Whenever asking for alternative arrangements to socializing — due to your child's nut allergy — feels bold and uncomfortable, remember that it’s for the benefit and safety of your child. Nothing else matters. The people who love you will want to go out of their way to be inclusive. They’ll want to learn as much as they can so that they can make you and your family feel as safe as possible.
Food allergies are growing. And the number of people allergic to nuts is growing. When you feel alone, remember that you aren’t. That’s why we’ve created this community! We’re all in this together.
Researchers don't know what has caused the rise in peanut allergies, but according to a study from the Jaffe Food Allergy Institutes at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital, and featured in a 2018 CNBC article Why Peanut Reactions Have Become ‘Almost Epidemic’—and What to Do about Food Allergies, peanut allergies have tripled from 1-in-250 children to 1-in-70 between 1997 and 2008. Peanuts are the second most common allergen, and they’re the allergen that’s most likely to cause anaphylaxis.
As your child gets older they are likely to want a little more freedom in their playdates. That means leaving them in the care of other parents, who may or may not be educated on allergies or allergic reactions. Talking to and educating other parents about your child’s allergy will be important. You’ll become more comfortable with the process over time, but here are some things we recommend if you’re just starting out to keep as a sort of checklist.
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1. Create an In Case of Emergency Resource That’s Printable and Shareable
Discuss what to do in case of an allergic reaction or in case of anaphylactic shock with your allergist. Create a written plan. Then, create a shareable resource that you can print copies of and pass around to your child’s social group. You can ask your allergist for help in creating your personalized emergency plan or, you can simply create one yourself based on their recommendations.
A great resource to get you started is the printable Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan PDF by FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education).
I recommend creating a written plan explaining what to do and how to recognize symptoms of anaphylaxis so that every parent of your child’s friend group can understand what to look for. Because it’s important to respond to an allergic reaction as quickly as possible, the parents need to know the difference between mild symptoms and severe symptoms. Once you create your written emergency plan, give it to every parent in your child’s social scene and ask that these parents to read it over once and come back to you with any questions they might have. Create a dialogue, and invite the friend of your child in on how to help protect their friend. Ask the parents to hold on to your folder or informational packet so that they can keep it as a reference point, in case of an emergency.
2. Provide Your Child with a Portable Emergency Kit
I think it’s really important to have your child wear a medical ID bracelet at all times that communicates any vital information straight away. This N-Style ID Medical Alert Bracelet (Amazon) comes with free engraving and comes in a variety of band styles to make your child’s ID bracelet feel less isolating and more of a fashion statement. I like this type of bracelet because the fabric will wear over time instead of snapping or breaking easily. But if the idea of a silicone bracelet is more appealing to you — if your child spends a lot of time in water, if they’re involved in sports, or if you’re looking for something that will be extra gentle on sensitive skin, take a look at this Silicone Medical Alert Bracelet by BBX JEWELRY (Amazon) which comes with free engraving, or this completely waterproof band by Reminderband (Amazon) which also has free customization. It’s nice when you let your child get involved in picking out their own band style so they feel like it’s a part of their expression. Hopefully it can become something your child is excited about wearing, and not just something they know they have to wear.
I recommend telling parents not to treat your young child to food from any restaurants, period. But if they must ask them to go only to pre-approved restaurants after they call you for permission and you know where they’re going. Create a restaurant card that your child can carry with them that directly communicates their allergies in writing. Laminate it.
If you don’t have a laminator at wherever you work you can buy a personal laminator (Amazon). I recommend carrying an allergy card whenever you take your child out to eat too. It’s nice to have their allergies states directly in writing for the chef to reference. I think it also helps them understand the severity of your child’s allergy. I would recommend for you to make your own and have it laminated, but there are a few free templates available to you to help you get started. This Chef Card Template instant download PDF is provided by FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education). Pfizer's EpiPen Severe Allergy Restaurant Card Template is a similar printable option.
If you know you’re going to travel, translate the information on your card to whatever language you need to and have it checked so that you don’t have to rely on a verbal translation of critical information.
Also, don’t forget that recipes in restaurants can change. Ask about your allergies every time, and always give the card anyway. You can use a wallet sized card, or, create a postcard sized card! Create a whole 8 x 10 card if you want to. You want the information to be easy to read.
Items to Keep in Your Child's Care Kit
3. Pre-Prep for Birthdays & Holiday Parties
Any time there’s a party with snacks involved, you’ll want to reach out to the adult host ahead of time to inform them of your child’s allergies. If it’s at all possible for the birthday party to turn into a nut free party, ask. If not, depending on the severity of your child’s allergy, ask the host to provide a nut free eating table.
