Teaching Kids About Food Allergies
It is officially Food Allergy Awareness Week! This is a great time to remind friends and family about the seriousness of food allergies, practice administering epinephrine, try new allergy friendly recipes and educate your community. This week I am lucky enough to present to some of the classes in my children’s school. I think it is so important for the kids (and adults!) who do not live with food allergies to understand what they are and how to help. Here are the basic topics I review:
What is a food allergy? I think this is obviously the starting point for any talk on food allergies. I explain that eating even a small amount of the allergen can cause a harmful reaction. I talk about the top eight food allergens and how some of them hide in many of our everyday foods. I explain cross-contamination and the importance of hand-washing. With smaller kids, that is about how much I delve into it. With older kids, I explain more about the immune system and get more specific about what happens in the body during an allergic reaction. I really want the kids to understand that allergies are serious and their friend is not being “picky” when they say they cannot have even a small bite of the food. I tell them that their friend can get sick very quickly and may need their medicine and possibly to go to the hospital. Again with the older kids, I will go more in depth about what happens during a reaction.
How can you help someone with food allergies? This is where I explain what signs and symptoms to look for and to get an adult quickly. I like to reinforce that they need help fast and to tell the adult that their friend has a food allergy. I also discuss bringing non-food treats for birthdays and including everyone. I explain how it feels to be the only kid who can’t have a special treat at parties, gatherings, etc.
I think these are the main things to review, especially with the younger kids. You can absolutely go into more topics, especially with the older ones. If you know there is a bullying issue or just to reinforce an anti-bullying theme, that is another good idea. I touch on that in my “including everyone” part of the speech but it can be elaborated on for sure.
FARE has some free downloads on their site for presentations and handouts. I like to give them one of the coloring sheets to take home and I send a letter to the parents in case there are questions later. Kids are such sponges and can learn so much from even a 20 minute presentation. The earlier on they understand this stuff, the better!
I would love to hear what you are doing for Food Allergy Awareness Week!