmate or friend with allergy. Kids knowing the nature of allergies will help them have empathy for their friends.

“Living with an allergy can be challenging and sometimes scary, particularly when some allergies can cause extreme reactions.

But beyond the health risk an allergy can cause, there’s a social impact that can be hard to navigate in group settings like school, family gatherings, or playdates. It can feel isolating to be excluded from an activity, especially if it means missing out on special treats. 

Here’s what that looks like: In an episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood when Uncle X invites everyone to share his peach pie for a picnic, Daniel feels left out and sad because he can’t eat it.

Once Daniel tells everyone about his disappointment, the group switches to strawberries so that everyone can participate in sharing, singing, “We can find a way for everyone to play!"

There are already many silent battles our children fight. But for some of those battles we can actually see the symptom, let’s help them go through it and overcome it. 

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