Austin Moms Blog is no stranger to writing about food allergies. Two of us (at least!) have children with multiple, life threatening food allergies, and at least one of us has food allergies and sensitivities as an adult. If you have a child in school, or if you are involved in any sort of child care or kid’s group situation, you have most likely come across at least a kid or two with allergies. There is a LOT of chatter about this topic – with some people being proponents of trying to make everything ‘safe’ and include kids (that is me!), and others not wanting to have to ‘deal with’ making concessions for someone else’s child.
Every school day, every play date, every field trip, every lunch box poses a possible threat to the LIFE of a child. I’ve read comments where parents are upset because some classrooms or schools have made rules that will not allow peanuts, nuts, cakes, cupcakes, etc. for birthday celebrations. And parents are annoyed that they can’t let their kid take cupcakes to celebrate their birthday “just because one kid is allergic”. I see them say things like “Sorry your kid is allergic, but hey, why should MY kid not get to have fun and celebrate their birthday at school?”
And it makes me want to SCREAM!! Until you’ve witnessed your child being covered with hives, becoming short of breath, needing an epi-pen injection, or being transported via ambulance because of a food induced reaction, you cannot possibly understand what a food allergy mom goes through. Celebrate your kid’s birthday at home and serve whatever you want. Or, better yet, bring something that IS safe for everyone! WOW! Kids with food allergies are left out all. of. the. time. And you know what? It stinks. But they deal with it. I would never question a school’s policy on weapons – because they are wanting to keep kids safe. For children with food allergies, certain foods are a weapon against their LIFE. Yes. It’s that serious, friends.
So, with that, I’ll step off my soapbox and give you a few suggestions on how you can be a good “food allergy” friend.
1. Take it seriously. It’s not a joke and we aren’t making it up. I promise you, any food allergy parent would give anything to take food allergies away from their child. We’re not trying to be picky, or get special treatment. It’s real. And it’s serious.
2. Have compassion. Understand what it must feel like for a 6 year old to not be able to sit with his friends at lunch. Understand what it must feel like to be the only kid to have to sit out during cupcake and ice cream time at birthday parties. Understand what it must feel like to not be able to order whatever you want at a restaurant. Understand what it must feel like to never get a happy meal or kids meal or any of those “staple” treats & things that kids like – because it might make you sick. Understand what it feels like to only get to look at your trick-or-treating Halloween Candy(and forget about public Easter Egg hunts) — and maybe, just maybe, there might be a Dum-Dum lollipop or some Smarties buried somewhere in there.
3. Educate yourself AND your children. I send a letter home to every parent in Hudson’s grade level at the beginning of the school year. I talk about food allergies and some of the consequences, and I give some suggestions on how to keep EVERYONE safe at school. I also go and do a workshop with his class. We read a story, and FARE has an AMAZING program called “Be A P.A.L.” (Protect A Life) – I have done this for two years and the kids love it. Children, instinctively, want to keep their friends safe. I get so much happiness when a parent from our class sends me a note or text saying that their child asks for certain food items in their lunch so that they can sit with Hudson. Or, when asked to fill out a “Star Student” poster in class, and asked how they are a good friend, a kiddo will say “I help keep my friends with food allergies safe.”
4. Be flexible. Food allergy families make compromises or make substitutions every day. So your kid wants cupcakes at school? Use this wonderful recipe that is free from 7 of the top 8 allergens. And all ingredients are super easy to find at HEB. (Just be super careful not to cross contaminate the spoons, bowls, baking dishes!) Don’t have time to make something homeade? Bring a different treat! We made fresh fruit rainbow kabobs in place of an ice cream social in Kinder last year and the kids LOVED it. They didn’t miss out one bit. Or, at the very least, let the parent know the day and time that you’re serving food so that we can bring something safe for our kiddo to eat.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask. If you aren’t sure if something is safe or okay, ask! A quick phone call, email or text goes a long way – and the parent will appreciate you for taking the time to ask!
6. Don’t be offended if we turn down your treats or offer to make a safe snack. Sometimes, I actually prefer if people don’t try to provide something for my kids as it creates a difficult situation for many reasons. First of all, it’s hard enough for us to find OK foods given our multiple allergies, but those who aren’t in the habit of avoiding multiple allergens rarely get it right. Second, I hate giving someone the third degree when they’ve gone out of their way to provide for my kids, but I have to because, well, see above. And finally, there’s no guarantee my picky eaters will even eat what they provide. This is the worst part because I know the trouble they went to & expense they incurred only for my kids to reject it entirely.
According to foodallergy.org , 1 in 13 kids have a food allergy which equates to about 2 in every classroom.
We (as parents) didn’t have to grow up with this issue. I can’t say I knew anyone in school who had a life-threatening food allergy. However, this is a pervasive part of ALL of our children’s lives & will be until there is a cure. ALL of our children will be growing up with this issue & the earlier we can teach them how to live in the world they will grow up in, the better for them.
A big, giant thank you to all of the parents, friends, teachers, staff, etc. who work so hard to keep all of our kids safe. I know it’s not easy, and it’s certainly not fun, but it’s important, and it means the world to me that you take it so seriously.
For other “allergy moms” out there: what am I missing? What equals a good ‘food allergy’ friend to you? And those of you w/o allergies – what would help you? Leave a comment below – or find us on twitter or facebook and share. The Food Allergy community needs your feedback and support so that we can make sure that all of our kiddos stay safe!