It’s not easy being a kid! All you want to do is fit in and be like everyone else. You certainly don’t want to be different, especially if that means you can’t eat all the “normal” things that your “normal” friends do, like cake, cookies and pizza.
Being the only gluten-free child in the classroom can potentially result in not just feelings of isolation, but real isolation. That is why it is so important for all the adults, involved in a child’s life, to make sure that they do everything they can to make sure that doesn’t happen.
The following are some tips to help you, the parents, make sure that your child stays healthy on their gluten-free diet, both physically and emotionally.
Educate the teacher and the other classroom students about why your child is unable to consume gluten. You want to emphasize that it is like any other medical condition, where gluten makes your child sick and hurts the insides of his body. You may even want to relate it to peanut allergies, which most children are aware of. You also want to explain that that is why your child is unable to accept food trades.
In addition, you want to educate all of them on non-food sources of gluten such as lip balm and play dough, for example.
It is also important to educate the teacher that just being in the presence of flour for paper mache projects is not safe for your child, as are some finger paints. You can find two blog posts that I wrote on that subject here and here.
2. Keep a stash
Provide the teacher with a stash of gluten-free goodies for times when your child is unable to consume food items that are being prepared as part of a class project at school, or other unexpected events.
3. Send gluten-free treats to school on holidays
During Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and other holidays, send your child to school with yummy gluten-free cupcakes and enough for his classroom peers and teacher. This way, your child is the hero for bringing in the treats, and the children get to experience the same kind of food that your child eats.
4. Send extra snacks along in your child’s lunch
Although your child is not able to eat the food from other children, there is nothing wrong with classmates eating gluten-free foods that your child brings to school. Just like the gluten-free cupcakes mentioned above, you can also send your child to school with extra gluten-free snacks in his lunchbox from time to time. This way, he can share them with peers in his classroom. The other children then get to see that your child eats food that tastes good too, but your child stays safe in the process.
5. Purchase or prepare
Foods such as gluten-free pizza and gluten-free chicken nuggets can be purchased or prepared from scratch. These foods look like those that the other children eat, only they are gluten-free.
The more your child feels the same and others view him like he is, the more he will feel like he fits in.
It’s not always easy being the parent of a gluten-free child, but with a little planning and forethought, you can help your child feel more normal and easily fit in with his peers.