A college student diagnosed with celiac at age 13 explains what worked for her.
By Kelly Clayton, NFCA volunteer
Being a young child with celiac disease can prompt a sense of embarrassment, especially when you have to constantly explain your situation and disease. So what is a parent to do? How are you supposed to help your child feel confident and comfortable while living with celiac? It wasn’t too long ago that I was a kid, so here’s what I’d suggest:
1. Build their confidence
First off, you have to make sure they completely understand what celiac disease is and how it works. They need to know that eating gluten isn’t an option at all, but they are still just as capable as any other child. Building your own child’s confidence is the No. 1 way to increase their self-esteem and make them feel comfortable with their dietary needs.
Use family parties and functions as a trial run to see if your child is embarrassed about having celiac disease. If they seem timid and shy when talking about the disease to family members, that is a good sign that you have to work on creating a safe space at home where they can learn to communicate about the disease.
2. Have them talk to other children
When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, it was my 13th birthday. While 13 is just about old enough to understand celiac and be accepting of the disease, I still had a hard time explaining it to others, especially my school friends.
My parents took me to a group meeting for children with celiac and their parents just to talk about having celiac disease, gluten-free options in the area, and other ways to support people with celiac disease. It was at this children’s support group where I really learned that there were other children with celiac disease and that I wasn’t alone.
3. Don’t avoid normal activities; Embrace them
Don’t avoid going out to eat, going to amusement parks, traveling, sporting events, etc. Just be prepared that you might struggle to find something, and bring food along in case there are few gluten-free options. By going to places and living your life normally, your child will feel confident that celiac disease will not hold them back.
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