Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Parenting a Child with Life-Threatening Allergies: My Very Best Piece of Advice

As the new year begins, I’ve been thinking about the best advice that I can give to parents who are wondering what they can do for their child to help keep them safe and reaction-free. After a lot of thought, this is it: Teach your kids to self-manage their allergies and be their own best advocates.

Please let me clarify: others need to know, too. Relatives, friends and schools MUST be educated on food allergy realities and risks. Young kids who can't advocate and/or understand must be protected.

However, as kids grow up and go out in the world, it's up to us to prepare them to live with their allergies. In the end, it all comes down to the individual: what they ingest, the choices they make and the understanding they have about allergies.

I've got a kid with severe, anaphylactic allergies attending high school next fall and I've been where many of you are now. Elementary school had its fair share of challenges and middle school, with its increasing independence gave us a few more, like our first overnight, several-hours-away field trip with the class. Oh, and her friends are all going out to eat on their own now, too. It's now my daughter's job to check out a restaurant, speak up there and if need be, avoid the place.

 The only reason I have ever felt comfortable with any of it is because I have worked with my daughter over the years, she's invested in her own health and I trust her to make the right decisions. Thank goodness, she is very strong and confident in avoiding what she needs to avoid and speaking up when she needs to speak up. Is it always fun or comfortable for her? No, of course not. But it's necessary and she knows this. Her attitude of taking charge of her allergies also means that she can do most things that she wants to do.

When she was young, I spoke up for her, paved the way and did everything I could to ensure a safe, healthy environment that was also emotionally healthy. I like to think that what I did helped her learn that its OK to take charge of allergies; in fact, not only OK but a vital part of our lives.

How do you get to this point? Prepare kids, but don't SCARE them. Not always easy, I know, but there are ways (see below). Your pediatrician or allergist is also a great resource here as they discuss (privately!) the ways you can teach your child, depending on their age and level of development.

Below are some strategies that I have found to be helpful when teaching kids self-management of allergies:

Teach your child to use their epinephrine auto-injectors. De-mystify those things as soon as you can and emphasize that if your child is in trouble, this device is their friend. Let them use the practice injectors as much as possible. My own child really likes the Auvi-Q with its voice instructions and shorter dosage time (5 seconds in the thigh as opposed to 10).

Take your child to the grocery store and read food labels together. Obviously take age and development into account but if you have a young reader or pre-reader, this is a great thing to do. To this day my daughter is a more effective label-reader than I am (but she's got young, sharp eyes, too. :))

Discuss cross-contact and why its difficult to know what is in a food prepared in someones home, or without a label.

Emphasize the "when in doubt, do without" rule. The golden rule of food allergies!  If you have questions about a food and you can't determine the answers, teach your child to just skip it. My favorite rule, ever. Just remind the kiddos, nobody wants to go to the hospital over a cookie or a piece of candy. If you're a really prepared parent, you've probably got a "safe" replacement with you, anyway.

Offer to have the kids work with you in the kitchen. Even little ones can do simple tasks like washing a vegetable or fruit. One of the unfortunate side-effects of food allergies is that some kids may become afraid of all food--and you definitely don't want that. Show them that there are still lots of good things to eat by having them help you cook.

Speak up in a restaurant with food allergy questions and let your child hear what you are asking and the answers you receive. If they are old enough, have them do the asking. It might be scary for kids at first, but once they get used to doing it, it really can increase their ability to dine out safely. Speaking up also teaches kids what types of establishments they may need to avoid.

Explain how to prevent allergic reactions using simple things like washing hands.

What it boils down to is incorporating food allergy management into your child's everyday life so that they come to learn that this is just the way they need to do things. Then, it becomes less of a big deal, it becomes part of your child's routine and once they are more independent, they will have to tools to navigate life more safely.

One note: If you ever think your child is getting overanxious about allergies and it's interfering with living their life or preventing them from doing things that could be done safely, then please read one of my blog's most popular posts featuring expert input from a therapist that treats kids with food allergies. 

