Gluten free kids face particular struggles that their peers never do. We as parents can make sure we are feeding them all the gluten free things, but we can’t make all their decisions. We still need them to eat in ways that will keep them healthy.
Teach your child to eat gluten free by giving them power through knowledge, choice, and trust. They will make nutritional decisions for themselves throughout their life. Teach them what gluten is, where they can find it, and how to avoid it. Let them know you trust them to make the right decisions and give them safe options to choose.
Helping kids to make good decisions for their health instead of short-term decisions for immediate happiness is not an easy task, nor is it a quick fix. Empower them to be able to advocate for themselves.
Please note: I say “gluten free kids” and not “Celiac kids” in this article. There are many reasons children must be gluten free, and whatever your child needs, it can be a struggle. Customize how you discuss this with them, depending on your situation.
How To Convince Kids To Not Eat Gluten
Switching to a gluten free diet and maintaining that diet is not easy, even for adults. One of the best ways to start is by acknowledging that to yourself and your child.
Have a conversation about how hard this will be, let them tell you how they are feeling. Make sure your child knows you are there for them, and they can tell you anything that is happening. They must tell you if something happens at school that wasn’t safe or decide to eat gluten.
Feeling like they have the power to make decisions in their own life is so important. I’d argue it is even more critical for kids with food allergies than typical kids. Getting to say yes to something is so important when they must say no to so much.
Help them find the whys behind everything they must do. Some things can be scary to learn about but teach them in gentle ways. Children with Celiac Disease or other conditions must know the why behind it.
One of the hardest things can be to trust kids to make the right decisions. But the power that trust gives you and them is fantastic. To get that trust, they must have the knowledge and ability to make the decisions that impact them.
Teach them about gluten free options, and no matter your feelings on gluten free, make sure they know there are many great options. Show them all the amazing things they can still have. Try to give as positive of a spin as possible, even if you feel very negative about it.
Everyone goes through a grieving process when it comes to giving up something integral to their life. Consider a therapist to talk to for yourself, your child, or together. Or look up what to expect while you make these changes.
Help them learn how important this is and to deal with peer pressure. There are so many negative opinions out there about gluten free; help them prepare for it.
Open The Lines Of Communication With Gluten Free Kids
Having a trusting relationship is essential in any family. But it is even more critical for children with allergies, Celiac Disease, or other challenges in life.
They will inevitably face challenges, options we don’t like, or put in potentially damaging situations. As much as we wish this weren’t the case, we have to be prepared to deal with them as they come up.
When they are little, we get to control all the things they eat, their situations, and make the decisions for them. Parent’s very nature declines as they age until they are the ones causing all their choices.
Ensuring an open line of communication is essential between you and your child. They need to rely on you to tell when the school isn’t handling things right, there are no gluten free options, or if they make a decision, they know you would disapprove.
How you should do this depends on your relationship, the age of your child, and other situations in your life.
Let them know that they can always tell you about the things in their life, but make sure that gluten tops that list. If they eat gluten on purpose, are put in a situation where they are exposed to it or have to deal with it on their own, you need to know.
You can talk about the consequences of eating gluten and how to deal with other situations.
Empower Kids With Knowledge About Gluten
Most adults don’t know what gluten is, let alone how to eat gluten free. We shouldn’t expect more of our kids.
Tell them that gluten is in wheat, rye, and barley (include oats if needed). Let them know that bread, pasta, muffins, bagels, and more have gluten.
Tell them a simple explanation of what gluten does to their body. Use your child’s symptoms as your guide.
Depending on the age of your child, give them age-appropriate information. If your child is a teen, there are some great resources to look into it further.
Here is a good video for younger kids.
Depending on age or interest level, you may want to go further into this or leave it at a basic level.
This conversation is about their body and health, so you should inform them about what they need to do to keep themselves healthy, even if they are too young to understand much of it yet.
For more on how to teach kids about gluten free, check out this article on the topic.
Let Kids Know You Trust Them To Be Gluten Free
Trust is so important for kids. You may not be able to do this right away, but continue talking to them about gluten free, what is gluten free, and some of their favorite things that are naturally gluten free.
Eventually, they will be able to make these decisions independently, and you need to give them the power to do so.
As parents, we can’t make decisions for them for the rest of their lives, and giving them the information and power to make these decisions for themselves will be so important. They shouldn’t see it as following the rules of the house but as protecting their health.
