Helping Your School-Age Child Adjust to CSID
It’s one thing for parents of young children with a food limitation to keep them happy and healthy at home; but when kids go off to school, the rules change and suddenly you’re facing a slew of new challenges as they are exposed to – for them – harmful temptation.
For kids with Sucrose Intolerance caused by Congenital Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency (CSID), and informally called “Sugar Intolerance,” it’s really tough. What kid doesn’t want sugar? And lots of it!
Now that your child is going to school, you’re losing some control over the foods your child will be exposed to and want to eat, thanks to the school lunchroom, classroom parties, and field trips.
Peer pressure is another issue. When children with eating restrictions are exposed to other kids’ eating habits, they will likely start to feel different. And that could make them more self-conscious and argumentative or prone to making bad choices as they try to fit in.
This is a time when parents need to give children increased freedom over managing their condition, while also being positive, supportive, and good role models to boot.
CSID-Savvy Strategies for Your Child
Here are proven ways to help a school-age child not just cope with CSID, but thrive.
Make them feel empowered. During medical appointments, ask your registered dietitian (RD) or doctor to talk directly to your child to help her feel like her voice counts. They can participate in the conversation about how to manage their Sucrose Intolerance and feel stronger and more confident as a result.
“How we educate children about food in their younger years impacts their relationship with food for the rest of their lives,” says registered dietitian Paula Gallagher, MFN, RD, LD.
Offer choices. Another way of empowering children is to let them pick from acceptable foods for meals and snacks (“Do you want blueberries or strawberries?”).
Stock your pantry and fridge with low- or no-sucrose foods they can grab on their own.
“The more control kids have over what goes in their mouths, the more self-reliant they will become,” says Gallagher.
Help them advocate for themselves. Encourage school-age children to interact with teachers, kids, and other parents on their own behalf.
Teach them words to use when explaining their CSID. For example, “I have a stomach sickness and that means I’ll feel really bad if I eat something I’m not supposed to.”
Make them feel less alone. Remind children that CSID doesn’t define them. It’s a medical condition that they happen to have. Everyone has limitations, and everyone has things that make them different. They need to know that being a bit different isn’t bad; it’s just being not exactly like most of the people they may know.
Following a special diet won’t stop them from making friends and having fun and fitting in with everybody else.
Keep meals from becoming a battleground. Although most children go through a picky eating phase, this can be especially challenging for parents of kids with Sucrose Intolerance because of their serious eating restrictions.
To avoid arguments over meals, let children eat the same foods over and over as long as they’re safe and healthy, says Gallagher.
Express sadness rather than anger when a child refuses to eat an appropriate food.
It’s also important to make sure your expectations and discipline strategies are consistent with your spouse’s — and take comfort in the fact that this phase will pass.
Plan ahead. Reduce stress children might feel about school, parties, restaurants, or other situations involving food choices by planning ahead.
Research menu options before dining out to identify foods they can order, and contact party hosts in advance to find out which foods will be served.
Also meet with your child’s teachers and school administrators to inform them about your child’s eating restrictions and brainstorm ways to accommodate them.
Watch for signs of stress. Food is social, and sucrose-free kids often miss out on the moments their friends take for granted, like eating cake at birthday parties or trading lunches in the school cafeteria.
Kids with CSID may be embarrassed by their eating restrictions and symptoms (no child wants others to notice frequent bathroom breaks), which can affect a child’s confidence and their emotional and social well-being, too.
If your child starts resisting going to school or shows other signs of anxiety or depression, consider seeing a pediatric psychologist who specializes in treating kids with chronic health conditions.
Keep on educating. “Kids want to know ‘Why do I need a sugar-free diet?’ and the science can be confusing at any age,” says Bradley Jerson, PhD, a pediatric psychologist in digestive diseases, hepatology, and nutrition at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, CT.
“They may also get conflicting messages. For example, the ‘healthy snack’ at school is an apple, but a child has it drummed into her head at home that apples are ‘bad’ for her.”
You’ll need to help children navigate these tricky situations by continuing to explain why some foods make them feel good and others don’t, even if they sound like good foods in general.
And, of course, it’s important to speak in terms they can understand.