I wanted to share a story with you since I know that many of us worry about teaching our kids to handle their allergies on their own. When your little one is diagnosed with severe food allergies (usually this happens at a very young age)it can be difficult to imagine them ever managing it on their own.
From personal experience as well as what others share with me, I've found that teaching a child to manage the allergy should begin immediately. Obviously you don't want to scare a tiny child with too many details, but emphasizing "safe" and "unsafe" foods and teaching kids how and what to avoid is something you can do right away. Two really good resources for helping you to do this are the Beyond a Peanut flashcards and the young children's book "Ally the Allergic Elephant" by Nicole Smith (who I met recently, along with her awesome teen son, Morgan.)
My family used these resources as well as positive encouragement and reinforcement with my daughter from the time we knew of her allergy at age 4. Her own memory of her severe allergic reaction (that clued us into the fact that she had an allergy at all) certainly keeps her on track, but our family's consistency with regard to managing the allergy has also helped. Like many of you, I've often felt like a broken record, repeating myself over and over, but now that my daughter is 11 years old, she's taken over a lot of the ownership of her allergy management.
Case in point: This past weekend, my daughter attended a Taylor Swift concert with her cousins in Detroit. Since the concert was held at Ford Field (a football stadium) of course peanuts were being sold by vendors. Luckily, there weren't a lot of peanuts around her seating area, and it was nowhere near as "peanutty" as a baseball game, but she told me later that she was a little concerned.
Since we knew this would probably be an issue, she asked to eat before going to the concert and while there, only ordered a Coke. Let me tell you, she could have cared less about eating at the concert. It was her first "grownup" concert so it was all about Taylor Swift and the experience of seeing her.
What really impressed me was that she was careful to only order a "bottled" Coke from a vendor at a stationary location in the arena. Why? She noticed that the vendors selling food/drinks in the stands were serving peanuts as well as "open," already-poured drinks and she didn't want to risk the cross contact. This was something she spotted on her own and brought up without prompting. She was right to be concerned because the vendor-sold items did carry a risk that was better to avoid altogether. She also carried her own hand wipes and cleaned her hands--you can't have too many hand wipes when out and about with a food allergy.
Do I wish she didn't have to be so concerned? Of course. But this kind of proactive thinking (along with eating before the show) is what's going to keep her safe and healthy as she moves to even more independence. It wasn't a big deal to her--by now, it's just part of life and it doesn't faze her.
This is such a great point for a child to reach. It doesn't mean I don't worry anymore, but since I can see her making the right choices, I feel good about her doing things on her own.
For those of you who have very young kids facing food allergies, just keep playing the "cracked record" and one day, your kids will be telling you how they can stay safe.
And that's a huge point to reach, because let's face it: no one is going to be as concerned about food allergies as you are (or your kids are). They have to self-advocate and the sooner they learn, the better for everyone.