If your family has avoided food allergies, consider yourselves lucky. But, up to six percent of children in the U.S. have one or more food allergies, so chances are you will encounter this issue through your children. Whether that happens sooner or later, you need to know what it means to have a food allergy, how to keep that child safe when she is in your care, and how you can support the parents and be compassionate.
Learn All About Food Allergies
One of the most important things you can and should do if you discover your child’s new friend is food allergic, is educate yourself. Read up on food allergies to find out more and you will feel and be more empowered to have conversations about the issue with the child and the parents. All parents of food-allergic children greatly appreciate when other parents are educated. Nothing is more frustrating—and scary—than to encounter other parents who have no idea just how serious food allergies can be.
There are some great food allergy resources online that can get you started. The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology provides a great overview and detailed articles about food allergies. The National Institutes of Health also has an extensive library of articles on the topic. And don’t forget to read about anaphylaxis, the life-threatening reaction some children have to their allergen.
Talk to the Parents
It is also important that you talk openly with the parents of your child’s friend. Ask questions about what she can and cannot eat, how severe her allergy is, whether or not the allergen must be eliminated from the house before she comes over, and other important considerations. Not only will you learn more that will help you keep this child safe, but the parents will greatly appreciate that you care and want to help.
Especially important is to communicate with the parents before you have their child over for the first time. If the child will be in your care, talk to them about what they expect, whether they will provide food and how you can keep her safe. Talk about what happens if she does have a reaction while in your care. Will you be expected to help her use the auto injector? Will she have one with her? What is the emergency plan? Parents of a child with a food allergy should have an emergency plan on paper, so ask to have a copy of it.
Reach Out and Lend Support
Being the parent of a child with a food allergy is stressful and scary. Just being proactive, learning about allergies and asking questions go a long way toward supporting these parents, but be sure you let them know that you are happy to help. These parents worry about burdening others with their child’s special needs, so reach out and tell them you just want to keep her safe. It will make their day to hear that another parent is supportive and cares.
For more information on food allergies and how you can help keep children with food allergies safe, see the Family & Friends resources section of our website.