The truth is, life with food allergies is pretty scary and can be really limiting for young kids. They miss out on a lot because of these allergies, but playdates don't have to be something they miss out on. Whether you choose to host your allergic child's friend at your house or allow your child to head to their friend's place, it doesn't have to be a stressful event, either. I've rounded up some great tips for making playdates easy (well, ok, from an allergy perspective at least) for hosts and guests. Have fun!
For Parents of an Allergic Child:
1. Talk to the host parents about your child's food allergy(ies). Be clear and specific. Don't ever be afraid to talk about your child's allergies, and certainly don't feel like a bother. Once others understand, it's easier for them to be calm about having your kid over, and I know that my children feel so grown up when they're at a friend's house on their own. It's great for their self-esteem and feelings of empowerment.
2. Clarify whether food will be part of the playdate, and read every single label of everything that will be offered. If you feel it's necessary, offer to bring food along. (We often do this at birthday parties for my son—he gets his own special cupcake if the cake isn't safe for him.) Even though you think an item is safe, in homes where there are no allergies, cross-contamination is a very real possibility (hello, PB&J sandwiches!), so be very clear and ask lots of questions.
3. If your child carries an EpiPen or Allerject device, be sure to walk the parents through when it should be used, and how to use it. If you have a trainer, bring it along so they can get a feel for the process. It only takes a few seconds to teach someone to properly use these life-saving devices and it's so worth the time. You can even write down the warning signs and steps needed to help them remember.
4. Ensure your child is aware of their allergy(ies) and how to avoid contact, or communicate an issue should one arise. "Tell Nathan's Daddy if you feel funny, ok?" This starts at a young age and is a developing process, for sure. It's important that kids feel confident about speaking up about their allergies, and are ok declining foods, etc. Give them the power to protect themselves!
5. Leave clear contact information for you, and be specific about who they should contact first (you, 9-1-1) if an emergency did arise.
For the Host Parents:
1. Don't panic! Though food allergies are scary, they don't have to be a barrier to having your child's friend over.
2. Be clear about asking parents whether you're able to serve food (and which foods) to the child. Allergens can be sneaky (dairy isn't always called milk, sometimes it's whey or casein), so if you're serving anything, run it by the parents first. And be aware that cross-contamination is a threat, too, so an open jar of jam may host remnants of peanut butter . . . best not to serve items like this.
3. Clear away any potential allergens before the guest arrives and clean the areas where contamination may have happened.
4. Make sure you're clear on when and how to administer any emergency medications that may be required.
5. Write down any details about which you're a little unclear. In an emergency, it's always better to be overprepared. And this way, the next time you invite this friend over, you'll have the whole drill down pat!
Hope these tips help ease the stress on both sides of the playdate equation. You're on your own when it comes to behaviour problems at playdates, though. I can't help you there.
Want to learn more? Here are 11 Food Allergy Myths Debunked! And here's a great list of books about severe allergies you can read to your kids.
Yesterday, the Ottawa Sun reported that a two-year-old girl who attends a Barrhaven daycare centre has been suspended for three days for bringing a cheese sandwich into the facility. The headline is rather alarmist, isn't it? It insinuates that the child is somehow at fault, but we all know it's a rare toddler who's already making their lunches (wouldn't that be great, though?).
In order to protect children with anaphylactic allergies who attend the centre, parents are made aware at registration of Centre de l'enfant aux 4 Vente's strict no outside food policy. Despite being aware of said policy, toddler Faith Murray's father Randy feels it is an unfair and excessive rule. Says Mr. Murray, "They freaked out. If I got a warning, I'd admit my mistake and move on. But it seems they want to penalize the parents. There's no logic to it. I'm going to the media because I think people have to speak up when something's fishy."
Hmm, so let me get this straight, Mr. Murray—you signed your children up for a daycare centre that has a strict policy regarding outside food (which was reiterated to all parents as recently as January), yet you chose to break the rules and are now complaining that the rules are too harsh and the repercussions unfair? How does that work, exactly?
Since starting this blog, my opinions regarding outright food bans in schools have somewhat changed, that is true. But in a private setting where children as young as infants are involved, I believe bans are a smart way to protect the kids who haven't yet developed the ability to protect themselves. And regardless, this parent totally ignored the rules of the centre in which his kids are registered. So, who's to blame here? To me, this isn't really about allergies, but about one man's mission to break the rules without consequence. I say the blame is all on this parent, but I'd love to hear what others think.
Is it acceptable to go against the rules of the daycare your kids go to, just because you think they're unfair? Or is it our obligation, as parents, to follow the rules we signed up with and agreed to?