Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

‘This is my special sandwich’:

Awareness of food intolerance is on the rise, but it's important to help your child understand the signs & how to deal with comments from peers.
By Lisa Creffield
Date: February 07 2014
Tags: food allergy,
Editor Rating:

With awareness of food intolerance on the rise, Australian schools are getting better at dealing with special dietary requirements, but how can you help your child understand their own needs and deal with their peers’ reactions?

The effects of ingesting the wrong food can range from mild tummy upset to anaphylactic shock, so it’s no wonder Australian schools now take students’ intolerances and allergies seriously. In pre-schools the snacks offered are now likely to be free of nuts with special directions issued to parents looking to bake a cake for their child’s birthday, lest one of their classmates is coeliac.

Starting school is tough for children with special dietary needs because a classmate’s curiosity can give way to misunderstanding. Here’s how to equip your child with some answers that will help them fend questions about their food.

The nature of the intolerance

It’s essential for your child to know exactly what triggers a reaction and what happens when they eat the food they are allergic to or cannot tolerate. Is it eggs or just egg yolks? Do they get a rash or a tingling in their throat? Do they get a stomach ache, do they vomit?

Having your child recognise the signs of something being wrong will achieve two things:

1.    They will be careful about avoiding the triggering food/s because they don’t want to be sick;

2.    They will seek help if they have ingested the triggering food/s.

Notify the school of the issue and make sure your child’s teacher knows what to do in the event your child has ingested the food. It may be a good idea for your child to have a card with treatment instructions in their schoolbag in case they’re with someone who doesn’t know about the trigger.

Teach them to say ‘no’

Temptation and peer pressure is a tricky area for many children. Who doesn’t want a beautifully decorated cupcake to celebrate their best friend’s birthday, even if they’re gluten intolerant? And when others offer to share play lunch with them, it seems rude not to reciprocate.

Have your child focus on what happens if they eat the forbidden food and have them practise a polite refusal. If your child doesn’t want to mention their food intolerance, let them blame you for it: “I’m sorry, but my mum/dad won’t let me have it.”

Dealing with others

Knowing what happens when they eat the food and being open about it may stave off their classmates’ curiosity: “If I eat banana, I throw up,” is simple and acts as a disincentive for students to encourage your child to eat something just to see what happens.

Another method is to pack a little extra of the special food so that your child can offer it to classmates. This will teach them that the ‘special sandwich’ is just another type of sandwich and perhaps not so weird after all.

If your child is shy, you’ll need to role play some scenarios until they feel comfortable revealing their intolerance or allergy, for example at a friend’s place. Run through some hypothetical situations and find ways for them to communicate the issue, even if it’s, “my mum/dad told me to give you this,” while handing over an explanation card.

Due to increasing cases of food intolerances and allergies, it’s not unusual these days for kids to have special dietary needs. The key to a healthy child is recognition and knowledge of the issue and clear lines of communication to those around them.

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