Living with food allergies can be scary for anyone, and when you’re a child, the experience can be overwhelming. It can also be an isolating experience for kids. However, it doesn’t have to be. As parents figure out how to make it safely through the worlds their children inhabit, whether it’s home, school or friends’ houses for play dates, the constant challenges can actually make them very savvy. Here are some of their tips, as well as tips from experts, that can help parents navigate the tricky world of food allergies:
1. Focus on the positive
First, focus on what your child can eat, rather than what he or she can’t eat. It’s optimistic, glass-half-full thinking, but it works.
After a child is diagnosed with a food allergy or intolerance, parents walk into the grocery store in despair. They look at all of the foods their children can no longer eat and have no idea what to buy. The Kids with Food Allergies Foundation suggests that parents start with basic, simple foods. Shop the perimeter of the store, they say: buy plain meat, safe fruits and safe vegetables. Then, they add, once you have time to research your child’s food allergy or intolerances a bit more, you can begin to introduce more foods into his or her diet.
When your child is diagnosed with a food allergy, you might be overwhelmed by the amount of information that’s available to you on the internet. Don’t be. All of that information is power. Join online communities that deal with your child’s particular allergy or intolerance so that you can learn as much as possible (for example, these online communities will know everything from which airlines are nut-free to which hotels cater to food intolerances).
3. Talk to your child’s school
Today most schools are sensitive to things like nut allergies and food intolerances. You can even be proactive and design a one-page info sheet to give to the teachers and administrators that details what your child is allergic to, as well as common foods that might contain those things (for example, hidden sources of gluten or peanuts).
4. Educate your babysitter
Once you’ve educated yourself about your child’s allergies, let others know what you’ve learned. Make sure that the person who’s taking care of your child knows about his or her allergies, intolerances, etc. and the severity of the situation. Everything you know, the babysitter should know in order to keep your child safe.
5. Watch out for cross-contamination
If the rest of your family isn’t sticking to the same diet as your child, clearly label the ‘safe’ foods for your child (maybe buy colorful stickers for his food), and keep your ‘contaminated’ foods away from other areas of the house.
6. Wash hands
When you’re out or even when you’re home, if there’s a possibility that your child could come into contact with the foods he’s allergic to, wash his or her hands often. Keep wipes with you in case a bathroom isn’t available.
7. Persistence pays
Always check all ingredients at restaurants or with other parents if your child is visiting friends. For example, if your child has a peanut allergy, you might be surprised to find that some chips are cooked in peanut oil. Also, nut-free’ baked goods may use almond extract, which is sourced from nuts.
8. Bring your own snacks
One thing parents of children with food allergies/food intolerances quickly come to learn is that bringing your own snacks is a great stress reliever. Bake treats that your child can eat, and bring enough for everyone at his next play date. The other moms will probably appreciate not having to make treats. Bring your own allergy-free treats along when you go out shopping or to the movies; this will always be a way to keep yourself from worrying about what’s in those snacks when you go out.
9. Have an action plan
Be ready for emergencies. Teach your child the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Tell them if they experience symptoms after eating a food to call 9-1-1 immediately.
If they have medication to treat their reactions, make sure your child knows where it is and how to take it. Role play every few months so that your child knows what to do if an emergency does occur.
10. Medical alert bracelets
Medical alert necklaces or bracelets save lives. If possible, get your child to wear one. The alert bracelet will identify his or her specific allergy.
If your child has recently been diagnosed with a food allergy or intolerance, these tips may help you and your child breathe easier.