Embedded in my mind forever is my middle son’s first allergic reaction. It launched us into a series of tests and abruptly landed us in the food allergy world. Honestly, prior to this I thought allergies were mostly what we experienced from the yellow cloud of pollen each spring in the south, and the very occasional person who had a peanut allergy. So needless to say, I had a whole lot to learn about how to keep my child safe because his life depended on it.
It can be scary to think that something could be offered as nutritious for one child, but could be deadly for mine. Over the last 16 years I have experienced life with a child who has an anaphylactic food allergy, and it has taught me a few things about how to help him live a full and safe life. There are things learned from my mistakes, some problem-solving, other moms, and hindsight.
As we follow the 3E’s (Enable, Educate, Empower) while raising our child, we will grow more confident in their ability to eat safely and independently manage their food allergies. Marcy Martin #parents #parenthoodTweet
Here are my 3 E’s of raising a child with food allergies:
1. Enable • When our children are younger we do not want food allergies to prevent them from experiencing all the things of childhood. And until our food allergy diagnosis I never realized how much our culture involves food with most all events. While our initial thoughts may be to keep our child in a bubble, the truth is that with a little extra planning we can enable them to participate safely in most childhood experiences.
Below are a few ideas:
- Mark snacks at preschool or church nursery that are safe with a smiley sticker and an X on the ones that are not safe. This makes it easy for caregivers to distinguish safe and unsafe foods. Another option is to pack a snack. But always remind caregivers of the allergy at drop-off or better yet have a written reminder posted somewhere along with access to the action plan.
- Prepare or have on hand food substitutions, and have them readily available for special events. Things like cupcakes for birthday parties or treats for school holiday celebrations. I found that leaving a box or two of allergy-friendly treats at school helped with the unexpected classroom birthday party.
- If you can, find a friend who has the same allergy or another allergy. This way you can ensure that the caregiver understands how to avoid certain allergens. This is the golden ticket and allows for easy play dates!
I think the important thing here is to recognize that while we may have fears about our child having an allergic reaction in different settings, we should try not to pass those fears along to our child. Instead, think of ways to enable them to safely participate in activities and situations that are a typical part of childhood experiences.
2. Educate • Educate ourselves, those caring for our child, and our child.
Early on, our allergist helped us develop an action plan in case of an allergen exposure. An action plan is a printed paper that gives instructions like: first give this antihistamine, if symptoms worsen administer a second dose, if at any point they are struggling to breathe administer the epi-pen and go to the local ER. The plan is always developed by an allergist and is very detailed and specific to our child. The action plan is a great way to remind ourselves what to do, and is an especially helpful educational tool in a situation when a child is not in our care.
Learn and teach the child exactly what they are allergic to. For example: dairy includes milk, whey, butter and cheese. A gluten allergy means avoid any wheat or barley products. And often a severe peanut allergy means all nuts should be avoided due to cross contamination. This is important for our children to know and to be able to articulate. (We will talk more about this under empowering.) Then as soon as they are able to read, teach them how to read an ingredients label on a box. This has become much easier in recent years as most foods now have the allergy Contains: warning in bold type at the bottom of the ingredients list.
Lastly, join social media groups. I have found this to be a great way to discover new restaurants or products that are allergy friendly. It’s a great way to educate yourself and connect with others in similar experiences.
3. Empower • We need to empower our children to speak up to explain their allergy and ask questions in a polite way. Sometimes children outgrow their allergies, but that is not always the case. When a child moves into the teen years they will want more freedom, and if they play sports or do extracurricular activities they will often find themselves eating without a parent nearby.
We can prepare our children and help them know what to do in different situations by guiding them to ask questions and know what questions to ask. Doing this early on and in different situations is a key factor for their empowerment. So, when we are eating out instead of explaining the allergy and asking for an allergen menu ourselves, we can have our child learn to ask the waitress, hostess, or chef. It’s a good idea to teach our children how to look over the menu and think about which items would be free of their allergen or could possibly be modified. Then practice ordering with them prior to the waitress coming over.
There are so many different situations to practice. Some examples include: how to talk to the cooks at the hotel continental breakfasts, how to look up an allergy menu online and order at a restaurant, or to ask to read the ingredients list on a snack box at a friend’s house. If we want to empower our child, we should take advantage of letting them practice in real-life situations when we are there as back up.
As we follow the 3E’s (Enable, Educate, Empower) while raising our children, we will grow more confident in their ability to eat safely and independently manage their food allergies.
Raising a child with food allergies by Marcy Martin #allergies #parentingTweet