Befriending a food allergy family can be tough at first. You’re never really sure how to talk to the parent about their child’s food allergies. How do you ask questions without sounding uninformed or insensitive?
Well, most food allergy families don’t expect you to know much about food allergies. They would love for you to show interest in learning more, for their child’s sake. Short of reading fifty books and doing months of research, the food allergy parent or food allergy sufferer is your best resource for reliable information on food allergies. As a food allergy parent, we wish more people would just start asking questions, show interest in knowing about our child’s struggles with food, and be accepting and respectful of the ‘food safety operational plan’ for our family.
Here are the five questions I wish people would ask me to learn more about my son & his food struggles:
What are your child’s allergies?
A basic understanding of what my child is allergic to is the first component to understanding the entire problem, especially when the child has multiple allergies. Things get more complicated the more food allergies a child suffers from. A lot of people can wrap their head around a peanut allergy, but when you add dairy and egg, safety becomes more difficult to attain. To food allergy parents, a child’s food allergies are part of the description of their child, just like their age, eye & hair color. It’s more important to me that you know my child’s food allergies than his age, as strange as that may sound to some…
What common foods do you have to avoid because of his allergies?
This question opens the door to understanding what is not safe for my child to have. When you start to understand that my child cannot have almost all common kid’s snacks, you begin to realize how dangerous it can be for my child to be around other kids during such an innocent thing as snack time…or birthday parties…or playgrounds where children snack while playing. My food allergic son has only had one peanut butter and jelly sandwich and it nearly killed him. That’s a classic American kid food that he doesn’t eat. Most people take that go-to lunch box food for granted. Some parents say their kids won’t eat anything else. My oldest son used to eat PB&J frequently. Not anymore…
What specific foods are safe for your child to have?
Inquiring about safe foods allows the food allergy parent to tell you what foods their child CAN have. What a nice change to talk about foods my son can enjoy as opposed to what he can’t have. I usually opt to provide all food for my son wherever he goes but there are a select few that I trust understand his allergies and can provide safe food for him.
What can we do to make your child more included?
Oh, what a wonderful word-included! Just ask and we will joyfully answer. There’s always a way to make a food allergy child feel included. Offer toy treats instead of food treats. Play games, draw pictures, listen to music…do things that center around activity instead of eating.
How do you handle accidental ingestion of foods your child is allergic to? What would I need to do in the event that occurs?
Transition the conversation from prevention & inclusion to reaction. Knowing what foods to avoid is vitally important but knowing how to handle an allergic reaction is equally important. Being prepared to handle the possibility of accidental ingestion of an allergen is imperative. Showing that you care enough to ask what to do is monumental to a food allergy parent. I promise, we can whip out an emergency action plan or recite it from memory at any given moment.
This is all a part of our daily lives. Most people don’t want to be bothered with the details of our reality, much less take on the burden. Showing a food allergy family that you care enough to learn more is like throwing out a life preserver to someone who has fallen off the ship into the middle of a storming ocean. That simple act of kindness and compassion will not be overlooked.