By: Jessica Aldred
Peanut Butter and Jelly. Chocolate. Ice Cream. Birthday Cake. These are just a few of the delicacies that my children enjoy without batting an eye. A PB&J is our go-to food of choice, actually, and I am fully aware of how lucky I am that (knock on wood) our family has come out virtually allergy free.
My eldest, at age 6, is capable of understanding the ramifications of one of his not-so-lucky friends consuming some of those foods he enjoys so easily. I can count three close friends off the top of my head with children that have not just food allergies, but SEVERE food allergeies. Having my son attend school with one of these children wasn’t burdensome, but rather was educational for him. He learned that having a food allergy was just another difference or sensitivity that his friend has that he should take the time to be cognizant of. Of course while we encouraged him to embrace the differences of others and to be mindful of his actions when hanging out with this child, we have sheltered him a bit with regard to the implications of these children coming into contact with something they shouldn’t or needing to use the ever-looming Epi pen.
I like to consider myself a thoughtful person. I over think my actions and how they’ll affect others. While this can be a personality flaw at times, I think the parents of our allergic friends would be thankful to know how much thought I put into my daily travels and our consumption habits. My children will not have peanut butter on a day I know that they’re going to be seeing a friend with an allergy, and if by chance they do I am sure to thoroughly wash them up, change their shirt and scour them for any signs of allergens. I try to have an alternative at birthday parties or cookouts that these children can generally partake in so as not to exclude them in the festivities any more than absolutely necessary. And I’d never share a snack with a child without being sure that it was something they could enjoy without consequence.
I remember starting college, some 15+ years ago, and reading a plaque placed below a tree that was dedicated to a former student who had passed from an allergic reaction to nuts. At the time, it was the first exposure I had really had to the severity of some of these allergies. I remember being a bit confused, but it didn’t effect me so I moved on. As I’d pass that tree for the next few years I’d think of that girl and how difficult it must have been to keep her distance from such a common food product. Now, as a mother, I often think of her and her parents and how difficult their lives must have truly been in a time when allergens were not such a hot societal topic and not something so common that it has become a team effort for us to keep ALL our children safe.
Thankfully, my children do not have food allergies, but these days food allergies are a very big part of the world. Public schools are adopting allergy-friendly policies that keep all kids safe. Please understand that these policies are not an option, and they are not intended to make your lunch packing more difficult. They’re in place to keep all our children safe, happy and thriving in our schools. Because we have been around children with life threatening allergies, we understand their unique dietary needs. While at first this was confusing and scary, we now have a better understanding of what we need to do to keep these children safe from harm. In hopes of spreading a bit of awareness, I’ve combined minds with the parent of one of these children to compile a list of things to be aware of and little things you can to do help all our children thrive together.
- Sharing a ball, toy or jacket is not the same as sharing snacks/food. The teacher and adult are not always going to be watching. It is good to discuss differences with your child and make them aware that some kids eat different things. Tell them they aren’t being rude by not offering their best friend a yummy snack. They are keeping their friends healthy and safe from harm.
- Labels, labels, labels. All packaged food is required to contain some form of allergen information. When in doubt, read the label. If you are still confused after reading the label, save that food for home.
- Wipes- how did I ever survive without these? I’m pretty sure that even after my youngest is out of diapers I will still carry these things in my purse. Wiping your hands after eating solves lots of allergy issues and has an added bonus to keep us germ free, too!
- Asking questions- Do you have any allergies to food or things you eat? Allergy kids are trained from a very early age to avoid things they are allergic to. My friend’s daughter will gladly go through the list of things that affect her and she’s been able to do this since age 3.
- Allergy parents aren’t saying you have to change all that you do to accommodate them. An awareness of the allergies that could be around is all they are asking for. Although we make an effort to avoid those foods that my friends’ children are allergic to, it has never been a demand from their parents. At birthday parties they often bring their own cupcake or foods that she can have and does not inconvenience the party host at all.
- It doesn’t hurt to know how and when to use an Epi pen. Just pray hard you never have to put that knowledge to good use.
- If you send in any treats to school for the holidays check with the teacher to see if there are any food allergies first. Most schools ask you to avoid sending food items in at all but in case it is still allowed it is always good to ask first.
- If your child has a best friend who has food allergies, train them to keep an eye out for their buddy. Extra awareness is always welcome.
- Be an advocate for these children. Don’t let what is already a difficult lifestyle to maintain become a reason to shy away from or bully these children.
- Please keep in mind that this is not a dietary preference but a life threatening illness. Believe me, if they could rid themselves of these allergies they would.
Again, while this does not affect me directly it does affect us all. Keeping our kids safe should be our number one priority as a society. I’m sure each of us can list at least one person we know these days affected by allergies. If you ever find yourself frustrated or annoyed with the attention paid to these issues these days, think of your friend, family member or classmate and remember that this is even more frustrating or annoying to them. Embrace their differences and see how you can help the cause, rather than making the already difficult job of parenting these children even more challenging.
What are your tips for helping keep all our kids safe from food allergies?