Friday, November 5, 2010

Food Allergies and Friends

I've been dealing with food allergies and play dates for a long time now and I have to say the awareness has grown with regards to parents and other kids. Food seems to be a big part of play dates (is it me or are we feeding kids ALL the time--school, especially seems more food-centric than when I was a kid) so often this topic comes up for us. "What is "safe" to eat?" is one of the most frequent questions I get and I'm guessing it's the same for all of you. Usually I either OK foods beforehand by physically inspecting the labels or my daughter just brings her own snack or treat.

Today, I encountered another aspect of food allergies and play dates and that is how to walk a fine line between awareness and fear on the part of your child's hosts. For example, my daughter got an invite from one of her good friends this morning but her buddy was worried about the food being served. I don't think it's the case with this friend, but I wondered if worries about food had prevented others from inviting my child to play dates or parties. It's probably happened. After all, parents are busy and preoccupied to begin with. If they don't understand that food allergies are manageable provided (relatively simple) precautions are taken, they may want to avoid a child with this condition for fear of making them ill. I get this, but it doesn't have to be this way.

I want others to be concerned about food allergies, but not paralyzed by fear. It's hard to get a happy medium when you send your food-allergic child to someone else's home: either they seem way too relaxed or so freaked out that you feel uncomfortable for everyone concerned.

The way to combat either extreme is education. I realized that I need to do a better job of communicating with other parents about my daughter. A frank and honest discussion about risks and things to avoid is needed, but so is a reassurance that it will be OK if precautions are taken. I've always done this initially, but I realized that others may need some follow up reassurance. After all, food allergies are serious, and the more others hear about them in the news, the more the come up on people's radar. We need to keep the discussion ongoing.

Is it a big deal if my daughter brings a treat to share in case it's needed? Not at all, and that's another solution. Send some food with your child each time they visit a friend and then the other family doesn't bear the burden. They will appreciate it, believe me.

Even better--does every social interaction require your child to eat? Not really. Obviously food is a big part of social interaction and that's why I recommend that your child brings a treat if they like. But frankly, with childhood obesity on the rise, everyone is eating too much anyway. Focusing on fun and not always food is a good option and one that I try to emphasize. As I told my daughter's friend on the phone, "She will be happy to spend time with you, that's the important thing."

How do you cope with this problem? What works for you or what are you willing to try? Let us know.


dannyscotland said...

I am SO lucky that my daughter's little "friends" (she's really too little to have real friends yet) have amazing and understanding parents (they are *my* friends). Two different people made sure that the birthday cake served at their son/daughter's parties was nut free...just because of my daughter! I was really touched, and made sure they knew how very much that meant to me, but also told them it wasn't necessary for them to worry like that. But that's just how they are. Really, really great friends. I guess I'll be dealing with families of my daughter's friends soon enough, though.

Minivan Mama said...

I never realized how much our social culture revolves around food until my daughter was diagnosed with food allergies. Managing at home isno problem but every playdate, school function, party includes food. With that said, I have been amazed at friends and teachers that go above and beyond to help keep her safe and included in the activities. I just try to always be prepared with safe food and offer to bring snacks when possible.

Pierrette and Lorna dEntremont said...

My 7yr old granddaughter has a friend the same age with severe allergies to MANY foods. She has an epipen with her at all times. When I babysit and her friend comes over to play, her mom sends a lunch box with her 'allowed' foods. She stays over for meals (eating her own food) and all is well and the kids continue playing for a few more hours.To find your site I googled Special need news and your site came up under allergies. Lorna d'Entremont

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your article. My son is a little anxious about his playdate coming up. But we read your article together and I think it helped. He is bringing his own snack to share. Thank you for your reassurance and suggestions!

Jenny said...

Meeting other families who want to help is truly heartwarming and very appreciated. I always make a point of thanking them and offering to host their child.