Know How to Recognize Food Allergy Symptoms (Especially if Your Child Has Food Allergic Friends)
It takes a village to protect a child with allergies, but some parents say managing their kids’ diet has strained relations with friends and family and led to tension with parents of non-allergic classmates.
No one wants to compromise a child’s health, but some parents of kids with allergies say they’re challenged by people who don’t understand that even trace amounts of a food can trigger a potentially fatal allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis. Even grandparents are skeptics at times.
Sleepovers are a good example of how misunderstanding food allergies or being unable to recognize food allergy symptoms can make a popular event among kids a real challenge. Although some parents flatly so no to the idea, it is possible for kids to participate in sleepovers – even those with severe food allergies.
When you’re used to being the gatekeeper for your child regarding food and environments that can be harmful to them it can seem risky to send them to stay over with friends. Here are some proactive tips that will help you prepare for a sleepover with less worry:
- Have a straightforward conversation with the other family. Talk about it and don’t assume that anyone knows your child has severe allergies. The goal isn’t to scare the other family, but to let them know about the allergies and how to reduce the risk of reaction and recognize food allergy symptoms. This includes not serving the allergenic food at the sleepover. It’s so much easier to simply not serve a certain food than to risk an accidental ingestion.
- The other parents are usually open to suggestions on foods and you can also discuss checking food labels, using epinephrine, recognizing food allergies symptoms and/or reactions and cross-contact issues that can result. If the other family is uncomfortable with any of this, it’s better to know up front than to find out if something goes wrong.
- Consider your child’s age and level of maturity. Waiting until your child is a bit older and more able to be responsible for themselves (not to mention have good reading/verbal skills regarding labels) is helpful. One exception would be with a family who is close to your family and who already knows the drill for foods, hand-washing and such.
- Begin with a “small” sleepover, especially for the younger children. Especially for kids under age 10, keeping the group to two or three kids provides a great opportunity for independence while reducing the food allergy risk.
- Send your child with their own pillow and blanket. This is especially important if your child has any environmental or pet allergies. Pets that might eat foods with peanuts/tree nuts (guinea pigs, for example) shouldn’t be in the room with the child who has an allergy.
- Send safe snacks for the party or bake something that everyone can enjoy for breakfast the next day.
Encourage your child to have fun and encourage them to speak up if they need help. Be optimistic about the sleepover and tell them to have fun. You will want to reinforce all of your safety rules with your child, but as long as you’ve worked with the other parents, try to keep your anxieties to yourself. No child will enjoy themselves if they have too much to worry about or if their parents seem unsure.
A successful sleepover will help your child feel like they belong and it’s a big step in showing them that they can manage their allergies. If they feel like they have the allergy situation under control, they can enjoy the really good fun about sleepovers: watching movies, playing games and most of all — staying up way too late!