Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Allergy Education - when to start

When dealing with young children with food allergies, we need to educate the adults who are around them, but we also need to educate our young children. At what age should we start teaching our kids about their allergies? Do we want them to feel different?

We have two boys with multiple food allergies, now 3 and 6 years old. Do we want them to feel different? No, but the truth is, they are different. Pretending that they are not, is a recipe for disaster, especially when dealing with anaphylaxis. However, teaching them about their food allergies need to be done in a balanced and an age appropriate manner.

If you are unsure about where to start, or what would be appropriate to teach your child, here are some guidelines we have used. Keep in mind, that every child is different, and the age and stage will vary with the individual.

The age at which you choose to introduce them to their Epipen, and other medications is up to you. The age at which you choose to teach them that their allergies not only make them sick, but can be deadly is a very personal decision. I have not included these aspects in this diagram because I do not feel comfortable suggesting an age for this. Our oldest son practiced using an expired Epipen at the age of 3. He was able to understand a lot of his medical needs at a very young age. At the age of 6, he now knows that his allergies can be deadly. We discussed this by reading an article about a boy who was of a similar age who died from undeclared dairy in a coconut product. I will save those details for another post.

If you are hoping that your child grows out of their allergies by the time they reach school, that is completely natural. But allergy education needs to start as early as possible to make it a way of life, and not an imposed restriction that your child comes to resent. If your child no longer has food allergies when they are at school, you will have prepared them to be the most understanding friend to another child with food allergies. Wouldn't that be great?

Our child is not "the allergy kid". Our child is Matthew, a boy who loves the trampoline; a boy who loves Pokemon and bike riding; a boy who has allergies to milk, eggs and nuts but loves eating chicken, tomatoes and fresh peas.

If you'd like know more ways to educate your child in a balanced and age appropriate way, please check out our book Allergy Fun.

Friday, November 20, 2015

How can allergies be fun?!

I have been asked a few times, "Why call your book Allergy Fun? Allergies are NOT fun!"

It is true, the title Allergy Fun may strike some people as odd, given the potentially deadly nature of multiple, serious food allergies. However, as the parent of two children with multiple allergies, I believe it is important to make sure that children can still be children, despite the extra challenges they may face. I believe it is important to ensure our children do not frame their whole existence around allergies. Young children with severe food allergies certainly have many restrictions to learn and understand, but within these boundaries there can be an abundance of freedom, fun and adventure.

How do we have fun?

STEP 1: Take away the focus from food, and especially the foods that are of a concern to you. Children need to learn what they cannot eat, but more importantly, what food can we eat? What foods make us strong? What foods make us grow bigger? What foods help our brains and our body? What foods do we love to eat?

STEP 2: Find activities that don't revolve around restricted foods. With two boys, we spend many many hours at parks and playgrounds. We go there to PLAY, not eat. We meet friends to play, not just eat. Other non-food activities include: swimming pool, museums, galleries, bush walking, tree climbing, bike rides, and other sports.

Fruit picking could be another option for some - my boys love cherry picking, strawberry picking... find the season that suits you, find the fruits that suit you, and have FUN!

We have recently passed our food challenge for rainbow trout (fish), so my aim is to head to a local trout farm during the summer, catch some trout and cook it up! Heck, we might even try and eat it sashimi style?!

STEP 3: Always bring your emergency medication. We are there to have fun, but we always need to bring our emergency medication... just in case. It's an important lesson for kids to learn too :-)

To find out more ways to educate your child about their food allergies, click here.