Emma, left, and I are still learning gluten free lessons

Most of the time I write about news and hot topics in the gluten free and celiac world. In fact dealing with family and gluten-free kids may be my specialty.  But I don’t feel like I have harnessed that specialty today because the glutening I talk about in the headline– happened to Emma.

Here is what happened: We went to a movie last night, and although I told the person at the counter “no butter” on the popcorn, bottom line is– she put it on anyway and I missed it.  The “butter” was put somewhere in the middle-bottom and not on top of the popcorn.  So taste and texture-wise it wasn’t detectable until we got to the bottom.

Emma saw the “butter” go on the popcorn and says she told me “she just squirted something on the popcorn”.  She says I just blew it off.  Frankly, I don’t remember this at all.  

Now let me add a disclaimer here, I know getting movie popcorn is something some gluten free people don’t do.  We have never had trouble with it in the 14 years of Emma’s celiac diagnosis.  But we NEVER get the “butter”.  Until what happened yesterday.  And sure enough…she got sick.

Ultimately, who is at fault?  Well I clearly told the employee no butter.  So I suppose I could blame her for not listening.

BUT I maintain that we realize we are taking a risk no matter where we go out to eat, because the food prep is out of our hands.  So while the employee is partially to blame, I think both child and parent  (or in this case Emma and I) have something to learn from this.  

Tips for Mom (including me):

  1. Don’t be distracted when it comes to managing gluten free food.  I think I was taking money out of my purse or turning the volume off on my phone or something while we waited for the treats to arrive. I never should have taken my eye off the ball.
  2. Listen to your child.  I did not hear her.  Now I may not have “heard” her because I was distracted.  Or it is possible I may not have heard her because I have some hearing loss in my right ear, the side where Emma was standing when she told me.

Tips for Gluten Free Kids (including my daughter Emma):

  1. Stand up for yourself!  Emma knows we never get “butter” on popcorn (unless on occasion when it was actually pure butter) because of our gluten concerns.  So when she saw the employee “squirted something on our popcorn” and I didn’t react appropriately, she should have spoken up more. Emma is 15.  At some point she needs to have a voice and I believe she should have said something to the employee, because I wasn’t “tuned in” to the situation.
  2. When in doubt, ask a question.  Whenever we get a gluten free pizza, for example, we double check and ask “Is this the gluten free crust” when the food is delivered.  One time we didn’t get the right pizza.  That was the first time I asked the question because the crust was very puffy…and now I won’t ever forget to ask it. In our movie theater situation she could have asked, “Did you put butter on this?”  Or she could have just said “we asked for no butter”…and the employee would have gotten us a new batch.
  3. Enunciate your words.  Don’t mumble.  People need to hear and understand what you are saying.

But still I worry about what I am doing wrong to get my daughter to voice her gluten free needs.  Does anyone else with gluten free teenagers feel this way?

Preparing our  Kids to Have a Gluten Free Voice

So I did some investigating.  Here are some other suggestions on creating a confident gluten-free child who can handle a food crisis when you’re not around (or not tuned in).  

We need to let our children experience risk.  This point is from the 7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors that Keep Children from Growing into Leaderswhich was published on January 16, 2014 at  “Psychologists in Europe have discovered that if a child doesn’t play outside and is never allowed to experience a skinned knee, they frequently have phobias as adults,” Dr. Tim Elmore, founder and president of Growing Leaders said in the article. “If parents remove risk from children’s lives, we will likely experience high arrogance and low self-esteem in our growing leaders,” Elmore says.

When our gluten free children move into those formative adolescent years, they need to start making decisions on their own.  Experiencing risk doesn’t sound pleasant when it comes to our children’s gluten-free lifestyle and their health.  With parental oversight, they need to practice making decisions in a potentially risky environment.  They will go out to dinner with their friends when they are older.  If they don’t practice ordering that food when we parents are around, how will it go when we are not?

We rescue them too quickly.  From the same article, and this is an area where I am pretty weak, Dr. Elmore said “When we rescue too quickly and over-indulge our children with ‘assistance,’ we remove the need for them to navigate hardships and solve problems on their own.”

This is where I think our family messed up at the movie theatre.  Emma waited for me to swoop in.  But I didn’t.  Then she either didn’t know what to do, or she thought my lack of swooping made the popcorn okay.

Practice some situations gluten free kids could encounter so they have some tools ready to use when “life” happens.‘s article entitled Speak Up!  Sure-fire Ways to Help Teens and Adults Overcome Shyness is talking to its teacher audience when it says “some students are not exactly shy by nature but simply have no idea what to say or where to start. While their classmates use trial and error, they prefer to stay quiet and not risk embarrassment. One great way to help them overcome this fear of embarrassment is to provide speaking tasks with a structure and defined guidelines.”  This teacher/student scenario can be translated into a parent/child senario.

Aaron Rakow, PhD of Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C. has a children’s-only support group.  This group learns about celiac, how it impacts the body and much more. “Sometimes we take a walk to the hospital snack bar,” Rakow said in an interview I did with him last October.  “Kids are given a dollar or two. We go as a group and we give them 3 minutes to go find a gluten free snack and bring it back to the larger group and we look at the snacks one at a time…we look at the labels, ingredients….”  If they misidentify a snack they can go get another one.  Groups like this that let you practice in a safe environment, can be very helpful.

You can also practice some scenarios at home.  

Here are some examples:

  • What if you order a gluten free meal at a restaurant and a gluteny breadstick is laying across it?
  • What do you do if your friends want to go out after a game, and the restaurant isn’t gluten free friendly?  
  • What do you say if you pick up your gluten free lunch at school and it looks different than what you are used to seeing?  
  • What if you are at a friend’s house and you are worried about what the parents are making for dinner and how they are preparing it?
  • Get some foods out of the pantry and read labels together.
  • What do you do if you get popcorn at the movie theater and they put butter on it, even though you asked for no butter?

In the end, even after all this, if your teen gets gluten, figure out what you can learn from it.  What mistakes were made and how will you prevent this from happening next time.

Emma is missing school today, with stomach pain (and lack of sleeping from the pain) because of our experience.  Did she need to get sick in order to learn this lesson?  I would like to think not.  She and I will be talking  more about what we can learn from it all.  But my guess is she won’t ever let this happen again.

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4 Responses to “Distracted Mom & Soft-Spoken Teen Learn Lessons After Teen gets Gluten”

  1. Great article! Really hits home here as a parent of an often shy teenager. I’ve been working with her too on learning to speak up for herself. Hope Emma feels better soon. We feel her pain.

  2. Hi Amy,

    I appreciate this blog for more than one reason. The first (and I am somewhat embarrassed to admit this) is that I’ve been allowing my Celiac son to get butter on his popcorn at movies…..and we’ve gone to the movies 4 times in the last two months. I don’t know why this didn’t dawn on me. I knew he could have popcorn, but the butter escaped me. My son is not a teenager yet, but I will discuss your list with him. I don’t think it’s too early to teach him to advocate for himself. Thank you for your post.

    Would you be willing to answer a couple of questions for me for my blog? I am trying to interview a number of Celiac bloggers for one blog post. I think you could offer a great perspective with a Celiac teen.

    Thanks a lot for your contribution!

  3. Glad you liked it Ranae. I would be happy to answer some questions. Email me at amy {at} thesavvyceliac(.)com

  4. Thank you for posting this! My son is 4-1/2 and was diagnosed at age 3. He is very vocal about his Celiac Disease but, I can see him folding under the pressure of an authority figure (e.g. a teacher at school or a coach) who thinks something is OK for him to eat. Finding/engaging your active voice is a lesson we all need reminding of from time to time.

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