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According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), up to two million or 8% of children in the United States are estimated to have food allergies. The most common triggers are cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish and tree nuts. Undeniably, it’s a big challenge raising children with such allergies. Parents always have to be extra careful not just with food but with clothing, bedding and other materials that come in contact with their food-allergic children. In addition to giving them the best care possible, these parents should also teach their children how to take care of themselves.

Linda Marienhoff Coss, author of How to Manage your Child’s Life-threatening Food Allergies (Palmtree Press, 2004), says that children as young as toddlers can be taught to manage their allergies.

Only Eat Food Approved by Parents

Parents should teach their toddlers that if they eat certain food, they can get very sick. So it’s important mum or dad screens whatever food they want to eat. “Explain to your child that you’re counting on him to help you by not eating anything unless you have checked the ingredients and say the food is safe,” stresses Coss. Many adults, including adults known to the children such as neighbors, aunts and uncles, may not be aware of their food allergies and therefore may unintentionally offer unsafe food for the kids. So get them to check with mum and dad even if the food comes from Aunty Jane across the street.

No Food from Strangers

Accepting food from strangers is a big no-no. It’s not uncommon for some friendly adults to offer sweets and candies to young children they see at the park, playground, shopping mall or on the beach, particularly when their own children are happily munching some yummy snacks. Teach the food-allergic child to politely decline the offering.

Avoid Touching any Food

Some children have extremely severe allergies that even slight skin contact with the offending food can trigger very bad reactions. So it’s important to teach a food-allergic child not to touch any food, especially if the ingredients are not known. Always check if the food is safe before allowing the child to hold it.

When the Feeling isn’t Right

Teach the toddler to quickly spit out any food that is making him sick and also tell mom, dad or any adult taking care of him about eating the offending food. A toddler who has already started talking will be able to say if he is itchy, dizzy, having difficulty breathing or just frightened