I knew it would eventually happen. A point in my son’s life where he realized he was different. Where he would feel set apart from his classmates. While I didn’t think it would happen so early in his school journey it is now something that has come to my attention. My son has food allergies that are life threatening and this isn’t just about watching what he eats.
Last September, was hard for me. B was starting school. It was an emotional milestone and not just because he was my baby and youngest in the class but because of all the anxieties I had about his care. I worried about him being in someone else’s full-time care rather than mine. I worried what happens if he has an asthma attack in class in front of his friends and if his teacher would panick. I worried what if they fed him the wrong foods or other children ate something for breakfast and didn’t wash properly that would harm him just by touching him. So many anxieties come along with letting someone else care for my son. Would they know how to use his epi pen right or when to give him his inhalers, if needed. I was so scared to let him go to school.
Over the first term I worked closely with the school staff, principal, teachers, and kitchen staff to ensure his safety and that everyone was trained in epi pens, inhalers and his medicines which were available in the class rooms, cafeteria and front school office. Everyday it got easier to trust his new care givers that they could keep him safe. Those are the most important worries that come along with my son’s food allergies. I had prepared and expected to feel this way and to be paranoid and overcautious leading up to him starting school. These were all given factors that would come my way.
What I never expected was how other children would react to my son getting, what they call, “special treatment”. With him being in reception, I thought for the most part, they wouldn’t understand it or acknowledge it. One example, he has to be the first in the lunch line ahead of everyone at school so his food is served first with no contaminations. Older kids make little remarks that he is teacher’s favorite or ‘special’ but at this stage, my son says, he doesn’t mind. I think at the moment, he thinks it’s cool he gets to go first every day. I worried about what the remarks will be as he gets older. However, it came to my attention that there is something my son is really upset about which has now really upset me.
“No one ever invites me to play, Mommy,” my son cried one night.
My son came home to me one day and said, “Mommy, how come no one ever invites me to play at their house?” I was a little confused of where the question came from or where it was headed. I told him he just started school so eventually he would have lots of playdates once families and friends got to know us better. A few days later, he came home crying. There are only four other boys in his class of twenty and he said they had all been to each other’s houses for dinner and playdates at the park together too but not him. He said they have been bragging about it between them in class. I suggested I could arrange a friend to come have a playdate at our house. He kept crying. It upset me to see him so sad. He is normally the happiest child ever. I still didn’t know where this was all coming from. I left it for a week until he came home crying again saying how a lot of the kids went to the park all together then dinner at one of the kid’s grandma’s house, one Friday afternoon and were saying that he wasn’t invited. The Momma Bear in me got a little upset that my son was being singled out so I thought I would casually talk to the other moms and see what is going on at school. Never did it dawn on me this was because of his allergies.
First I spoke to the teacher just to make sure he was playing nicely with his classmates and see if she noticed anything different between him and his friends and she said, no they play all day, happily together. After speaking to a group of Moms at school, one mom finally spoke up and said we are too scared to have your child over to play at our house.
I was stumped. I didn’t know what to say to this school mom who was so honest with me while everyone else just nodded but wouldn’t meet my eyes. I completely understood her worries, I still have them everyday and he is my son. But at the same time, I got angry that my son was being singled out because parents were scared to have him in their care. I didn’t know what to do. I was familiar with that scared feeling but I was also educated on how to care for him now. How did I educate these parents that didn’t have a child with allergies. I know it’s a lot to ask of someone. Where do I find balance in all this?
I sat down to have a good think about the situation and what I was going to do to change the current situation. It shocked me in a time where food allergies in children are more common everyday, there should be more help, advice and support to those that don’t have food allergy children. I think everyone should know what signs to look for and what to do whether it be for a child or adult. It’s like knowing first aid these days. It should be common knowledge. Maybe that’s selfish to ask of people or ignorant because I live it everyday. Though it’s a simple and useful knowledge to have, in my eyes. I am hoping to help raise more awareness for food allergies in children by sharing my experiences along the way from the very moment I found out my son had severe food allergies. It goes to show you it affects them in more ways than just watching what they eat as they grow up.
My first tip to those that don’t know about food allergies in children, talk to the parent about it. Don’t steer clear of inviting a child over to play just because you are scared. I understand, I am scared too but think as if it was your child, wouldn’t you want your child to feel loved by their friends and live a normal school life. Surely you wouldn’t want them to feel singled out.
Next tip, in most cases, you wouldn’t be feeding the child food so keeping the area very clean where they are going to be playing before the child arrives is extremely helpful. Food traces can be spread by eating something and touching toys afterwards by your own children. Giving everything a little wipe down is a good precaution and quick one.
If snacks or food are being provided, always ask the parent, they can give you a run down of what to serve and not serve. It isn’t hard to be cautious. Most of the time, parents like me, will leave snacks and food for their own child so you don’t have to worry about that. Just remember your children might not be able to eat certain foods while that child is playing over. In my case, no one can eat nuts or have touched nuts in 48 hours to be safe. Even if they wash their hands. Nut oil can stay in your finger prints long after you wash. But on the plus side, it’s easy to have things clean and not touch a certain food for the hour the children are playing together isn’t it?
Most important tip is to make sure you know where the child’s epi pen, inhalers, medicine and emergency numbers are in case of an accident. Accidents happen and I know it’s hard to think about the risk you are taking just to have a child come play but if you are cautious 99% percent of the time nothing is going to happen but a whole lot of fun. Isn’t a child’s fun worth a little extra precautions taken?
I have been trying to educate the parents of my son’s class so they feel comfortable having him over to play soon. I want them to understand more about food allergies in children as my son isn’t the only child with food allergies. It doesn’t have to be something to be afraid of if we all take a moment to understand it more. It’s the not knowing what to do that frightens people the most.
All my son wants to do is play over at his friend’s house. Having been in our house most of his baby/toddler life as we learned how to cope with his allergies ourselves, now he wants freedom and to venture out. He wants to feel like all his friends do coming to school and reminiscing about their playdate together. If your child has a friend with a food allergy don’t be scared to talk to the parents and have them over for a playdate – please!!! . It’s a bigger deal to children than you think. They do feel left out even if we don’t realize it.
Let’s spread the word of food allergies in children together and I will be sharing more on what signs to look for if you think a child is having a food reaction soon.