"We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say "It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem." Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes."
— Fred Rogers
For children across North America, Valentine’s Day means classroom parties with boxes and buckets filled with candy-laced valentines. But for children with food allergies, food-focused holidays can leave them feeling anxious and isolated. Parents of allergic children are left to negotiate a safe environment with those who may not be familiar with the reality of food allergies. With this in mind, I’ve prepared the following list with some key points that teachers and parents should know about food allergic children.
1. Food Allergies Can Be Fatal. Children with food allergies have had severe and even fatal reactions from trace amounts. Children have died consuming foods served with utensils that were cross contaminated with traces of milk or peanut.
2. May Contain… Any food can be an allergen, yet in the United States, only the eight major allergens have to be labeled. In addition, a product can be processed on lines with potent allergens like peanuts or tree nuts and the warning labels (i.e. “may contain”) are voluntary.
3. Where Will It End? Once an allergic reaction starts, there is no way to tell how it will progress. A mild reaction can progress to a life-threatening one within minutes. There is no way to predict the course of any allergic reaction.
4. Balancing Act We realize you’ve known other parents whose child had a “mild peanut allergy” and that child was allowed to eat “X” or do “X” so you believe that is safe. They may have been lucky! We allergy parents take the utmost care in balancing our child’s need for safety with her need to live a “normal” life. There are no do-overs here, so please trust our judgment.
5. The Way We Were We were once adults who helped themselves from anything that looked good on the buffet table, and often we were the parent who was happy when someone handed our child a free cookie from the bakery counter. We understand that you may see us as anxious and over-the-top, but we live in a different reality than you do. So when we ask our child to politely decline your homemade cookies, it’s not personal. Until you live in the allergy world, or very close to it, you can’t imagine the myriad of ways that an innocent food can become deadly for someone with food allergies.
6. Sticky Fingers To you, a classroom party is all about fun so you don’t see why you can’t tape those adorable peanut butter hearts to your daughter’s valentines. To us, classroom parties are a minefield of unsafe treats, with twenty 6-year-olds with sticky fingers contaminating desks, pencils and books. Even if an allergic child doesn’t mistakenly eat an allergenic food, there is still a risk of him putting a trace amount into his mouth or eyes which can cause a reaction.