If your child is attending a birthday party, it’s likely that the host child has looked forward to picking a specific flavor of their cake and won’t want to adapt. If the host family is interested in adapting, great! But if it’s not a nut free friendly recipe, it can feel isolating if you simply ask your child not to join in with the rest of their friends. Keep in mind your child probably won’t be able to eat the birthday cake. If your child has a severe allergy, you might be worried about possible cross-contamination. If the host parent isn’t fully informed, they might not understand the difference between something that is nut free and something that is made in a dedicated nut free facility. It's best not taking chances. Providing your child with a nut free snack that you know will be completely safe is well worth the peace of mind. Consider arming your child with some nut free birthday cupcakes that they can share as a gift to the host family and the other party-goers. Talk to the parents of the birthday host to inform them you’ll be doing this ahead of time so that they understand it’s for safety reasons.
The same concept goes for any type of party or gathering that includes shareable snacks. Prepare ahead of time by planning out which snack you would like your child to bring as a gift to the host and other party-goers. Explain the severity of your child's allergy and don’t assume parents of children who don’t have allergies understand the risks. Make sure your child takes their emergency kit with them, and have a heart to heart conversation with your child before and after so that they know what to expect if the children around them will be eating snacks that include nuts, and so that they can share their emotions with you on whether they felt included or excluded.
After the party is over, it’s a nice gesture to send a thank you card to the host family for spending their time speaking with you and attempting to make adaptations to their party so that your child felt as safe and included as possible. They’ll appreciate it as it might have felt overwhelming or scary at first, and it will most likely make them want to do as much as they can to be as inclusive as possible in future get-togethers.
4. Don’t Forget to Address Emotional Inclusivity
Obviously it's important to inform parents about all the ways in which your child’s allergy can be life threatening. After discussing the important information, don’t shy away from any emotional wounds that your child could be facing due to their allergy excluding them from joining in with their friends. Directly inform the parents that your child may be sensitive to jokes if that's the case. It’s not a bad idea to bring this up in parent teacher conferences as well. Don’t hold back from addressing any concerns with your child's teachers, coaches, principals, or counselors.
If you think the school would be receptive, ask your child's school to hold a yearly assembly on the importance and seriousness of food allergies with an emphasis on empathy. Try to get your child’s friends to want to be their “helper”, so they understand why your child carries around a medicine pack, or to remind their friend when they’ve forgotten their medicine bag or their EpiPen on the playground.
5. Host an Annual Nut Free Education Party
I got this next idea from a video that Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago released in 2012: What I Wish You Knew About My Food Allergies. One of the children interviewed in the video said their mother hosted an annual party to educate their friends on how they could be of help if she were to ever have an allergic reaction. Her and her friends would practice how to use an epipen with expired epipens and oranges. Depending on the age of your child, I think it could be a fun idea!
Educating your child’s close friends will give your child support at school, in times when you won’t be able to be there. Explain how allergic reactions can be severe — from brain damage to death. And if your child has a severe allergy, explain how it happens. Explain cross-contamination and how if someone opens a packet of nuts on a train or bus, it could trigger an allergic reaction. If empowered with education your children’s friends will speak up for your child and that will make your child feel less alone. Your children’s friends need to know how to help their friend so they can make your child feel protected. If they understand, they’ll want to know how they can be an ally. You could rehearse emergency situations and invite parents to the party too. If possible create little gift baskets of tasty nut free snacks and with any luck they’ll enjoy them so much that they’ll start keeping them on hand for when your child visits.
Where to Go From Here Regarding Your Child's Nut Allergy
As your child ages, the relationship between your family and the families of your children's friends will deepen. It's likely your child will keep the same friend group for years to come. What might start out as an uncomfortable conversation will be well worth the lifelong friendships and inclusion your child will feel. The longer your child is friends with a particular family, the more aware and inclusive that family will become. Overtime, they’ll probably become an advocate for your child and start educating other families on everything you teach them in these early day conversions. Empowering other parents with knowledge lets them become a part of the conversation. Remember, these families will want you to keep their child safe too. The desire for a long term relationship that prioritizes the safety of each other’s children will go both ways.
The relationship between you and your child’s school district will also deepen over time. Don’t be shy about blazing a trail. The next generation of families to children with life threatening allergies will be so thankful for your advocacy.