Top 10 Tips for Helping Kids Cope with Celiac Disease
It can be difficult for kids to understand and manage celiac disease or gluten intolerance, and it might be just as hard for parents to watch their children struggle. But a celiac diagnosis doesn’t have to mean a lifetime battle. Here are my top ten tips for parents to help their children cope at any age.
- Talk to teachers, parents, and caretakers ahead of time so your child isn’t faced with uncomfortable situations.
If your child is at a birthday party and everyone is eating cake, it might be tempting for him or her to have some as well—especially if other kids are pressing your kid to have a piece of cake with them. Clue in the person temporarily responsible for your child and work together to make sure your kid’s gluten-free needs are protected. If needed, send a gluten-free treat along for your child to enjoy in these social situations.
- Find camps that are dedicated gluten-free, or events in your community where your kid can be a kid—not a gluten-free kid.
You can both take a break from worrying about cross-contamination or being different.
- Include your child the next time you bake cookies or decorate cupcakes for her class.
Bake gluten-free goodies with your kid and show her that it’s real food, and that it can be just as fun as “regular” food.
- Make it fun!
Come up with scenarios and scripts so that your kid can be prepared to handle different situations, and can feel like an actor at the same time. Maybe your kid is a detective trying to find clues that something may be unsafe to eat. Practice spotting safe and unsafe products on grocery shopping trips.
- Give your child a gluten-free hero to look up to.
Being different can be hard for younger children. That’s why I wrote “The Adventures of Celia Kaye,” a children’s book to help kids understand and cope with celiac disease. Boys and girls will follow Celia Kaye as her inability to eat wheat unleashes her imagination and takes her on adventures.
At first Celia Kaye keeps her difference a secret, but she discovers that it’s much more fun to share her adventures with her friends. If your kid needs a gluten-free hero, introduce him or her to Celia Kaye.
- Let your kid be in charge.
Educate your older kids about the more scientific aspects of celiac disease. Younger kids should be educated as well—especially about the basics. Give your kids the gift of knowledge and let them become the expert. They will be more likely to take an interest in their own dietary needs if they are well-informed.
- Find a mentor for your kid.
If your child is a little older, you might find that he or she has questions that you aren’t able to answer. Or maybe you try to talk to your child, but your emotions get in the way of your intent to stay positive. Perhaps your child just needs someone to identify with.
The Celia Kaye Mentorship Program offers free 20-minute Skype chats, during which your child can speak freely about how the disease has impacted his life, and can ask any questions he might have on his mind.
- Give your child a break from asking, “Is that gluten-free?” and turning down pizza when all her friends are chowing down.
- Focus on what they can have, not what they can’t.
There are a lot of foods that need to be avoided after a celiac diagnosis, and much of the emphasis is placed on this. Show your child the wide variety of things he can eat—some of which he might not have even known existed. The focus becomes more positive and helps to balance the “losses.”
- For older kids, find out which colleges are gluten-free accommodating.
You and your child will both be more comfortable knowing that she is attending a college that is knowledgeable about gluten-free needs. Udi’s has a great list of the top ten gluten-free accommodating colleges here. Also, help your kid find places to go with her friends on weekends that are both gluten-free friendly and “cool.”
It is rarely the case that anyone with a certain food allergy or intolerance only has friends with that same food restriction, and it is often difficult to find mutually agreeable venues for the restricted friend and the rest of the group. But it shouldn’t be difficult or limiting to find a great place that suits everyone’s dietary needs without compromising the fun.
We all want to protect our kids, but we still need to equip them with the knowledge they need to keep themselves healthy. Having a solid understanding of their disease can make it much easier to cope.
For some, it might not be a big deal—it’s just a part of life. For others, you might need to point out that not only is there a treatment for their disease, but that treatment is a diet.
While it may indeed be difficult to maintain—whether due to willpower of inadvertent contamination—it’s a very non-invasive treatment. Remind your child how miraculous it is that celiac disease can be treated with a lifestyle change.
“Disease” can be a scary word. The more your kids know and understand, the less scary it will be.
Kaitlin Puccio is the founder of the Celia Kaye brand, author of the children’s book, “The Adventures of Celia Kaye,” a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, and a Fitness Nutrition Specialist (NASM). Follow Celia Kaye on Twitter, like her on Facebook, and visit her at celiakaye.com.
This post is sponsored by Udi’s Gluten Free. Opinions are my own.