Devan McGuinness: Life (Un)Restricted


Misconceptions About Food Allergies

7 Things You Need To Stop Saying

Before I had children, the world of food allergies was far from my mind. I had heard about people who got sick from being near peanut butter, and really didn't give much thought to it. For school, I was allowed to pack whatever I wanted—there was no peanut or nut ban, and I never understood why people made such a big deal about it.

When my kids started school and their diet changed to remove their own food-offending items, learning that their school was totally peanut- and nut-free was not difficult for me to understand. While my children don't have issues with peanuts or nuts, gluten is a real concernbut not immediately life-threatening, like peanut allergies often are.

It is easy to look past something when it is not something that you need to worry about. If your children don't have allergies, understanding the need for such a widespread food ban may be hard to understand, but certainly not difficult. The following are common phrases that I hear parents say when they're faced with food allergies, which may not personally affect them:

1) "They should just sit at their own table."

A few years ago, and for many schools still, children with peanut or other food allergies were forced to sit at their own table, apart from the possible offending foods. It was the way it was done. Today, many more schools are placing a school-wide ban on certain food items, like peanuts, which are not allowed in the school or anyone's lunch. While I can see how this may be a struggle for a family who has never had to concern themselves with reading through ingredients, the idea of segregation is not the answer. The separate table puts a target on the children with allergies, pulls them away from their friend circle, and many kids find it embarrassing. 

2) "Why do I have to modify for other kids' issues?"

There are many people who can't seem to look past their own situation. Would you want to send your child to school knowing that they could die from the smallest amount of a certain food product? I am going to go out on a limb and saynot likely. While these bans may be a slight inconvenience when you have to slap a piece of cheese into a sandwich instead of peanut butter, it is certainly not a big deal in comparison to those kids who could be seriously injured or die. 

3) "It can't be that bad!"

It can be hard to understand that a small bread crumb or smelling peanut butter can be as threatening as a loaded gun for some children, but it's true. Most parents aren't trying to overplay the serious situation, and children for certain are not playing it up to be larger than it is. Just because you may not understand it, does not make it untrue.

4) "The parents are just so strict!"

I've heard this from doctors and other adults when I talk about the dietary restrictions my children are on. It's not about being strict for the sake of making up my own rules, but when it comes to food allergies and my kids' safety, you better believe that I am going to follow the necessary precautions and be that strict with others doing the same. It's far more than any control issue, though.

5) "They can just stay home, not my problem."

I worry about my daughter not being invited out to places when she grows up, because of her dietary restrictions. So far this hasn't been an issue, but there are people who are under the impression that it's easier to not invite someone than to modify what they're doing or serving.

6) "They will outgrow it."

You know, it can happen and it has for some kids, but this is not always the case. There are people who believe that allergies are developed because of over-strict parents who don't "expose" their children to certain foods. It's not likely the case, and while some kids could outgrow the allergy, it certainly doesn't make it any less serious now.

7) "They will need to live in the real world someday."

This one drives me the most crazy, and I hear it often when it comes to food allergies. Parents don't or can't understand the serious reason many schools are placing a nut-ban on the entire school. People compare it to sheltering kids and making things easier for the families with allergies, while making things harder for the families who are allergy-free. But it's not about sheltering, it's about keeping kids safe. Kids don't know everything they need to know to keep themselves safethey learn it at the pace they learn everything else. It's about safety, not sheltering, and they will grow to "live in the real world," but first they need the safety to be able to learn what they need to know.  

Spill it! Is there something you wish people would stop saying when it comes to food allergies and kids?

Photo credit: adapted from Katie Tegtmeyer / Flickr