When my friend first told me the sad news that her son was allergic to peanuts, I felt sympathy but since I’m not a peanut lover, I didn’t really feel he was missing much. It was not until I became a mother that the realization of what being allergic to peanuts really meant. Suddenly, sirens went off everywhere. Peanuts could be secretly touching anything! This meant, going out to eat for my friend would never be the same. From now on, she would have to always ask or notify the restaurant of peanut allergies. Then, she would need to consider if everyone who came across the dish received the memo. She would always have the fear that a healthy snack from a children’s play group could put her son into the hospital.
In some cases, parents or guardians may decide to just get rid of all peanuts in the household, but is that really fixing the situation? Is it better to act as if peanuts just don’t exist? Is that really preparing your child for the future? A future in a world where there are peanuts because peanuts, really do exist. In the United States, we tend to be empathetic for those with peanut allergies and restaurants will generally go through great lengths to ensure the safety of your child, but not all countries. It is better to teach your child to protect themselves.
As a mother, you already have to worry about so much, so let’s equip our children with some helpful tools. If you haven’t start teaching your kid the alphabet then start now. If you’re wondering if it’s too early to start, the answer is it’s never too early to start. From birth, I always sang the Alphabet song to M since it was a catchy tune but also beceause it’s extremely useful. In fact, I still use it to this day when alphabetizing.
As soon as M could speak, we started to teach her the Alphabet song. She then moved onto letter recognition. I started to point out letters to her everywhere, especially “A,” “B” and “C.” Those three letters are a good place to start because they are the first three letters, and those letters are written in the background pictures of almost every single children’s book. You can also point out those letters on road signs, at the grocery store, on a brochure, other books, your cellphone, and anything that has letters on it. Try to make this a habit by incorporating this into your daily life, such as the drive home from daycare or school.
If your child has peanut allergies, then the next step is to teach him or her how to recognize the letter “P.” Make this a game. Every week when you go to the grocery store, start by having your child search for the letter “P” on all the peanut jars. The next week, have them look for snacks that boldy state the word “Peanut” on them. At one of the most advanced stages, have them search for the word “peanut” from the ingredients list on the back of the packaging.
It may surprise you that your child will catch onto this rather quickly but it’s really not much of a surprise. We, as humans, are programed for pattern recognition. All kids learn this. Chris Ferrie, the author and creator of Physics for Babies series, had pointed out that children can recognize animals even though they come in different shapes and sizes. His example was that his child could point out the difference between a Penguin and a Puffin. Now, if you ask the child, they may not be able to explain how they can recognize that those two animals are indeed a bird and that they are two different types, but the important thing is that the child does recognize this pattern.
I cannot emphasize the importance of repetition. Your child will need to be exposed to this word frequently so that it can be instilled into their brain and that it will be second nature in no time. The other important criteria is to show them the different ways the word can appear so they have the ability to recognize the word in different settings, such as different fonts or the location of where the word “peanut” can appear. This way your child can have the tools to think for themself even when you’re not around. It is also crucial that you do test your child but within the parameters you can control. Hand your child three snacks, one of which has a label for peanuts. See if your child can recognize this threat. If they can, congratulations! If they can’t yet, and I must emphasize the word “yet.” Drop it and try again in a couple days. Learning takes time and constant repetition to refresh those memories. We can do it though. Together, let’s teach our kids to adapt in a world with peanuts.