Tips on Talking to Children About Their Food Allergy

Understanding what it means to live with a food allergy as a kid starts with clear communication. For parents, this means focusing on simple language and modeling “safe” behaviors.

A food allergy occurs when your immune system responds to a food in the same way it would a harmful pathogen, like a bacteria or virus. The resulting inflammatory response can create a variety of symptoms, including nausea, coughing, hives, facial swelling, and wheezing, among many others.

Approximately 8% of children in the United States live with a food allergy. While many may outgrow that allergy by adulthood, their continued comfort and safety begin with a conversation about food allergies.

Keep it simple

Keeping food allergy talk simple can help regardless of your child’s age. Using clear, straightforward explanations prevents food allergies from becoming intimidating, confusing, or frightening.

For young children, food choices can be broken down into “safe” and “not safe.” Or, you can explain certain foods will “make you sick” since the concept of an allergy may be too complex for them to understand.

You can help reinforce the importance of “safe” and “not safe” by reading food labels out loud, declaring which ingredients are safe and which ones aren’t. This can help children start to recognize and remember foods they can have and which ones to avoid.

Avoid scary language

Fear is a powerful motivator, but using fear to get your child to avoid certain foods could backfire and become upsetting. While it’s important for children to understand if they have a potentially serious food allergy, using words like “life threatening” may cause anxiety or contribute to fear-based eating patterns.

Here are some ways you can avoid scary language when explaining allergies:

    • Instead of “deadly” or “life threatening,” say “very serious.”
    • Instead of “emergency,” say “get help quickly.”
    • Instead of “danger,” say “stay safe.”
    • Instead of “scary,” say “not good.”

Use visuals

The complexity of a food allergy can be overwhelming even for adults. Children might not be familiar with every food that’s off-limits. To help your child recognize foods that might be unsafe, consider supporting your conversation about allergies with images, physical examples, or stories they’re familiar with.

An easy example would be to show them a picture of peanuts and peanut butter for a peanut allergy. Or, when you go grocery shopping, point out safe and unsafe foods as you place them in your cart.

You can take it a step further for older children and use their favorite stories to encourage food allergy awareness.

In the classic fairy tale of Goldilocks, for example, you could note how she ate the bears’ porridge without knowing the ingredients. Your child can then explain why that behavior wouldn’t be “safe” for them.

Use ‘we’ language

As a caregiver, you play an important role in modeling proper food allergy management. Inclusive words can go a long way when it comes to this.

Using “we” statements rather than “I” statements helps kids understand they are active participants in their food allergy management. “We” statements can encourage communication and engagement. They can help children feel in control of their food allergy management.

You can model positive food allergy behaviors for your child by saying things like:

    • “We’ve got our medicine kit with us, so now we can leave the house.”
    • “We should read the ingredients to make sure nothing will make you sick.”
    • “We should wash our hands before we eat to be safe.”

As your child gets older, these joint management strategies can become habits they carry on without your direction.

Be encouraging

Living with a food allergy can be discouraging and disheartening for children, especially if it means not being able to enjoy the same foods their friends are eating at birthday parties or other social events.

Focusing on positive encouragement when you communicate can help your child maintain a positive outlook about their food allergy. Encouragement can also reinforce beneficial behaviors when it comes to sticking to a safe diet and being aware of symptoms.

Examples of encouraging statements include:

    • “I’m so proud of you for not having any cake. Let’s go find a treat you enjoy that’s safe.”
    • “I know you feel frustrated, but your safety is the most important thing to all of us.”
    • “It’s OK to feel sad, but I am so proud of how brave you are.”
    • “You did the right thing by not having that cake. Good job!”
    • “Great job telling me when you felt sick after eating. Letting me know right away helps you stay safe.”

Help them with what to say

Talking with your child about food allergies also means helping them develop ways to communicate their allergy to others. You can do this by playing through different scenarios and having your child respond with a set of statements like:

    • “I have food allergies to peanuts and soy.”
    • “No thank you. I have food allergies.”
    • “Thank you, but I have to ask my parents first.”

You can use imaginative play or role-playing as ways to teach these statements and when to use them.

Normalize having a food allergy

Food allergies are fairly common, and sharing this with your child can help keep them from feeling as if something is “wrong” with them. Staying calm in conversation and using inclusive statements can help empower children and boost their confidence about living with a food allergy.

