Communicating With the Young Allergic Child

On this page: Description of symptoms by very young children >
How to talk to your child about food allergies >
Developing a young child’s autonomy when they have allergies >

Description of symptoms by very young children

Pay particular attention to how your child expresses the symptoms of an allergic reaction at an early age. Here are some examples that could be used by children to describe an allergic reaction:
  • Something is stinging my tongue
  • My mouth is itchy
  • Something’s stuck in my throat
  • My lips feel tight
  • I feel bugs tingling my ear
  • I’m very very scared
Some put their fingers in their mouths, while others pull or scratch their tongues. Their voice can also become hoarse during an allergic reaction. A sudden change in behaviour and/or inconsolable or unusual crying may also be signs of a reaction. Be on the lookout for these symptoms in order to react quickly in case of an emergency.

How to talk to your child about food allergies

To ensure their safety, allergic children must accept their condition from an early age. While it’s essential to have an open discussion about this, be careful about how you communique on the topic – you don’t want to cause your child unnecessary anxiety. For young children, introduce only one concept at a time, starting with the most important ones.
  • First, explain to the child that certain foods can make them seriously ill. Use simple terms such as “safe food” and “unsafe food”.
  • Then, teach them the names of the “unsafe foods” and show these foods to them, either at the grocery store or with pictures.
  • Always stay as calm as possible to avoid transmitting a feeling of anxiety to your child. It is important that they take the allergy seriously but shouldn’t feel helpless about it. Explain that it is normal to have fears, but that good habits and vigilance will protect them, not worrying.
  • Teach them how to recognize an allergic reaction.
  • From an early age, involve your child in preventive measures. Whether it’s reading labels, buying and preparing safe food, cleaning surfaces, or carrying their auto-injector with them, show them what they should do and explain why.
  • When speaking to them, use “us” rather than “I” to include them and reinforce your messages, for example: “We have our auto-injector at hand, so we are ready to go.”
  • Explain to your child that they are not alone. In Quebec, more than 300,000 people are affected by food allergies, including 75,000 children.
Reading suggestions (in French): Moi, je connais ça les allergies! (Dominique Seigneur avec illustrations de Jacques Laplante), Éditions de l’Homme, 2019. Laisse-moi t’expliquer…Les allergies alimentaires (Solene Bourque et Martine Desautels), Éditions Midi Trente, 2012. Pas de noix pour Sara – Une histoire sur…les allergies alimentaires (Sylvie Louis), Les éditions Enfants Québec, 2009.

Developing a young child’s autonomy when they have allergies

Here are some basic instructions and knowledge to help develop the autonomy of a young child with allergies, and to ensure their safety.
  • Let them know which allergens to avoid and how to communicate this information to others.
  • Tell them to eat only the food that they (or a trusted family member) have prepared OR the food that is served by other allergy informed trusted individuals (identify these people beforehand).
  • Remind them to wash their hands, as well as work and meal surfaces, before and after eating.
  • Tell them to use only the plates, bowls, utensils, glasses and bottles intended for them and to never share such items with others.
  • Help them to recognize the symptoms of an allergic reaction and tell them to notify someone immediately if they think they are experiencing an allergic reaction; reassure them that they will be cared for in such a situation.
  • As soon as they are mature enough, encourage them to wear their auto-injector at their waist.
  • Once they have are mature enough, teach them to use their auto-injector themselves.