Six Things Parents with Gluten-Free Kids Should Know
This post originally appeared on My Life With Food Allergies, our sister site giving gluten-free bloggers a voice. It has since been modified and updated.
Do you remember the day you brought your baby home for the first time? Who could forget! When my daughter was born, I was so worried about how fragile she was. Over time, and with our second child, we learned that children are a bit stronger than we think, but their safety is still important to us. As my children grow older, we face new types of challenges – especially now that our kids have severe food allergies and are away at school quite a bit of the day.
Regardless of what health complications your family may or may not have, as parents we can all agree on one thing: raising kids can be tough! Add in serious health conditions or severe food allergies, intolerances, or celiac disease, into the mix and life is adventurous to say the least. As much as we would love to have an owner’s manual for our kids, that isn’t the case. Instead, we often rely on shared wisdom from other parents who have been in our shoes.
Both of my kids have severe nut and peanut allergies so while I am familiar with navigating those particular allergies, they can still eat gluten. I wanted to get some different perspectives on gluten-free parenting, so I talked to several parents of gluten-free kids and a gluten-free teen to get some valuable input on their biggest concerns about parenting gluten-free kids and teens. What I found was that regardless of the allergen or offending food, the kids are pretty much the same - in a world full of a food they can't eat - constantly trying to stay safe.
Here are six things parents with gluten-free kids should know.
Your child will become the target of some sort of bullying and/or peer pressure. According to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education), almost 1/3 of kids with food allergies report being bullied because of their food allergies . Others may see them as “picky,” “fragile,” “weak,” etc. As parents, we want to make sure our kids are prepared for scenarios like this. Talk to your child about the possibility of this happening to them. Give them advice on how they should handle those situations. Tell them to not take it personally, and to look at it as an opportunity to teach and help others understand their condition. Remind them that sticking to a strict gluten-free diet (or whatever their allergen is) can be tough, but they are strong for sticking with it.
Your child will cheat on his gluten-free diet when they’re away from you. It will happen. Whether it’s by accident or on purpose, it will happen. We know that even the smallest deviation can derail progress, but they are still kids. They can succumb to peer pressure, or eat something they didn't fully check out first. Find easy on-the-go gluten-free foods that they love so they won't feel like cheating just to find a food they crave.
Feeling Left Out
Your child will feel left out. During parties, social functions, and special events, your child will often feel left out when they can’t eat the same foods as everyone else. Feeling left out will happen even in the absence of peer pressure or bullying: kids don’t like to feel different, they want to be like other kids. Help your kids remember that their health comes first in these situations, and feeling awkward is better than feeling sick later on. If they are attending a social function, call ahead to find out what kinds of foods will be served and prepare or buy your child similar foods that are gluten free so they won’t feel left out.
Your child will periodically forget about label and ingredient changes in packaged foods. Companies routinely change their ingredients, manufacturing techniques, and processing facilities, so it is important to continue to read the ingredient labels on foods that they think are “safe.” Take some time to explain to kids the basic manufacturing process and how companies will change their recipes and processing procedures periodically. It is good to get your child into the habit of reading labels on everything, and getting them familiar with the various forms of gluten so they can easily spot them on a label.
Your child’s gluten-free diet will be misunderstood and dismissed by others. It is one thing for kids to be bullied, but it’s another thing entirely for others (mostly adults) to completely misunderstand the importance of a strict gluten-free diet. Many adults dismiss gluten-free diets as a fad and don’t fully understand health conditions like celiac disease, colitis, or food allergies. When people dismiss a certain diet, they will often say “just a little won’t hurt” or “it can’t be that bad”, minimizing or dismissing serious medical conditions. Educate your child about the research on gluten-free diets and their health condition in a way that is easy for them to understand and easy for them to explain to others. Also, remind your child that regardless of what other people say, their own health comes first. The person telling them “just a little won’t hurt,” doesn’t have to deal with the repercussions of cheating on their medically-necessary diet – your child does.
Your child will deal with mental & emotional repercussions of being “glutened.” Some parents have noted that in addition to the physical effects of gluten on their child’s system, their kids also suffer mental and emotional side effects, like becoming extremely emotional, having fits, or throwing tantrums. Combining this with physical side effects, this can be a difficult and scary time for kids. Prepare your child for moments like this by helping them stay objective. Explain that these are normal reactions that will eventually subside; it’s not an emotional or mental problem on their part. Help them to be easy on themselves: explain that being glutened happens to everyone and it’s okay to take sick days from school or work as needed to recuperate.
Dealing with chronic health conditions, celiac disease, gastrointestinal disorders, and food allergies can be unsettling at first, but as challenges grow, so will your family’s ability to tackle them. Trust that your children will rise to meet the challenges ahead of them by giving them the resources and support to navigate their health conditions and special diets with confidence. Working through health challenges can also give kids the tools to approach many other life challenges with fortitude. Please share with us! As parents of kids who are gluten free, what are your biggest concerns? How has your family tackled these issues?
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This post was written by The Fit Cookie, Sarah Jane Parker. Sarah is a personal trainer, health coach, and a food allergy mom. She shares healthy living tips, allergy friendly recipes, and workouts for a healthy living journey.