As I mentioned in my previous post, education is your best tool to ensure your child doesn't suffer from an inadvertent allergic reaction. I've talked a little about educating your child. The next step is to teach all the other people who come into contact with your child about their food allergies and the necessary precautions needed to prevent an allergic reaction.
I've discovered over the last few years that my daughter, Meredith, understands more about food allergies than most adults do. Before Meredith was diagnosed, I certainly fell into that category. Dealing with food allergies is an everyday mindset that has to be learned. Even though you may tell another parent or caregiver that your child has food allergies, it doesn't mean they comprehend every nuance of the situation. I've found that it's always best to get specific about the problem.
Here are five things I've learned that help:
1. Explain the severity of the food allergy. Meredith is allergic to milk and eggs. When I've told that to people, many times they would start telling me about someone they know that has lactose intolerance -- they think it's the same thing. I then explain the difference between food intolerances and food allergies. Most people understand what a peanut allergy is and so I tell them that Meredith has the same reaction when exposed to milk, and her allergy can cause hives and vomiting.
2. Make a list of foods your child can and can't eat. I almost always pack my daughter's lunch for school, but I still recommend giving a list to the teacher of things your child can and can't eat. If you give detailed examples, it helps the teacher or caregiver comprehend the magnitude of the problem.
3. Educate your child's classmates. It also helps to educate the other students in your child's class. There are several children's books available now that put food allergies into terms that other kids can understand. A few of these books are available at the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) website, www.foodallergy.org. If the students understand your child has a food allergy, it will help prevent any "food-swap" situations at the lunch table.
4. Carry "safe snacks" for special occasions. Another good habit to develop is to always having a "safe" snack in your child's bag whenever you go somewhere. That way, if there's an impromptu celebration at daycare, or snacks in Sunday school, then your child doesn't feel left out. To help reduce the possibility of such an occurrence, you may want to type up a short note to send home with each member of your child's class. The note can contain your contact information and an explanation of your child's condition. Ask the parents to give you a call and let you know if they plan to bring a treat to school for a birthday party or special occasion so you can make sure you send something to school for your child that is comparable. Don't put the burden on another parent to send a "safe" snack to school for your child. Let them know you'll handle it, and all you're asking them to do is call you. Most parents are more than happy to accommodate.