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How to Explain Gluten-Free to your Celiac Child

Your kids take the cue from you on how to handle their gluten-free diet, so it’s extremely important that you to stay positive and upbeat around your celiac child. Explain the diet to your children by telling them how much better they will feel by going gluten-free.

Stay upbeat around your child. She doesn’t know how to feel — this is all new to her (granted, it’s new to you, too). Give her the advantage of starting off upbeat and optimistic. If she’s like most kids, she’ll take it from there and will provide amazing strength and inspiration.

Don’t make a really big deal out of needing to be gluten-free. As huge as it may seem to you, chances are this isn’t going to be a huge deal in your child’s life . . . unless you make it one.

When explaining the diet to your child, use the “big” words like gluten. Even if your child has developmental or learning disabilities, use the proper terminology so that he can better communicate what he can and can’t eat to others. Give him examples he can understand — explain that “gluten is in lots of the foods we used to eat, like bread, cookies, and crackers,” and then quickly let him know that lots of yummy things don’t have gluten in them.

Help your child make the connection that gluten makes him feel bad. One way to do this is when you talk about gluten: “You’re right, you can’t eat that. It has gluten, and gluten makes you feel icky.” This way, he learns to associate gluten with feeling bad — and that’s a very good thing. Once they make that connection, their desire to cheat and eat gluten-containing foods will decrease as well.

You can’t predict how your child will respond when you first start talking to him about his new gluten-free lifestyle. Be prepared for little or no response. Appearing to be indifferent or apathetic is not unusual for kids. Whether they are upset or not, just remember that the initial emotion will pass.

Teach your kid to be open and conversant about being gluten-free. Informing people (especially those who may be involved in feeding him) is important, and you can do this in a friendly, informative manner. Teach your child a phrase to use, even if he’s too young to know what it means. Use something comprehensive that he can repeat to adults.

Some kids feel more comfortable simplifying their explanation to something people can understand more easily, like, “I’m allergic to gluten,” or even “I’m allergic to wheat.” Even though that explanation isn’t technically correct, sometimes it’s easier. Just make sure your kids know the real facts so they don’t get confused.

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