Examples of things to share that help normalize food allergies:

    • “Lots of people have food allergies. It’s just one of the many things that make them who they are.”
    • “Everyone is unique. Just like some of your friends wear glasses to see better, you don’t eat certain foods because they make you sick.”

You can also give examples of other people leading fulfilling lives despite food allergies, such as friends, relatives, or celebrities.

FAQ for Food Allergies in Children

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to a food as if it were a harmful pathogen, such as bacteria or a virus. This immune response can cause symptoms like nausea, coughing, hives, facial swelling, and wheezing. [Source: Mayo Clinic]

How common are food allergies in children?

Approximately 8% of children in the United States live with a food allergy. Many children may outgrow their allergies by adulthood. [Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI)]

What are the symptoms of food allergies in children?

Common symptoms of food allergies include:

  • Nausea
  • Coughing
  • Hives
  • Facial swelling
  • Wheezing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Itchy skin or rash
  • Difficulty breathing [Source: ACAAI]

How can parents communicate about food allergies to children?

Clear communication is essential. Use simple language and model “safe” behaviors. For young children, categorize foods as “safe” and “not safe” and explain that certain foods can “make you sick.” [Source: Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE)]

Why should parents avoid using scary language when discussing food allergies?

Using fear-based language can cause anxiety and fear-based eating patterns. Instead of saying “deadly” or “life-threatening,” use terms like “very serious” or “get help quickly.” [Source: FARE]

How can visuals help children understand food allergies?

Visual aids can help children recognize unsafe foods. Use images, physical examples, or familiar stories to explain food allergies. For example, show pictures of peanuts and peanut butter for a peanut allergy. [Source: Kids With Food Allergies (KFA)]

What is the importance of using “we” language in food allergy management?

Using inclusive “we” statements helps children feel they are active participants in managing their food allergies. It encourages communication and engagement. Examples include, “We should read the ingredients to make sure nothing will make you sick.” [Source: FARE]

How can parents encourage children with food allergies?

Positive encouragement helps children maintain a positive outlook and reinforces safe behaviors. Examples include, “I’m so proud of you for not having any cake. Let’s find a treat you enjoy that’s safe.” [Source: KFA]

How can children communicate their food allergies to others?

Teach children to use clear statements like:

  • “I have food allergies to peanuts and soy.”
  • “No thank you. I have food allergies.”
  • “Thank you, but I have to ask my parents first.” [Source: ACAAI]

How can parents normalize having a food allergy for their child?

Normalize food allergies by explaining that many people have them and it’s just one of the many things that make them unique. Use examples of friends, relatives, or celebrities who live fulfilling lives despite food allergies. [Source: FARE]

What are some strategies to keep children with food allergies safe?

  • Read food labels: Always check ingredients for potential allergens.
  • Educate caregivers: Ensure that teachers, babysitters, and family members are aware of the child’s food allergies.
  • Carry emergency medication: Always have an epinephrine auto-injector available.
  • Create a safe eating environment: Ensure that the child eats in a safe, allergen-free environment. [Source: ACAAI]

What should parents do if their child has a severe allergic reaction?

In case of a severe allergic reaction, administer an epinephrine auto-injector immediately and seek emergency medical help. Symptoms of a severe reaction include difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, and a drop in blood pressure. [Source: Mayo Clinic]

By understanding and effectively communicating about food allergies, parents can help their children manage their condition safely and confidently. For more information and resources, consult healthcare providers and reputable organizations like FARE and ACAAI.


Talking with your child about food allergies can be challenging, especially when children are too young to fully understand what having a food allergy entails.

Using clear and simple language can help keep children safe at any age, and encouraging, engaging conversation can help them develop food allergy management skills as they grow older.


  1. Thank you for sharing these valuable tips! It’s so important to give children the right tools and language to help them manage their food allergies with confidence. Education and open communication can really make a big difference in keeping them safe and ensuring they feel empowered. Great advice!

  2. This is incredibly helpful! Educating children about their food allergies in an empowering and age-appropriate way can make such a difference in their confidence and safety. Thanks for sharing these practical tips!

  3. This is such an important topic! Teaching kids about their food allergies in an age-appropriate way can help them feel more confident and better able to advocate for themselves. Thank you for sharing these tips—it’s encouraging to see resources that can empower both parents and children.

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