Coeliac disease, or gluten intolerance, is a condition where the small intestine becomes inflamed and damaged whenever the affected person eats foods containing gluten, a protein found in most grains, including wheat. As diagnosis methods have advanced, more and more individuals are now being diagnosed as children. While there is a genetic factor to the condition, it is possible to have a child with Coeliac while neither parent has it. If this is the case, you may not know what to do for your child. Here are some pointers from someone who grew up with gluten intolerance.
Explaining the Condition
It is important that the condition be explained to the child. Depending on how young your child is, you may have to simplify the information. The first thing you should tell them following the diagnosis is that they will feel better now. Try informing them via fun activities to get them involved with their eating and their condition. For example, you could turn to educational aids to explain the small intestine – there are shows and books meant for children that explain the digestive system. Use one of these to show them how they were getting sick and tell them that eating certain foods will make them sick again.
This will probably be the hard part for them to cope with, as it is likely that some of their favourite foods will contain gluten. They may cry or otherwise be very distressed. This is normal for an initial reaction. Stay calm, comfort them, and try to focus on foods that they like that they can still eat. If they can read, teach them ingredients to look out for when they are elsewhere, and encourage them to speak up to others when they are offered something they cannot eat.
There are still plenty of ways for your kid to have their favorite meals. You can buy gluten free versions of many typical foods in the supermarket now, though they will usually be more expensive. A quick online search will also reveal many recipes. Experiment, and remember to follow your child’s sense of taste rather than your own. Since they have not had as long to become accustomed to foods that contain gluten, they may be more open to foods that contain unusual flavour that you may not be accustomed too.
One of the most important things you can do for your child who is Coeliac is make sure they are not left out of social eating, especially when it concerns birthday party favourites like pizza and cake. Work together with the parents of your child’s friends to come up with a plan for them to eat something they like just as much. This could be as simple as finding a pizza place with a gluten free option and sending a gluten free cupcake with your child for them to eat while everyone else eats their cake. It is important that your child always feel included, there is no need to restrict them to salad bar or a plain piece of meat. It is very difficult, especially for younger children, to understand why they are not allowed to eat the same things that other children or family members are eating, this can make the transition much harder for them.
If you have questions about how to care for a child with coeliac disease or diet and nutrition contact your local doctor, who will arrange for you to see a dietitian and nutritionist.