Children and Teens

This information is has been researched from a variety of resources believed to be trustworthy and based on scientific research. It is provided only as a resource and is not intended as medical advice or endorsement. If you believe that you have a food allergy or intolerance, it is very important to discuss your concerns with a medical professional.

Managing Food Allergies in Children/Teens

Parental Anxiety

Before addressing the needs of the food allergic child, it is imperative to recognize that parents go through a tremendous amount of anxiety as well.  While it is often more pronounced when first diagnosed, upon accidental exposure and trying new situations (such as a child attending school for the first time), studies have shown that the parents of allergic children experience significant stress.  Unfortunately, that parental stress can also translate to increased anxiety for the allergic child.

Many parents, particularly mothers, feel guilt when their child is diagnosed with a food allergy.  Mothers may feel that they caused the food allergy from what they ate when they were pregnant or when nursing.  Consider this quote in the magazine Allergic Living from Dr. Scott Sicherer, a leader in the food allergy world, in response to whether eating an allergen raises the risk of baby developing an allergy to that food, "We've also seen a rise in cat allergies and, as far as I know, mothers aren't eating more cats than they used to."

Any parent who feeds their child a food that prompts a severe reaction may feel that they should have known better.  While all parents of food allergic children must be careful, they must learn to balance fear and anxiety with appropriate caution.

If you are the parent of an allergic child, you are not alone.  With over 12 million Americans with food allergies, there are a lot of people just like you out there.  Recognizing that you need help coping is an important first step.  Whether you get that support from your spouse, friends, family members, support groups and/or medical professionals, it is important to develop coping mechanisms. 

The Internet is a wonderful source for information but it can be incorrect or even overwhelming.  If you do seek out information on the internet, be sure that the information you get is from trustworthy sources.  See our Resources Page for suggested places to start.

Child Anxiety

Your child learns to handle their medical needs from you as you educate them about their condition in age-appropriate ways.  If you are anxious, they will be too.  But even the calmest parent may find their food allergic child experiences some of the following at any time:

  • not eating
  • afraid to go places including school
  • limited diet; unwillingness to try anything new
  • debilitating fear of a reaction
  • fear of being teased
  • awareness of their own mortality
  • excessive hand washing

If any of these behaviors become overwhelming or if they interfere in the day to day activities of the child, seeking professional help for anxiety is suggested as it is treatable.

Teens and Food Allergies

Statistically speaking, teenagers are at a higher risk of anaphylaxis than younger children.  This happens for a variety of reasons including:

  • the regular teenage desire to not be different (which is often amplified for food allergic teens)
  • the assumption by adults that food allergic teens need to start becoming more responsible for their own safety
  • teens rebelling against the limitations or restrictions placed upon them, including carrying their epi-pen

Even when you know you've trained your allergic child well, teens have brain physiology that can affect making good judgement calls.  Additionally, they may be worried about experiencing their firsts including talking to a date about their food allergies and that first kiss. 

Anaphylaxis Canada has a website specifically for teens called Why Risk It?  The site covers the issues of partying, carrying epinephrine, drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, dating, kissing and more.  The site also features different situations that allergic teens have found themselves in and how they dealt with them.

This website may not only allow your allergic child to explore aspects of an allergic teen's life that they may not want to share with you but it may also provide a good starting point for open discussions with your food allergic teen

Educating Others About Food Allergies

All adults that have a supervisory role with your child will need to be educated about food allergies and the appropriate response in the case of a reaction.  This will include friends, family, activity leaders, child care providers and more.  They will be your allies in helping to keep your child safe, especially if your child is too young to speak up for himself.

When beginning the education process, it is important to call the issue what it is.  If it is a life threatening food allergy, call it that.  If it is Celiac Disease, call it that.  Many members of the public are confused about severity, wording and more and the only way to properly educate them is to use the appropriate labels.  Even if someone you’re educating says that they’ve dealt with food allergies before, continue the education.  You don’t know if the medical condition was exactly the same or if they have been trained the way you need them to be.

If your doctor has provided you with educational materials, it is important to take photocopies and share these.  But don’t just expect someone to read everything and understand.  You will need to take the time to walk these other adults through the information, and the plan for a reaction.  Refresher meetings are also important to have regularly, depending on how often your child is with that caregiver.

