5 Tips for Talking to Your Child About Celiac Disease & the Gluten-Free Diet
[Kathleen Reale runs BeFreeForMe.com, a website that offers coupons, samples and information for those with celiac disease and food allergies. In addition to having celiac disease, Kathleen also has family members with food allergies. We asked her for advice on breaking it down for the little ones.]
When you first discover your child has celiac disease, it can seem overwhelming. What foods to buy? How to cook? How to correspond with schools, camps and other social situations? But most importantly, how do you communicate with your child on what celiac disease is and how to navigate the gluten-free diet.
Following are a few tips and tricks to make gluten-free journey easier to navigate…and will help you and your child find a positive, optimistic way to better health and wellness.
1. Help Your Child Understand the Gluten-Free Diet
Depending on your child’s age, it is important that they understand the gluten-free diet and why they need to be on it. For younger children, start with the basics of the diet and expand upon the information depending on the child’s age. Encourage your child to ask questions. Need a springboard to get the conversation started? Check out some of the fantastic books in the resource section below!
2. Keep a Positive Attitude
Being on a gluten-free diet is not the end of the world. But for a child, it can seem devastating. Help your child stay focused on what the diet allows, rather than what it does not. Bring your child grocery shopping and allow them to select gluten-free foods they will enjoy. Encourage them to explore new foods, help with cooking, and even start their own garden. Getting children involved in growing, selecting and preparing their foods creates a sense of ownership and pride in the foods they can eat.
Remember also to keep a positive attitude yourself. Kids will pick up on your cues and the approaches you take. Start by being “positively prepared.” Some examples are researching gluten-free options before dining out or keeping frozen gluten-free pizzas and cupcakes on hand at all times. This shows your child that eating out, pizza with friends, and birthday parties are easy and simple.
3. Empower your Child
Your first instinct is to protect your child at all times. But depending on your child’s age, they may be in social situations that require them to take responsibility for the food they eat and their own health. Make sure that your child understands what “safe foods” are, how to read labels, and know that they can always call you for help in navigating their diet.
4. Role-Play Potential Situations
Talk to your child about potential situations that may arise that require them to address being on a gluten-free diet. Talking to your child about these situations, and problem solve them together. How should your child respond to a grandparent that says “just one” non gluten-free cookie is fine to eat, or what tactics will be used when your child is invited to a pizza party? This will equip your child to deal with some circumstances they may encounter. Most importantly, make sure your child understands that it is OK to persistently, but politely, say NO to gluten.
5. Some Resources to Help You and Your Child
Following are some resources to help you and your child start your gluten-free journey:
Books for younger children
- Mommy, What is Celiac Disease?, by Katie Chalmers
- Gluten-Free Friends: An Activity Book For Kids, By Nancy Patin Falini, RD
- Gluten-Free Kids: Raising Happy, Healthy Children with Celiac Disease, and Other Conditions, by Danna Korn
- Eating Gluten-Free with Emily: A Story for Children with Celiac Disease, by Bonnie Kruszca
Books for pre-adolescents
- The Gluten-free Kid. A Celiac Disease Survival Guide, by Melissa London
Also, make sure you check out Kids Central on the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness website for tons of support, information and tools for your gluten-free child. All the subjects are addressed in kid-friendly terminology. Some topics covered are the basics – such as what is celiac or what is gluten-free, as well some fantastic pointers on living a gluten-free diet from a child’s perspective including explaining celiac disease and the gluten-free diet to friends, or pep-talks from other gluten-free kids. The site is well worth exploring!
– Kathleen Reale