5 Tips to Making Playdates Safe For Your Food Allergic Child
Advocating for your child’s safety at schools and daycares is quite different than advocating to your peers; other parents who may not fully understand the needs of your child. When meeting with schools we are prepared with facts, figures and a list of our child’s specific needs. What about when you meet a new family that invites your child over for a playdate? Do you start rambling off your child’s list of needs?
If you are like most parents you say, “Okay great! Just text me the information”. Then you walk away wondering how the heck are you going to approach this conversation without sounding neurotic?
Here are five tips that may help make the playdate scenario go smoothly:
1. Don’t be embarrassed
Don’t be afraid to let parents know about your child’s allergy upfront. Food allergies aren’t a lifestyle choice. It’s our way of life and there is nothing to be embarrassed about. As a parent, you have the ability to educate others about food allergies. In addition, showing your child that you aren’t afraid to speak up will empower them to speak up as they get older.
Dr. Daryl L. Minch of Rutgers University wrote a great article called Empowering Children to Manage Their Food Allergies. Dr. Minch wrote, “Parents need to teach their children and teens to manage their own lives and health conditions. This includes asking questions, reading labels, making choices, and carrying and administering medications. Children and teens with allergies need to feel comfortable and secure in their ability to make those decisions.”
2. Stick around
Go on the playdate with your child until you are comfortable that the other parent truly understands your child’s needs. One parent in the No Nuts Moms Group online community said she makes sure to scan the kitchen or rest of the house for allergens upon arrival. In addition, the more you get to know the parent the more relaxed you hopefully will become. True friends will want to not only understand your child’s needs but will be vigilant when it comes to their safety.
3. Talk to the friends
If your child is older it is important to talk to his or her friends about your child’s allergy. Perhaps share a story with your child and friends. Some favorites of ours are The Princess and the Peanut, My Special Cupcake, One of the Gang or Everyday Cool with Food Allergies. With 1 out of every 13 children living with food allergies, chances are your child’s friends already know someone else who has food allergies. I have found that children are perhaps the most understanding and vigilant because food allergies have become their norm.
4. Pack your own snacks
Pack your own snacks (and enough for the other child/ren) Yes, food is part of our daily life and just about every activity imaginable. You can be sure that any playdate, no matter what time of day will include a snack. One way to be proactive and start a conversation about food allergies is to offer to bring the snacks and drinks. Most hosts will be happy you asked and it’s the perfect time to find out if their child has any food allergies. Just remember, bring enough safe snacks for everyone! One of my favorite resources for a list of safe snacks is snacksafely.com. They update their list on a fairly regular basis and have special lists for holidays.
5. Start at your own home
Have initial playdates at your home. Having your first few playdates allows you to really get to know the other child’s parents without the fear your child will come into contact with their allergen. Being the host will certainly help you as the parent feel more relaxed and is also a great way to begin a conversation about your child’s needs. We have a garden flag that says “Nut Free Home” outside our front door and it’s always a great conversation starter. It is important to mention your child’s allergies before a playdate, even if it is in your home. This way your new friends know to either not eat your child’s allergen before they come over or make sure they wash up carefully before the playdate.
The most important thing to remember is to trust yourself. If you feel comfortable going to someones home for a playdate then by all means go. If you are uncertain, trust your gut and offer to host the get-together. As parents, our child’s safety is always our first priority and other parents should have no trouble understanding that. Don’t be afraid, embarrassed or reluctant. The majority of parents will get it and if they don’t look at it as an opportunity to educate.