Here is one of my most popular posts that deals with the topic of teaching kids to manage their peanut/tree nut allergy. Lots of good links in this one, too.

For more nut-allergy parenting help, check out my e-book, an Amazon bestseller on this topic, so thanks to all of you!

Valentine's Day!

It's coming up and yes, that means unsafe candy will be a factor. Still, if you are prepared, this is a fun holiday, even with food allergies. Check back to the blog soon about safe, nut-free Valentine's Day ideas. In the meantime, click this link for nut-free Valentine's Day candy ideas found at the supermarket, and this link for online nut-free Valentine's Day candy and sweet treats resources. If you're a Pinner, be sure to follow me on Pinterest: I've got a board for Nut-Free Valentine's Day with recipes and craft ideas.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Nut Allergy Resources for the New Year -- and My Thanks!

I want to wish all of you a very Happy New Year! I would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has read my blog, bought my e-book and commented on the blog in the past several years -- I so appreciate your readership, product tips and other info that you share to help others in our shoes. Your readership and support has made my blog an award-winning blog and my book one of the top sellers on Amazon in the allergy genre, so thank you! I am truly humbled and gratified if these resources have helped guide you as you learn to adapt to life with a severe peanut and/or tree nut allergy.

Thanks also to everyone who has given me positive feedback. My most recent example is the mom who said she found my blog and was 'in tears' because I was describing experiences and situations she was very familiar with. I started this blog to help parents and caregivers feel less alone while also providing practical tips for everyday life, especially important when you are just starting out with a nut allergy diagnosis.

2014 marks the beginning of the sixth year of my blog -- can you believe it? -- and I've written more than 600 posts about the many aspects of living with and dealing with a life-threatening nut allergy. If you'd like to search those posts, check out the "search bar" in the upper left corner of the blog and enter a key word like "school" or "nut-free recipe." You will find a list of blog posts on your topic. Just a reminder: this blog is not for medical advice, but for the social, emotional and every day aspects of living with food allergies. For medical info, always ask your doctor.

Here are some popular posts from my blog to get your started as we begin the new year:

New Year, New Nut Allergy Diagnosis?

Have you received a nut allergy diagnosis in the past year? Here's an article that describes some of the things I've found to be most helpful in helping your child, family and yourself learn to adapt.

New Year's Nut Allergy Checklist

Are you halfway through the school year with a child who has a severe peanut and/or tree nut allergy? Then you'll want to review this checklist to help you plan the rest of your healthy, happy school year. Click here to read the complete article.

In this article, I talk about updating your prescriptions, so check out this helpful info about epinephrine auto-injectors that I found by following food allergy advocate and author Linda Coss on Twitter.  EpiPen (R) and Auvi-Q (TM) are both continuing their "zero co-pay" offers in 2014. Sign up to download your coupons at and Thanks for sharing, Linda! For those of you who haven't tried the Auvi-Q yet, here's a post I wrote after we got our Auvi-Q device.

If you're looking for nut-free recipes, nut allergy articles and the like in a really easy-to-use format, I hope you'll check out my Pinterest page. Lots of good stuff there and tons of recipes, school lunch ideas, holiday stuff -- check it out and then follow me! Here's a direct link to my nut allergy resources board, but I've got lots of others, too -- (not all boards are allergy-related, so scroll through the list to find the ones that suit you best.) You might want to also try my Nut-Free School Lunches board and Nut-Free Recipes. I have holiday boards too, so keep checking back as I add more recipes and ideas.

Nut Allergy Guidance for Parents and Caregivers

Based on years of my own experience, my e-book provides parents and caregivers with answers and guidance on some of your top questions. Written from the perspective of a parent in your situation (yours truly), "The New Nut-Free Mom: A Crash Course in Caring for Your Child with Nut Allergies" is short, concise and compassionate. Available for download via the Kindle, the Nook, to your iPad or tablet and more. Click here to find out how to get this helpful guide.

Happy New Year!! As you prepare to face the new challenges of 2014, I wish you all the best!