Raising children is a group effort. Whether you’re tag-teaming this parenting gig with a partner or you’re a single parent, there are other adults in your child’s life influencing their growth and development. Teachers, coaches, the neighbor that takes a moment to check in with your child from time to time, aunts and uncles, grandparents, the list can get to be quite lengthy. Even those with a passing presence (or lack of presence) in a child’s life can influence their perspective on the world.
When you’re raising a child with food allergies, your squad of adult influencers can also impact how safe and confident your child is when food is on the table. For some of those individuals, however, food allergies are brand new territory. They may be skeptical. They may not fully understand the risks inherent in being exposed to food allergens. They may mean well but know enough to keep your child safe. So what do you do?
Be honest. Before your child was diagnosed with food allergies, you did not know all the minute details of allergy management that you know today. Aunt Mabel’s ignorance may be terrifying to you today – and rightfully so – but her assumption that simply pulling the almonds out of the salad is enough may not have seemed so odd to you in the days before food allergies became your reality.
Don’t assume everyone is coming to the table with the same experience and knowledge you have today. Remember what you knew before you had to know all you do today and start from there.
Teach with Patience
Yes, it’s scary when someone’s lack of understanding can put your child’s life at risk, but try to remain calm when teaching others how to keep your child safe. Emotional responses can put others on the defensive and shut down constructive conversation. Take a deep breath before responding and maintain your composure.
Focus on Facts. Refer to Experts.
State what accommodations your child requires and support the request with facts. Share research and information from reputable allergy experts. Your mother-in-law may try to suggest you’re overreacting when you ask her not to kiss her cuddly grandson after she’s eaten his allergens.
She might think twice, however, after reading that her little peck on the cheek could trigger localized hives and discomfort in Sloan Miller’s interview with Dr. Dave Stukus. Stukus is, after all, the director of the Food Allergy Treatment Center at Nationwide Children’s, a professor focusing on Clinical Pediatrics from the perspective of allergies and immunology , and holds multiple leadership positions in the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. It’s hard to argue with those credentials.
Keep It Real
This one is important and it requires you to do your own due diligence, to speak with your allergist, and to understand that fine line between respecting your child’s allergies and fearing them. Understand what your child needs to be safe. Not what makes you feel less fearful.
What does she actually need to be safe? What accommodations would make things easier for you and her but are not necessary? What accommodations are more about a sense of security without any real measurable benefit over other adaptations? What are the things you absolutely cannot compromise on?
Understand that list and then stand firm on the things you simply cannot budge on while compromising on the things you can.
Some people, no matter how patient and clear you are, just aren’t willing or able to accommodate your child’s needs. It’s okay to say no to these people. “No, we will not attend your family BBQ this weekend. We would be happy to see you at another time when meals are not involved, but for our allergic child’s safety, we just can’t attend this particular gathering.”
It’s okay to say “No, thank you” when they offer to babysit for you or they offer up a snack your child simply can’t consume. Don’t worry about hurting their feelings by refusing. Be calm. Be courteous. Be firm.
Have a Plan
You really don’t want to miss your dad’s retirement party. You’ve talked with your mom about the menu and you have an idea of what your child will be able to eat and what they’ll be better off avoiding before you even get there. Your mom is a food allergy ally and she’s got a freezer full of safe food options for her grandkids just in case you need them. You can also pack a few snacks and treats you know your kids will enjoy safely. Double check you’ve got the auto-injectors and have a plan to keep them in close proximity to your child at all times.
If your kids are older, make sure they are aware of what they can have and what they can’t. Empower them to speak up and say no thanks when they need to. If they’re younger, have a plan as to who is going to be watching over them throughout the evening to ensure they aren’t accepting treats from well-meaning guests who are unaware of their allergic needs. You can do this and you can do it successfully if you plan for it.