Allergies & Birthday Parties February 24, 2018 13:34
So your food allergic child is invited to a birthday party, while part of you is elated for your child, secretly the dread in your stomach starts to stir, will it be safe? Will your child feel different?
The first stage of party invitations can seem daunting when you live with food allergies. Children’s parties are exciting, and are a great way for your child to feel part of their peer group and foster friendships. We all want our children to be included in the party fun, just like every other child.
Here are some tips to help tackle parties, and the first few years of school, when it sometimes seems there are parties every other week.
Talk to the birthday boy or girl's parent when you get the invitation, rather than on the day so there is time to ensure the party will be safe for your child. It’s wonderful when the host may ask on the invite if any guests have food allergies, but this might not always be the case. A good tip is to put this notice on your invites, and lead by example.
Some key questions to ask include - what food is being served, what activities will be part of the day, and where – so you can assess any potential dangers for your child. Might there be a risk of exposure to allergens? Are there animals, or other non-food activities that might be a risk, eg latex balloons. The order of events is good to know, for instance will the food be served at the end and after other activities?
If it’s at a party centre or catered venue, call the centre yourself, and ask your questions about the food being served. A lot of children’s party venues are now more allergy aware, but don’t take this for granted. You can also bring your own food. We have often done this, so our child doesn’t need to worry about food that they may feel unsure of.
Will it be a “food free” party bag? As more parents have become allergy aware, often toys are included rather than food, but this is not always the case. This may also depend on the age and abilities of your child. Lollies often are included with no label, and no wrapper, so be aware and consider if you want your child to have it. We often take the bag, but check it first and the only interest is in the toy anyway. You could ask the host or your child, to give the party bag to you first before opening.
It’s ok to ask. Most parents are very helpful and really want to include all children. But not everyone is a detective with food labels, they may not know the inside and out of which foods are dairy free, egg free or sesame free. Some people mistake yoghurt as dairy free or they may not know how to prevent cross contamination. Ask to see food labels, if it’s packaged food.
If you don’t live with food allergies than you may not know how to make safe allergy free food
This is one thing that can be a struggle to communicate with your child too.
Surprises can happen at parties too. There was an opportunity for my child to finally attend a party on his own, he was older, able to communicate and a parent had first aid training. We discussed the catering, and I had spoken at length with the pizza place directly, to ensure the food would be safe. We still took the party box anyway just in case. Only weeks later did I find out that they changed the caterer, at the last minute. (no communication from the parents) So, this can happen.
Communication is key, but also realise that not everyone will understand how much diligence can be involved in preventing an allergic reaction.
No-one wants their child to feel they are missing out, but this will be a judgement call on your part if the cake is safe. Some parents might be open to suggestions for a safe cake such as a wacky cake, or recommend a free-from safe cake mix. This would really depend on the family and how close you might be, and their allergy awareness.
You can also let the parent host know that you will bring your own cake for your child. That way, your child is included but safe. This is an easy option that can make things a bit more stress free for everyone. Remember, it’s not your child’s birthday – the party parents will be busy trying to make it a special day for their birthday boy or girl.
Bring a Party Box - always! We make a habit of this, even if it’s only as a back up. Although we find there are sometimes comments about why our child is eating different food, we say we are being extra safe, because we want to have fun or something similar – and it does take away the stress from worrying for you and your child about having a reaction at such an exciting occasion – focusing on the fun not the food.
Be prepared to stay
So, you did the best to communicate everything, but when you arrive the menu is different, or the birthday kid’s granma decided to make nut balls and all the kids are eating them already and its everywhere? We have attended many parties with surprise food or surprise dangers! Despite checking it all out and lengthy discussions, surprises like these can cause anxiety for your child.
To leave or not to leave?
Are there trained adults? Can you tag team parties with another allergy parent? Will a teacher or doctor with current first aid anaphylaxis training be present for instance? Is there more than one adult present?
Another option if you are friendly with the party host might be to meet up for coffee and offer to train them in how to use the auto-injector, as you may do with family members. Bring along an auto-injector, such as EpiPen, and a trainer for demonstrating.
Remember they need to know the signs of anaphylaxis not just how to administer. Be sure to let you child know which parent has been trained also, so if they have any worries at the party they know who to go to.
Offer to be a parent helper
Often the party parents will be happy for you to be there, as it’s likely they will be very busy running the activities and will appreciate the help, especially so with young children. If your child is young or you are concerned at all, stay and supervise.
Most importantly, will your child feel comfortable if you leave?
This will partly depend on the age and personality of your child. If there is an anaphylaxis first aid trained adult, and you do feel comfortable leaving your child, it is still worth asking your child if they are ok with this too.
Dealing with emotions
Talk with your child about the party – you want your child to feel both safe and included.
I have seen children with serious food allergies become very stressed at parties asking a lot of repeated questions about the food, and becoming quite anxious, and unable to join in on the fun. Staying at the party might be an option, so they can relax and join in the fun.
It’s easy for children to take it personally when they can’t eat the party food, or feel a bit different, but a little pre-party talk can go a long way to help your child feel assured, and included. Focus on the FUN not the food.
For children with food allergies, attending a friends’ party might take a little pre-planning, but seeing the smile on their face as they join in on the fun is totally worth it!
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