A few weeks ago, my nephew Rand developed a peanut allergy seemingly overnight. He had eaten peanut butter on numerous occasions before, but that day, he experienced an anaphylactic reaction within minutes.
When it was confirmed that it was, in fact, a severe allergy to peanuts, my sister and I began discussing some of the many ways that this will affect their every day life. It’s overwhelming to me, and I’m not the one living it. We don’t get to see them as often as I like since they live out of state, but when we are around, I want to be sure that we are doing our part to be supportive and ensure that we are not putting him in any danger.
To that end, I asked my sister and some friends who have children with severe food allergies what things would be helpful for me or anyone to do to be a supportive friend and family member. Here are their top suggestions.
Know the Emergency Plan
One of the main things that came up with each person I talked to was the importance of family members being able to identify anaphylaxis and knowing the emergency plan. If a child with food allergies is in your care for any amount of time, you need to know the signs of anaphylaxis and how to use the child’s epi-pen.
The first step would not be to call the child’s parents to see what they want you to do. They would want you to save their child’s life! Epi-pen, 911, then call the parents. As one parent told me, “If in doubt, use the epi-pen. Epinephrine won’t kill him, but not giving it to him in time might.”
Read Labels Before Family Gatherings
One parent told me a story about her child going to a birthday party and being the only child who didn’t get any birthday cake. The brother who hosted the party forgot to read the labels until party time.
Sadly, this sort of thing is not an isolated incident. Some children will take candy offered to others because they don’t want to be excluded … then will have a reaction.
If you truly care about the child, read labels beforehand. If you are in doubt, call the parent before the event and ask about a particular food.
If the child you’re inviting over has a severe peanut allergy, peanut butter, Reese-cups, and trail mix containing peanuts should not be easily accessible. Put these items out of reach before the child comes over to decrease risk of exposure.
One of the other suggestions was to make sure your own children know not to offer food unless they have checked with you first. My three year old will share any food – I could easily see her offering her cousin something he can’t have not knowing any better. Since they’re both too young to be able to read labels, the food safety rule is going to be that my children don’t offer any snacks without checking with a grown up first.
Have a Positive Attitude
Something else mentioned to me multiple times as being supportive was a positive attitude. If it seems to you like you are going out of your way a good bit to be accommodating to the child’s allergy, put that into perspective for what the parents do daily. These parents are looking at a huge lifestyle change and warning everyone he is ever around for the huge chunk of his childhood until he is able to be his own advocate.
These parents participate in 504 meetings with schools, carry multiple epi-pens, and basically have to watch every bite that enters their child’s mouth like a hawk. Not only their child’s mouth, but theirs as well. One mom told me, “If I were to eat my favorite candy – Reese’s – and say I had some on my face / lips and didn’t wash off very well and gave him a kiss – it could be a deadly kiss.” These parents have a tremendous burden on them at all times because of their child’s allergy. Showing a little kindness, understanding, and willingness to accommodate their child will go a long way.