Our daughter was diagnosed with her food allergies at the age of two. We of course wanted to start teaching her to be an advocate for herself right away. This obviously presented a challenge because of her age and limited understanding and language skills. Of course I think she is a genius just like every other parent thinks of their child but we had to be realistic. What were the most important things we wanted to focus on with her at such a young age? We weren't so sure we wanted to jump right in to lessons on how to self administer her Epi-Pen ;-). So my husband and I decided on some basic lessons:
1) Teach her how to say "no nuts."
2) Teach her not to share food or drinks while still enforcing that she can share toys, time, and take turns. This has been interesting...haha!
3) Teach her how to identify nuts. How are you supposed to avoid them if you don't know what they look like in their most obvious, whole form?
Here is an overview of some of the things we have done (and here comes my plug for Peanut Free Zone; I am in love with their website and products!!!). I think we make a little progress each day and it is so true, kids are like a sponge at this age and she is soaking all of our lessons up!
When we go out to eat we let her give the chef cards from Peanut Free Zone to the waitstaff herself. The chef cards explain that she has life threatening food allergies and they go into detail about preventing cross contamination, etc. I think it helps the server to have something to read too! We have also taught her to say "no nuts" when she gives it to them. She is talking a little more every day, but having something tangible to give to a server helps her since her language is obviously limited at this age.
We use the stickers from Peanut Free Zone on her sippy cups and her food packaging when we go to events, play dates or parties as well. This has helped us teach her that she cannot share food or beverages and the stickers help her easily identify what is hers and helps other people and children identify what is not theirs.
We also use the nut identification cards from Peanut Free Zone. I printed off color copies of them, had the cards laminated and use them as flashcards. Again, how are you supposed to avoid something if you can't identify it? I am proud to say that our daughter - at 2 years old - can identify all of the nuts by name and even points them out in grocery stores now!
I know that our work (and her work) will never be done, as new research continues to shed new light on food allergies. This will be something that we will all continually be learning about for the rest of our lives, but this is how we have begun the journey with our rambunctious little toddler...