As a caregiver, it’s your job to educate your children on their dietary restrictions and instill a sense of power in them when advocating for their needs. Teaching them to self-advocate is the best gift you can give.
Cindy Gordon is the owner and author of Vegetarian Mamma and is a foodie who loves to blog about gluten-free vegetarian/vegan recipes. Her family also focuses on foods that are peanut-, tree nut-, dairy-, and gluten-free. They’re dedicated to finding/creating recipes and products that fit their allergy needs. Cindy resides in Ohio with her husband and two boys (born in 2007 and 2010). She enjoys spending time with her family, the outdoors, gardening, wine and cooking! Connect with her at VegetarianMamma.com or on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Sometimes being a child is hard. Being a child who lives with celiac disease, a food allergy, or a food intolerance can make life even harder. As a parent or caregiver, it is our job to empower our children. Starting from a young age, we can begin to teach our children how to advocate for themselves. The goal of true self-advocacy is understanding your needs and being able to communicate them to others.
Want to help your child become a stronger self-advocate? Here are five ways to help your child become the advocate they need to be for their own food issues.
1. Understanding Your Needs– Children of all ages need to understand their needs. They need to understand why they are eating a gluten-free diet and why that is important. Starting with very young children, you can teach them as you are eating. As you are eating the cracker, label it. “Yum! This gluten-free cracker tastes good. It makes my belly happy.” The same goes for food that they cannot have. As your children get older, they begin to understand what happens to their bodies if they accidentally ingest gluten, and what type of food they need to eat in order to keep them safe and happy.
2. Communicate Your Needs – Communicating health needs is an important skill for children. When children are younger, they can use medical alert bracelets, stickers or even t-shirts branded with their food allergies to help communicate their need to eat gluten-free. My youngest has worn a medical alert wristlet since he was 18 months old indicating his dietary needs. People would often ask him about his wristlet and it gave him a chance to communicate about his dietary needs. With older children, you can role play situations that they may encounter. Using tools like shirts and stickers can even empower children to feel good about the way they eat.
3. Identify Your Supporters – Children need to understand who they can trust and who supports them. Knowing which adults they can trust is also key to being empowered to self-advocate. Children need to know who they can go to when they need help or reassurance regarding their dietary needs. Talk to teachers, neighbors, and other parents about your child’s need and gain support systems early.
4. Educate Others – As a former teacher, I can attest that one of the best ways to learn is to teach others. As a food allergy mom, I can confirm that there is a lot of opportunity for education about gluten-free living. Simply sharing information about living gluten-free is a way to educate. Younger children can share about the gluten-free snacks that they eat. Older children can talk about cross-contamination issues, such as why they cannot use the same toaster to make their toast at the sleepover they are attending.
5. Live Life! – Often times I see children not participating in activities due to their dietary restrictions. Many of those times come from them not understanding their needs, knowing how to communicate their needs and having a support team. Once a child has those items in place, it is our job as a caregiver to encourage our children to explore new opportunities. While they may be living without gluten, that does not mean that they need to miss out of a normal life.
Self-advocacy is a lifelong process. While it begins in childhood, it continues through adulthood. Giving our children the skills and tools they need to be empowered self-advocates as children will help them for years to come. As parents, we are giving our children an empowerment gift that will last a life time.