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Special Diets

What to do:

Self-Talk. Say to yourself, "I'm sorry that my child is upset about these food restrictions, but I also know that it is important to follow these rules. I can handle his being upset by helping him accept his special diet to keep healthy."

Empathy. Tell yourself, "I understand that it is hard to not be able to eat what your friends are eating-my child wants to be part of a group, just like all children. To my child, following these restrictions is not as important as fitting in with his friends."

Teach. Tell yourself, "I can help my child learn to accept and follow rules about foods he needs for his health and well-being.

Make a list. Make a list where your child can see and read it to help her see what foods are okay, Then pass along that list to teachers, camp and other places your child eats. Talk about the list and show her the "okay" foods, so she knows what's good for her.

Make the connection. If his special diet is for health reasons, make the connection to how he feels inside when he eats foods that are not good for him to eat-tummy ache, head hurts, hives, etc. This helps him see that those foods cause him to feel bad-which is why he doesn't want to eat them.

Use Empathy. When your child is whining and crying because she can't have a food for health reasons, tell her that you understand and are so sorry she can't have the food. This is best said while giving a hug; hugs are never restricted. For religious restrictions, say, "I know it's hard, not being able to eat the same foods some of your friends eat. But it's important that we respect our traditions." (If you also had the same restrictions for religious reasons, add these words, "It was tough for me, too, when I was your age.")

Offer Substitutes. Tell your child that you're sorry she can't have peanut butter, but are glad she can have almond butter. And add that she can have it with her favorite jelly!

Give Praise for Acceptance. When your child accepts the restriction or accepts a substitute, praise her acceptance by saying such things as, "That was a good decision to say you couldn't have peanut butter. Almond butter also tastes good and won't make you sick."

Give Your Child Language to Use. In helping your child tell others about her dietary restriction of not being able to eat dairy products, teach her to say, "At our house, I eat anything that doesn't have any dairy product in it." Keep the focus positive!

Practice with Your Child. When you give your child the words to say, it helps to practice saying them several times. For example, say, "How about some peanuts?" and coach her to answer, "I can have cashews." Practice puts words into action.

What not to do:

Don't Give In. When your child is whining and crying because she can't have a restricted food, resist giving in. Don't say, "Oh, you can have the cookie just this once." When whining and crying pay off, you can expect it to be used many times in the future.

Don't Get Angry. When your child begs for a restricted food, getting angry and yelling won't teach your child how to live within her dietary restrictions. You will then become a source of stress, instead of source of comfort, whom she can trust to keep her safe and healthy. Getting mad about her nagging will also encourage her to sneak food to avoid your getting upset.

Don't Give Bad Substitute Foods. Because you feel sorry that your child can't have nuts, you may be tempted to give her a treat, such as candy. Substituting one unhealthy food for another is not the way to teach her to manage her dietary restrictions.

The authors and Raised with Love and Limits Foundation disclaim responsibility for any harmful consequences, loss, injury or damage associated with the use and application of information or advice contained in these prescriptions and on this website. These protocols are clinical guidelines that must be used in conjunction with critical thinking and critical judgment.