The consequences of eating gluten can be especially tough for “Silent Celiac” children or those that do not have symptoms when they get gluten. Talk to them about what happens internally and what can happen if they keep eating gluten.
Part of trusting them to make decisions is knowing that they will make mistakes. Even adults give in, decide to eat gluten, or mistakenly do so.
They should get tools and guidance, not punishment and admonishment.
Help Kids Learn About Gluten Free Options To Give Them Power
For kids to make the right decisions, they need to have all the information available to them.
Talk about what has gluten while you go through your life. Take them grocery shopping with you, let them use a scanning app, and teach them to read ingredients on the package. Even if they can’t read yet, you can show them what the word looks like or the gluten free symbol on the packaging.
Being gluten free doesn’t mean it is healthy. Having only healthy options at all times will not result in better self-control around gluten products. But allowing gluten free alternatives might.
Don’t push the fresh fruit angle too much – let them have some gluten free cupcakes once in a while. It doesn’t need to be more than you would otherwise give, but they should know that gluten free treats exist as well – and they can be very yummy!
Support Kids Through Gluten Free Grief
Everyone who must take gluten from their diet goes through their process of grief. Some may not struggle much, while others do immensely.
Grief applies to children and adults, and it follows the same basic steps of any other grief. You will get denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Be prepared for these in yourself and to support your children through this as well.
You may want to consider seeing a therapist yourself, your child, or together as you go through the life changes. It can be challenging to navigate it and support someone else through it at the same time.
Food is an integral part of who we are as a species. It is involved in just about every social gathering around the world. We use it to bond, entertain, impress, and enjoy. Excluding yourself or your child can be very difficult.
Joining groups online can also be helpful to get feedback and ideas.
What To Do If They Won’t Stop Eating Gluten
You can give them all the tools, but restricting a diet is not easy. Neither are cravings and peer pressure.
Especially as children get older and crave independence and acceptance within a social group, it can get hard to make the right decisions. Needing to maintain a gluten free diet gets thrown into that mix.
Many times, they will eat gluten and see the results of it. Doing so can make it easier to stay gluten free in the future for some kids. But once in a while, we all need a good reminder of why we are gluten free, even the most responsible adults.
But sometimes, no matter the consequences, kids will decide to eat gluten. Eating gluten and suffering the effects is better than being rejected socially or being an outsider in their group of friends in their minds.
And it isn’t that unfounded either. I have had people admit that they did not invite my children to a birthday party because they didn’t know how to provide gluten free. We always bring our own and worry about it ourselves, but people will exclude them.
Remind them of why they need to be gluten free and go back to the educational portion. Remind your child that it is their body, and they can ultimately decide for it, but the health consequences can be severe.
Sympathize with them about how hard it is to be gluten free because it is not easy! Not for an adult, and certainly not for a child learning how to stand up for what they need.
Help them with some tools to resist temptations. Find alternative options in these situations and brainstorm some ideas together that can work.
Try your hardest to avoid guilting and shaming them for these choices. These will typically cause a divide, and they may not tell you next time.
How To Help Gluten Free Kids Deal With Peer Pressure
Peer pressure doesn’t mean that their friends are attempting to convince them to eat gluten. It can be wanting to fit in and do what everyone else does. Peers certainly don’t understand why gluten free is so vital and may also make some comments.
If you have the opportunity to educate them on gluten free when they are with you, that is a great way to seize the moment and teach them. But more often, you will be learning about this second-hand or find that your child is struggling to fit in.
You can work on confidence and other skills they will need for life, but addressing the gluten free issues will be necessary to move beyond this.
Please help them to realize that gluten free doesn’t mean they are weird or odd. Some people have different allergies, intolerances, or needs for their bodies. Everyone has some differences in what they need to do to stay healthy. They can be proud of themselves for being gluten free and maintaining their health.
How to accomplish this will be different for everyone, but it might include showing them what was wrong before they were gluten free. For my son, this was a severe growth restriction. He is proud of how tall he is and wouldn’t be that way if he continued to eat gluten.
Find things they can choose instead of gluten in these situations. Help them plan out choices ahead of time. You could even start a journal together of different situations and come up with solutions together. Then they will have something to reference when these situations come up again.
It may take some creative ideas and approaches, but it is possible to get through this. All kids struggle with this at some point, but gluten free kids are particularly vulnerable, even to seemingly innocent peer pressure like eating candy or cupcakes.