I am JJ: Adopting a CAN mindset is a learned skill

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One by one the second graders stood, read what they’re good at, smiled wide as their classmates acknowledged them, and smiled even wider when they placed the I AM-I CAN sticker on the Land of Can map.

Jordan can make a comic book. Ben can make a touchdown. Ariella can draw. Frankie can do a cartwheel...

I spent an hour last week reading my book, Land of Not , to a second grade classroom in my hometown. I initially wrote Land of Not  to raise awareness in schools about food allergies, stop food allergy bullying, and help children with food allergies discover their strengths. In addition to helping children with food allergies, the book empowers all elementary students to define themselves by who they are and who they can be.

I love teaching the CAN lesson. Much of my success in life has been directly related to me having an asset-based mindset. I learned at a young age to define myself by what I can do instead of by what I can’t do. And it has made all the difference. This is why I am so passionate about teaching young people this message, especially people with food allergies.

Far too many young people with food allergies live in a world of Not. I can’t eat this. I can’t do that. I can’t go there. Sure, we must balance safety with normalcy. But that normalcy must include as many CANs as possible. And even though it may seem like common sense, it isn’t. Adopting a CAN mindset is a learned skill. It must be taught. It must be reinforced. It must be practiced.

Part of why I became active in the food allergy community was to take my knowledge and share it with kids, their parents, and their teachers. From my daily blog to my book, I continue to write what I wish someone had taken the time to write for me.

As we continue to raise awareness this month about the importance of understanding food allergies, we also must continue to raise awareness about the importance of properly raising children with food allergies. This includes raising them to have an asset-based, CAN mindset.

Sure, we must continue to raise healthy children. But we also must raise healthy children who will thrive.

I’m certain that the parents and educators and doctors and caregivers reading this post today CAN do just that!


JJ Vulopas is a rising senior at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. An advocate for young people, JJ has lived with food allergies his entire life. He is the author of the children's book, Land of Not. You can read his daily blog at www.thelandofcan.com and follow him @thelandofcan on Twitter and Instagram.