Finding out that your child has celiac or gluten intolerance brings along with it some pretty daunting questions, concerns and tasks. Numerous adjustments need to be made at home, at school, traveling, with friends and so on.
The most challenging task of all may be explaining to your child just what gluten is, and what it means to remove it from his or her diet.
We’ve compiled a list of handy tools to help you communicate this to your children and have also included some great resource recommendations, including wonderful childrens books!
1. The Road to Feeling Good: Stay Positive
Our kids take their cues from us. If you are upset, stressed and frustrated, they will notice and feed off of your energy. Explain the diet to your child by telling them how much better they will feel by eating gluten-free! Remember to let them know that they were feeling bad because of gluten, and when they don’t eat gluten they will feel great!
2. Celiac and Gluten: Use the Correct Terminology
It is important to use the word gluten and not substitute it for words our kids already know like bread or flour. This will not only help them learn but will help when they have to communicate to others what they can and can’t eat. Let them know that gluten is in things like bread and cereal but make sure to stress all of the yummy foods that are gluten-free. If your child can’t yet communicate something like this, we heard a great idea from a mama who made their kid a pretty bracelet with colorful beads that said “celiac.” They knew that whenever food was served to show the bracelet to an adult.
3. Learn How to Make Your Child’s Favorite Foods Gluten-Free
The transition can be much more difficult for your child if everything he or she eats is new and foreign. There is no need to do a complete overhaul of their menu and almost all foods can be adapted to be gluten-free. You absolutely don’t have to cut out the Sunday morning french toast, Memorial Day hamburgers or PB&J for school lunches, as these can all be made with store bought or homemade gluten-free bread. Making sure there aren’t completely drastic changes in your child’s meal routine will make it easier for them to accept this new reality.
4. It Takes a Village: Build a Community of Support
You’ll have a much easier time by enlisting help and support from the friends, family and child care professionals that your child comes into contact with. Parents of your child’s friends will need to know in order to prepare for snacks and meals with your child, and you can help by giving them a few things in advance or by suggesting snacks or meals. Another great help is talking to other adults dealing with their child’s celiac diagnosis. These can be friends or family, or even strangers through online chats or support groups. Their wisdom and humor can be invaluable and you will for sure get lots of advice on how to explain this transition to your children.
Here is an example of a letter that can be sent to your child’s teachers:
My child has celiac disease, an autoimmune condition caused by intolerance to glutens found in grains. [She/he] cannot ingest wheat, rye, barley or oats or anything that is made from them. Contact with some common classroom items that may contain glutens (play dough, some paints and crayons, many snack foods and regular cupcakes or cakes) could be problematic. Snacks such as plain popcorn, fresh fruits, raisins, fresh carrots or celery or plain potato chips can be enjoyed by everyone. If there is a birthday, I will provide a gluten-free cupcake or snack for my child. I appreciate your understanding and sensitivity on this very important health issue. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
Some of our favorite books for children and families:
The Gluten Glitch tells the story of Gideon, an elementary school-aged boy who can’t eat gluten and adapts his diet accordingly. Author Stasie John got the idea for this book after her son, who deals with multiple food intolerances, was upset because he couldn’t eat the cupcakes at school. The book specifically focuses on emotions children have when dealing with diagnosis and how they can cope. This is one of my favorite options because a portion of the book proceeds are donated to The Celiac Foundation!
This book creatively answers the numerous questions that parents and children have surrounding celiac disease. It uses colorful illustrations and positive language to help kids feel optimistic and empowered about their celiac. It even has recommendations for quick snack and meal ideas to help you out in what can be an overwhelming and confusing beginning.
After Bonnie Kruszka’s daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease, she realized that inevitably there are many other parents who struggle with explaining celiac to their children. This book answers common questions that both parents and children have during this transition by telling a fictional story of 5-year old Emily and her experience with celiac. It is told in a language that children can understand and is full of colorful illustrations!
This guide for families provides advice for parents on coping with a child’s celiac diagnosis and tips on helping their child develop a positive and constructive outlook. It also includes info on menu planning and grocery shopping and even has a section on junk food. While the childrens books are indeed important, this guide is especially helpful for parents during the stressful navigation of this process.
What were some of the difficulties you faced when your kid was diagnosed with celiac, and how did you manage to cope? Please share your experiences and tips with us!