Child Advocacy

I talk a lot about my children being their own little advocates as well as advocates for each other and it inspired me to write a post on it.

Why would you want your children to be advocates? Being food allergic and celiac is not something to ever be embarassed about! Some of us are insanely outspoken (everytime anyone tells me they haven’t been feeling well for a while I instantly ask them if they’ve been tested for celiac disease) while some are quieter while still others are silent sufferers.

I ask you this: why suffer in silence? If people around you aren’t supporting you at home or when you go out, then perhaps you need to take a look at who is your main support. It doesn’t mean you have to ditch your family or your friends, it just means that you can add to those groups and find other people who will give you the support you need. Try looking at your local celiac association (in Canada or in the United States) or The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. There are also tons of people who tweet and blog about food allergies out there.

I never want my children to be embarassed about their food restrictions or to settle in friendships and relationships with someone who doesn’t support them.

Since they’ve been able to speak we’ve used both medical and simpler terms. Mr Man has been saying “I can’t have nuts” “I’m allergic to peanuts” “No nuts no nuts no nuts” since he was 2. Miss A has been saying variations of “Dairy hurts me” “I can’t have soy” and “Does it have wheat?” since she was 3.

So what’s my point?

My point is this: My children see their food restrictions as part of their lives. We talk about how it can be frustrating that they can’t eat what other kids can eat, or that sometimes other people don’t understand, but we also talk about how it means that they’re special; and how they know more about food than most people their ages.

Each child had an amazing moment for me that let me know that what I was doing was right.

Mr Man came home and said “mom, I want to invite (child) to my birthday party. He’s allergic to peanuts too and I think that we each get it. Plus, then he could have my cake.”

How amazing is it that my son wants to befriend someone else like him so that they can understand each other’s restrictions better? And I just love that at almost 6, he wants this other child to be able to have cake without even giving it a second though. Amazing.

Miss A was sitting at the kitchen table at a friend’s house. The girls are 10 days apart and have been friends since birth. G said to Miss A “I can’t eat gluten and you can’t” and Miss A said “Ya, gluten really hurts me but that’s ok. I eat other stuff” and they proceeded to have a 10 minute discussion about gluten. They are 4 years old.

Here’s the amazing thing about it: Her friend would never have any clue about gluten and what it is if she didn’t have Miss A as a friend. And half my friends wouldn’t have any idea about food restrictions if they weren’t my friend.

Here’s my advice on how to talk to your kids:
*Don’t beat around the bush. Tell them about their allergies. Buy books on food allergies like “Mommy, what is celiac disease?”. Don’t treat them like they’re too young to know. The earlier they know, the better equipped they will be for later.

*Do tell them the implications of eating the allergic food. Mr Man knows that if he eats a peanut, he will have a very serious reaction that could land him in the hospital. He also knows the basics of using an epipen. He’s expressed his fears about it but knows that an epipen could save his life.

*Do let them have their fears! No one wants a needle plunged into their thigh! Don’t make it seem like it’s no big deal! It IS a big deal!

*Do have them educate their friends. Supervise at the beginning to make sure they’re sharing accurate information.

*Do let them know they’re not alone!! Check out Katie Chalmer’s amazing work on gluten free kids!

Once you start a conversation, the rest will follow. Period questions come up from my kids and then we have open discussions about it. But they are advocates. They are strong, confident kids who are very knowledgable about their own restrictions.

And with that, I leave you with a picture of my breakfast of champions. I’m away from home right now on business and can therefore eat peanuts without worrying. So I bought a jar. I plan to leave the rest here so it doesn’t come home with me but man, it’s been a nice little treat.

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