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Like all parents, I sometimes worry about my children when they are out of sight. Did they look both ways before crossing the road? Who are they talking to online? Are they really coming straight home from school?
Some parents have worries that go far beyond that, because the dangers their children face are seemingly benign … and yet they are everywhere. We talked with affected parents, and asked them what the main things are that they, as parents of kids with allergies, wish you knew.
They Know Best
Yes, we know that you’ve read something on the internet, or that your aunt’s friend’s daughter cured her nut allergy by [insert miracle cure], and we realise that you are trying to help, but know this – the hour you spent reading various articles is nothing in comparison to the research the parents of children with allergies have done.
They join FB groups, share latest research, exchange recipes and coping tips. They spend days at hospitals, speaking to allergologist, nutritionists, dieticians and researchers.
Not only this, but they have often spent months or years arguing with health care professionals, insisting that there is something not right with their child, and fighting to get a diagnosis and treatment. Accept that they might just know a little bit more about the health of their child, and don’t dismiss their voices. In this instance, they really do know best!
It’s not a Lifestyle Choice
You may not agree with what they are doing, and think that they are pandering to a fussy eater, or that they should just give their child a little biscuit. “A little treat now and then won’t harm him”, you may think to yourself, while you muse that kids didn’t have allergies when you were young.
Educate yourself on the differences between allergies and intolerances. If a mother tells you that her son has a severe allergy, don’t reply by saying that your daughter isn’t allowed any sugar at all, or it makes her totally hyper. They get that you are trying to empathise with them, but it can make them feel nervous, that you just don’t understand the seriousness of the situation.
What that other mum is doing isn’t a lifestyle choice, it is a life-saving strategy. Regardless of your opinion on the rise of intolerances and allergies in recent years, respect her decisions and abide by her rules.
It’s Utterly Exhausting
Every parent I spoke to about parenting a child with allergies said the same thing. It’s exhausting. The level of detail required to keep their kids safe is incredible. Risk is everywhere, and being complacent just doesn’t happen.
Soft play is a total no-go area, because a child could eat a bag of Cheesy Wotsits, then go play on the equipment, spreading crumbs around which would cause a serious reaction.
Imagine if the only place that you were really certain that your child was safe, was in your own home? That even visiting friends meant that you had to ask them to ensure there was no potential danger lying around, no biscuit crumbs on the coffee table, no half-eaten packet of crisps abandoned behind the sofa. And then you had to ask them to limit the food that they served, or keep it in the kitchen. Then imagine doing this every day, and worrying about your child when he was out of your sight, even for just a moment.
You Can Help Minimise Danger
Keeping shared space food-free would help immensely. The kid spinning on the roundabout, while munching on a breadstick means that their child can’t use the play equipment. Snacks on the carpet at circle time in nursery or preschool prevents the allergic child joining in. Local libraries are a minefield, with discarded biscuits and snacks left all over the place.
No one is saying that parents shouldn’t feed their child when they are hungry, but if we eat at the picnic table, or on our own blanket, then let the kids go play, it drastically reduces the danger for kids with allergies. That’s not too hard to do, is it?
Your Child Could Save a Life
Kids are often more accepting of illnesses and children being different. Talk to your children about the importance of not sharing food with other kids. Washing their hands after they’ve eaten is a good habit to get into – explain it’s to prevent their friends getting ill, and most kids will be happy to comply.
If one of their friends has a severe allergy, tell your kids how to recognise an anaphylactic reaction, and that they should fetch an adult immediately.
Don’t be Afraid to Ask
If you invite a child with allergies to a birthday party, don’t be afraid to ask the parents what food he can and can’t tolerate. Not every child has extreme allergies, such as those we’ve talked about. For some, simply avoiding eating the food is enough – they don’t need the house to be allergen-free. It may be that the parents will prefer to bring separate food along, so just go with what they prefer.
My friends have been [supportive], and one in particular ensured her own son’s first birthday was safe for my son to attend. This meant using none of his allergens in any of the food or her son’s birthday cake. Above and beyond and much appreciated. My daughter couldn’t believe when we went to the party that James was allowed to eat everything. It was lovely to attend a party and not have to helicopter parent!
Don’t be offended if they reject your offer of baking a ‘free from’ cake. You are asking them to trust you to keep their child alive, or at the very least safe from days of pain and discomfort. One thing I learned when I was researching this article was the level of food hygiene required is completely different to a normal kitchen. Do you use a wooden spoon? If you stir your food with that spoon, then the food of a person with allergies, you could cross-contaminate their meal.
When They Need Medical Assistance
It should also be better known that if someone suffers a severe allergic reaction and you epi them, even if they appear well, never let them walk as it can induce a second reaction!
If you know that a child has allergies, and observe any of these symptoms, do not hesitate. Ensure the parent is informed, and call an ambulance.
How to Use an Epipen
If a child has severe allergies, they will likely have at least one epipen. Correctly termed an auto adrenaline injectors, these all have printed, clear and detailed instructions on the side as a guide on how to use them correctly. Ultimately, blue top to the sky, confident stab, keep in while counting to 10, pull out and massage area for count of 10 whilst calling for an ambulance. This video shows how easy it is, even with a rather reluctant toddler.
The Intolerant Gourmand was set up by Nathalie, mum to Chloe, a healthy little girl, and her younger brother Callum (aka The Intolerant Gourmand), who suffers with severe eczema, multiple allergies (including a number of food allergies) and asthma.
Following the diagnosis of severe eczema and multiple food allergies for her young son, Nathalie was determined to ensure that her fight to finally gain a diagnosis shouldn’t be in vain and charts Callum’s journey in this blog.