How to Explain a Gluten Sensitivity to a Child

If your child has a gluten sensitivity or a gluten allergy, he must be made to understand exactly which foods are safe for him to eat. Because you cannot accompany your child to school or on outings away from the home, he must be able to make wise and healthy decisions about the foods that he eats. Explaining a gluten sensitivity to a child is extremely important in helping to avoid serious health complications that can occur in children who have Celiac disease or are allergic to gluten. While your child may not be able to fully understand the difference between Celiac disease, which prevents the absorption of nutrients, and an allergy to gluten, which is a histamine response, explaining to your child which condition he has is still an important part of educating him about his condition.


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    Use visual aids to teach your child the organs of the digestive system. By having fun learning about the digestive system at a young age, your child will be able to better identify the parts of the body that are affected by gluten sensitivities. He will also develop a stronger understanding of some of the terminology that is used when discussing the effects that a gluten sensitivity can have on the body. Approach the subject engaging him with the following aids:
    • Consider purchasing a book for your child such as Bagels, Buddy and Me by Melanie Krumrey to help your child understand gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease.
    • Use simple language that communicates important details without harsh words or an overly authoritative tone. For example, rather than saying a food is "dangerous" or "destructive" for your child's body, use words like "yucky" or "sad foods." You can personify permissible and forbidden foods by giving them superhero and villain names. (Ex: Captain Carrot, Bad Boy Barley, etc.)
    • Turn the learning experience into a game by quizzing your child and offering rewards for correct answers. Print out a diagram and have him label the body parts that may be affected by a gluten sensitivity. Have a word bank with words such as "headache," "cramps" or "hives" and have your child write these words on the body where the symptoms would occur. On the bottom of the page, have him answer simple questions about the health effects he may experience if he consumes foods that contain gluten.
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    Discuss the food pyramid and the importance of a healthy, balanced diet.
    • All children should be taught the significance of healthy foods, but a child with Celiac disease must be especially aware of different food items and their intrinsic value. Children who must avoid foods like flour, barley, or rye may not be consuming enough of nutrients such as fiber and iron and must know alternative foods that have these nutrients.
    • Explain that gluten is a protein and discuss how protein affects the body. Then explain the differences in the body of a child who suffers from gluten sensitivity. Clearly communicate the differences to ensure that the child understands that children who do not suffer from a gluten sensitivity will not experience the same symptoms as a child who does. If the child finds himself in a situation where other children are consuming gluten-containing foods, this will make it easier him to understand why it is acceptable for them to do so but not for himself.
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    Practice identifying foods that contain gluten, so that your child will be able to decide which foods are safe or unsafe to eat.
    • Use flash cards with pictures of foods. Have your child identify the pictures as either gluten or non-gluten foods.
    • Select items from your kitchen cabinets, refrigerator and freezer. Ask your child to determine if each food contains gluten or not.
    • When visiting the grocery store, point to various items on the store shelves and see if you child can determine if they are gluten-containing foods or not. Have him try to point out foods that he thinks are gluten-free and safe to eat.
    • Also identify other nonfood products that may contain gluten such as shampoo or lotion. Practice reading the labels of products and searching for words such as "yeast" or "flour" as indicators that the product is unsafe.
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    Cook with your child.
    • When preparing meals with your child, make note of all the gluten-free substitutes you use in meal preparation. This shows him how to make his own substitutions and also reminds him that he doesn't have to miss out on delicious foods because of a gluten sensitivity.


  • Consider hosting a party for your child's friends and their parents. Serve only gluten-free food as a way to further educate the community about sensitivities to gluten and how to use acceptable alternatives.
  • Provide your child with a laminated list of safe and unsafe foods that he or she can present to hosts, friends, teachers or family members. Provide him with a go-to statement that he can deliver to others when he is away from home, explaining that he has a sensitivity to gluten. A sample statement might be, "Please don't serve me any foods with flour, barley or rye. My gluten sensitivity makes these foods hurt my tummy!" Make sure that he knows alternatives to gluten containing foods, in case he is away from home and asked what particular foods he can consume.
  • Explain to your child that Celiac disease affects one in every 100 Americans so that he or she is not frightened or ashamed of a gluten sensitivity.
  • As often as possible, visit or call your child’s teachers and friends' parents to inform them of your child's gluten sensitivity. When both your child and the adults who will be watching over him are forewarned, the likelihood that your child will consume gluten can be greatly reduced.


  • Be aware that as he grows older and begins to respond to peer pressure and teasing, your child may be tempted to cheat on his gluten-free diet. Prepare for this contingency and make your child aware of the unpleasant side effects that he may experience as a result of consuming gluten-containing foods. His reaction to gluten may be enough to encourage him to stick to the diet in the future.

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Categories: Allergies and Immunization