If your child requires epinephrine as part of the reaction plan, contact the injector manufacturer for a trainer.  It is important that caregivers practice simulations where they would need to give the injector so that they are ready if the time comes. 

Recognize that the people who will care for your child (including friends and family) may not take this issue as seriously as they need to or may be anxious that they cannot provide care as needed.  It may be necessary to avoid family and change schools or daycares.  In the end, the safety of your child is paramount.

If you need help with tools to educate others and develop plans for your child’s safety, please check out our Resources Page.  Many of the excellent sites and support groups listed there have all of the tools you need to get started.

Schools and Special Diets

Sending a food allergic child to school is arguably one of the most stressful situations that a parent faces.  And because the child usually changes classrooms/teachers each year, changes levels of school or gets new school administrators on occasion, the care that goes into working with schools doesn’t stop after the child starts.

In the USA, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Act (FAAMA) was signed into law in January, 2011.  Out of this law, voluntary allergen management guidelines for schools across the USA are being created.  Additionally, several states have laws for food allergy management in schools.

However, schools may still deal with food allergies in many different ways, even when located within the same school district.  Different levels of school, such as the transition from elementary to junior high may also deal with allergies differently.  Thankfully, many colleges and universities have plans these days to accommodate special diets, including in residence.

If you are finding a lack of response at the school level, you may need to take your concerns to the school district level.  However, the vast majority of teachers are caring individuals who want to do the right thing for your child.  They are your most important ally and educating them carefully with the right information is key.

Top 10 School Tips

  1. Food allergies may be an educational journey for the staff you're speaking to.  It is imperative to work through the issues positively but firmly and recognize that it may take several meetings and contact on your part to implement an appropriate plan.  Having all staff who will deal with your child present at the same meeting is helpful but also ensures that part-time staff or teacher substitutes are included in the staff plan.  Don't assume that because someone has dealt with your same medical concern before, they know everything about the condition and treatment.
  1. Teachers appreciate having the parent of the child with medical concerns (food or otherwise) provide them with some helpful information and tips that they should be aware of.  This could include suggestions for healthy lunch ideas for the class that don't include the allergen, facts about the food allergy he or she will deal with, providing safe treats to keep in the classroom and perhaps offering to come in and speak to the class about your child's allergy.  Back to school is an incredibly busy time for teachers so taking away the burden of doing their own research about the allergy is appreciated and gives them something to refer to throughout the year.
  1. If the school does not already do so, create a bright, colorful poster with a picture of your child on it, what they are allergic to and the steps to take if a suspected reaction occurs.  Consider making several posters for the office, the staff room, dorm rooms and any classroom your child will be in.  This is one situation where it is okay for your child to stand out; it may save their life.
  1. Be sure that your epi pens are up to date, any antihistamines required are stored with the epi pen and instructions have not worn off the side of your epi-pen.  Epi-pens should always be carried with the affected person, not locked in a cupboard or locker.
  1. If you do not yet have an alert bracelet or necklace for your child, now is the time to get one.  If you don't want to get a medic alert brand bracelet, you can find what you need at your local jewellery store and have it engraved as to your medical condition.  If you already have a bracelet, check that any engraving has not worn down and is still readable by emergency personnel.
  1. Do you have any old epi-pens or an epi-pen trainer?  If not, get one.  This is the time to refresh yourself on the use of the epi pen at the same time as teaching any new staff who will have contact with your child.
  1. Make sure your child is well prepared including instruction on hand washing and setting ground rules for not sharing food, etc.  Include them in their choices of safe treats that will be kept at the school so they always know they've got something yummy should an unexpected food event occur, like another child's birthday.
  1. Speaking of hand washing, make sure that your school has appropriate soap and towels and that your child always has ready access to running water with ample supplies.  Hand washing before eating is much easier to control then having all surfaces washed consistently.
  1. Be prepared to be involved at school with everything from baking/bringing safe treats for parties to field trips and participating on the Parent Council.  It's time consuming but worth every second.
  1. Finally... be good to yourself.  Worry and sleepless nights take their toll on not only you but your allergic child.  Take the time to spend extra time with your allergic child doing something fun just for the two of you; you'll be glad you did.