How to Teach Your Child About Allergies
Having allergies can be tough for a child, especially in an environment where they are without parental supervision.
This is why parents should make it a point to teach their children about allergies and their accompanying symptoms from a tender age. Like potty training, or ABCs, learning how to recognize potentially dangerous allergic symptoms and what to do next is an important life skill.
Tips to help you teach your child about allergies
Every parent will have a different approach to teaching their child about allergies. Though there is no one correct way when teaching a young mind about allergies and their effect, it is usually best done in a fun and attention-grabbing way.
The benefits of teaching your child how to manage allergies on their own includes them being able to clearly communicate with you when they feel allergy symptoms flaring up, knowing what to do to address their symptoms even when you aren’t around and make better self-management decisions when they are older.
Here are some tips on how you can teach your child about allergies:
Help your child self-identify possible symptoms
Just like how you teach your child not to talk to strangers and warn them of dangers of the outside world, it can be helpful for them to recognise allergy reactions.
Studies have shown that children with allergies are more susceptible to developing other types of allergies.1 Help your child get familiarised with their own body and learn what is normal and what isn’t. One way is by describing the symptoms in words that they would understand for their age. For example, you might tell a toddler “if you eat cheese, your stomach will feel bad.”, while a teenager should know about allergy and its symptoms in more specific detail. Make sure to answer any questions your child might have about allergy symptoms and management.
The following are some of the most common allergic reactions in children which you can teach your child about:2
- Skin rash or hives cause redness and skin irritation. You can teach your child that the redness will gradually go away, but they have to be careful not to scratch the area.
- Sneezing and coughing are normal until it becomes persistent. Tell your child that if they repeatedly sneeze or cough in certain environments, or when exposed to certain potential allergens, they should get the attention of an adult.
- Advise your child that if they have trouble breathing and wheezing, they should ask help from you or from other adults.
Teach them about allergens
Among allergens your child might be exposed to are certain kinds of food. In fact, food allergy is the most common type of allergy found in kids3. Educate them about being mindful of their eating habits, especially when in places without parental supervision like school.
According to a study, the right method to teach children about food and allergies is to use examples of “good” and “bad” food so that the knowledge is ingrained in them . If a child is allergic to a kind of food, it helps to teach them what this “bad” food looks like. You can show them the food itself, or a picture of it. If your child has reached reading age, it also helps to write down the name of the foods they are allergic to. Writing the word down in large, colourful letters may help your child remember that it is something to watch out for in menus or food labels.
By repeating this, your child will be equipped with information to react quickly when an allergic reaction takes place.
Teach them to vocalize
It is important for your child to be able to communicate what their allergies are, and if they are experiencing symptoms and are in need of treatment. This is especially true for children who may not be able to immediately understand what is happening in their bodies, and may not have the words to fully describe what they are experiencing. Teaching them to vocalize their condition beforehand can help adults act swiftly in case of an emergency.
A simple way of doing this is by teaching your child to say “I am allergic to seafood”, or “I can’t stay near furry animals.”
Keep your child involved
Whenever you are teaching something to your child, try describing it in the first person. In simple terms, use words like 'I' or 'we' in place of ‘you' and 'they' to make it a shared experience. For instance, you can say “what should we do when we start sneezing because of allergies?” instead of “what should you do when you start sneezing?” This would make the message feel warmer and more personalised to your child.
Keep a note with your child
At times you may find yourself having to leave your child in a new environment, one where others may not be aware of any allergies they might have. It would be good to assume that your child may not always have the sense of mind to notify others about the same.
To help brace for any untoward incidents with allergies when your child is by him/herself, keep a laminated note with them. This note will contain a record of all allergies and precautions to be taken and may help other adults know how to help your child in case of emergencies. Your child may also use the note as a tool to vocalize their needs to other adults. Also, include the contact information of your family physician in this note. Be sure to revisit the note with your child from time-to-time and remind him/her about these allergies, possible symptoms, and what they should do when they experience them.
Teaching your child about allergies is an on-going learning process that can take time. Your child needs to be taught about common kids allergies, symptoms, and their effects to ensure their safety when immediate family members are not around. In due time, your child will be capable of taking the right measures to ensure they are able to live free from allergies.