|Chocolate is high-risk for nut allergies, so be careful.|
Personally, I've found that advance preparation cuts down on stress (you, your child, the teacher, other parents) and risk (your child). Here are five suggestions for handling a Valentine's Day party in your child's classroom:
1. Give the teacher a heads-up today. Don't wait until the week of, or even a few days before. Speak to the teacher, send an e-mail, pick up the phone, your choice, but make it a point to find out what is going on with regard to food. Does food have to be offered? What about a game, a craft or a story? If food is going to be present and you can't avoid it, offer to send in a safe treat and then emphasize that your child sticks to that and that only. If your child has a health plan that prevents food in the classroom, check to be sure this is going to be upheld. You'd be surprised at how many parents simply show up with cupcakes and dump them on a teacher. Work with the school so that you can figure out solutions to these inevitable hiccups that occur on party day.
School administrators can help, too. For example, our school has a no treats or gifts policy on Valentine's Day. (This is for many reasons, not just food allergies). The principal sent out a note detailing this policy to all the parents.
2. Check the crafts. Are any edible crafts being done or is food being used for inedible crafts? Ask now. Crafts using certain foods are a bad idea with food-allergic kids in the class unless everyone is on the same page about what is safe and what isn't. So why go there? Suggest an alternative craft if you must. The store Michael's has tons of craft ideas; so does Target and other discount stores. You can find crafts for Valentine's Day online, too. Check out this link from Parents magazine: http://www.parents.com/holiday/valentines-day/crafts/kid-friendly-valentines-day-crafts/ This link has a few crafts involving foods--skip those or find safe versions, whatever works best for the kids in your classroom. There are several creative food-free ideas here.
3. Be careful of candy in/taped on the actual Valentine. People love to attach candy to valentines. It's cute, no doubt, but can be hazardous to a kid with food allergies. Instruct your child not to eat candy on their Valentine and alert the teacher so that they can be on the lookout for this.
4. Role play with your child. This may be the most important point. It's never too early to teach a child to refuse food. Our rule has always been: "When in doubt, do without." Teach your child to be polite but firm when offered food that may not be safe. This would pretty much include all candy and baked goods you have not sent to school, but pretzels, chips and popcorn brands can also be unsafe. Our daughter has always refused food since she we knew of her allergy and I truly believe it has helped her remain safe and strong when the topic of potentially hazardous food arises.
5. Promise your child a safe treat after school. It's hard to be a little kid (or even an older kid) turning away candy or treats at a party. It might make it easier if you inform your child they will have something good waiting either after school or later that evening. It doesn't have to be food, but if you're looking for some nut-free Valentine's Day treats, check out my post about online V-Day resources and supermarket finds.